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Hal Schneider welcomes the audience to the Forsyth County Tea Party forum. - photo by Jim Dean

The five candidates at Monday night’s Forsyth County Tea Party forum appeared to be speaking from the same plan.

They all agree on lowering taxes, reducing government spending, closing the borders to immigrants and supporting charter schools and vouchers.

“They’re all conservatives,” attendee Rusty Broome said. “To me, politics is 90 percent persuasion and 10 percent about what you’re really about … and I’m learning if you actually go face to face and actually listen to what the candidates say, you can tell whether or not they can persuade somebody.”

Broome said he was able to pick some of his favorites from Monday’s forum, which featured District 26 House hopefuls Tom Knox and Geoff Duncan and District 27 state Sen. Jack Murphy and opponent Steve Voshall.

Also speaking were Martha Zoller, who is running for the District 9 U.S. House seat, and a representative of fellow candidate Doug Collins’ campaign.

All candidates offered opening and closing remarks to introduce themselves.

Zoller noted her corporate business experience before deciding to be a stay-at-home-mom of four.

Duncan, a former professional baseball player, talked about his business background and family, including three sons he said inspired him to run.

Tom Knox, a former state House representative, talked about his experience owning his own law firm in the county.

Murphy said he will continue to do what he’s been doing in the Senate for nearly six years, while Voshall said things could be better.

“Our state has gone from a vibrant, healthy state to one with high unemployment, high college tuition rates, huge increases in foreclosures and bankruptcies,” Voshall said. “We also have the sad vownership as the state with the most bank failures in the country.

“Most of this has transpired in the last three to four years under the watch of the incumbent. Currently, the citizens of Forsyth County are being represented based on special interests and political favoritism.”

Murphy addressed Voshall’s criticisms later in the forum, saying he was being accused of being “responsible for the whole economic failure of the state of Georgia.”

“Out of the 236 legislators down there, the governor and the lieutenant governor, it’s all on my shoulders,” Murphy said. “I’m a state senator. The FDIC — Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation — is the one to close these banks, not me.

“If I had that responsibility, I wouldn’t be here running for Senate, I’d be running for president.”

The panel fielded several questions from the candidates about whether they support raising taxes — none of them did — and what, if any, incentives are appropriate to entice businesses.

Taxes and spending were common themes for both Knox and Duncan.

“We could double everybody’s taxes and I almost could guarantee in 12 months, the government would find a way to spend it. This is a spending problem,” Duncan said. “We don’t need to move inches, we need to move miles at every level of government for spending.”

Knox said the problems stem from the 16th Amendment, which allows the federal government to collect taxes, and the 17th Amendment, which allows U.S. senators to be elected by popular vote, instead of being appointed by state legislators.

“We wouldn’t have Obamacare if we didn’t have the 17th because we’d have said go there and vote against Obamacare,” Knox said. “And if you don’t, we’re going to remember because we don’t forget in between elections.”

Candidates were also asked about the topic of water, particularly the ongoing issue of how much Forsyth County should pay for water from Cumming.

While none offered a specific solution, they all were hopeful for a beneficial solution for both sides.

Voshall noted there was no reason water should be a profitable industry for the governments, while Murphy noted the debate has gone on too long and needs to be resolved to get residents the best rates.

All candidates supported vouchers and charter schools, including Knox, who said both are based on free enterprise. Duncan said Forsyth County Schools wouldn’t need either, but the competition couldn’t hurt.

When asked about term limits, candidates varied, with Knox saying the best term limit policy is the current election system.

Duncan said term limits could reduce the power of special interests. Voshall agreed, saying lobbyists make it difficult for incumbents to be voted out of office.

Murphy had stipulations, saying he would support limits if terms were extended to four years.

Zoller’s view on the issue was perhaps the strongest. She said not only should there be limits on elected officials, but on bureaucrats as well.

She detailed term limits per office, and said the longer department heads have control, the easier it is to become corrupt. Because she was the only congressional candidate, not all questions were directed to Zoller.

When given the chance to talk, however, Zoller made an impact on audience member Linda Hamrick, who had never heard her before.

“I was impressed,” she said. “Coming to these debates is the best way to learn about the candidates that are running and I think everybody should make an effort to attend,” she said.

When it came time to talk about priorities, many candidates answered with jobs, lowering taxes, ceasing business regulations and less spending.

Zoller’s priorities include backing the Keystone Pipeline and selecting a health plan that involves a free-market solution.

“The two things that are going to make the biggest chance in how our businesses can grow is to have a fair tax and an energy policy that is going to open the doors for cheap energy in America,” she said.

Edward Murray Jr. said the crowd could have been larger, but overall he was pleased with what he heard from the candidates.

“They’re pretty intelligent, pretty knowledgeable,” he said. “I think education should be stressed more.

“It’s not a problem here in Forsyth, as everybody knows … but the better our education is, the more prosperous we will be. And that’s the point I’d like to see them making.”