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Congressional candidates trade blows on Thursday
Congressional candidates
Republican candidates for Georgia’s Seventh Congressional District Shane Hazel, left, and Rob Woodall, right, took part in a debate on Wednesday night hosted by the Forsyth County Republican Party and moderated by Julianne Thompson, middle. - photo by Kelly Whitmire

A debate between two congressional candidates this week got fiery at times as each candidate laid out why they should be chosen as the Republican candidate for the race in May.

Rep. Rob Woodall and challenger Shane Hazel took part in a debate hosted by the Forsyth County Republican Party on Thursday at the Forsyth County Administration Building. The debate was moderated by Julianne Thompson a former co-chair of the Atlanta Tea Party and co-founder of the Capitol Coalition of Conservative Leaders.

Woodall, who has held the seat since 2011, and Hazel, a political newcomer, butted heads on issues and ideas throughout the debate.

Perhaps the fever pitch came at the end, when Hazel, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who holds classes on the Constitution, had the opportunity to ask Woodall a question referencing his legislative scores from conservative organizations, which prompted an outburst from one member of the audience.

“You rate an ‘F’ from the Conservative Review and The New American and you got a ‘D’ from [The Heritage Foundation] which will probably drop to an ‘F’ after they factor in the omnibus bill,” Hazel said. “Why don’t you just run as a Democrat?”

In response, Woodall said he would not be “surrendering [the district’s] voting card” to any scoring organization and that Conservative Review gave the similar scores to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat representing Massachusetts and Georgia’s Sen. Johnny Isakson, a Republican. 

On the other side, Woodall said some conservative ideas failed in Congress “because the perfectionist caucus said ‘no.’”

“I’m not looking for the ‘vote no all the time’ vote. I’m willing to concede I’m probably not going to win Shane’s vote here tonight,” Woodall said. “But what I am going to do is be proud of the work I’ve done with your voting card for seven years and I’m going to go back and do it for the next nine months, and if you give me the honor I’ll do it for another two years.”

Thompson asked several questions on national and local issues to the candidates and gave them a chance to rebut some of their opponent’s answers, especially if their opponent brought up their name. 


School safety

Following the recent shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, both gun control and school safety have been part of the national debate. The candidates were asked how to balance school safety with Second Amendment rights. 

Woodall said the problem was about school safety, not gun rights.

“I will tell you, this is only a school safety issue,” he said. “This is not a problem of old, gray-haired men like me walking into our schools. This is a problem of young people hurting young people … what have we done at the federal government level? We focused on the database that’s supposed to prevent bad actors from getting guns. Had that happened, we wouldn’t have had Parkland play out [the way it did.]

Hazel said he favored increasing security at schools.

“Laws don’t stop crimes. Men with guns stop crimes,” he said. “You have an inalienable, God-given right to own a firearm, period. What we need to do is arm our schools. They are soft targets. They are target-rich environments.”


Healthcare

Candidates were also asked what they felt was the biggest issue facing national healthcare.

Hazel said there was too much government in healthcare and favored a free-market alternative.

“Wherever the government interjects itself, we see more cost and less service,” Hazel said. “Being a veteran, I see it firsthand. Veterans, we are pandered to left and right by people like Mr. Woodall, who send out fliers made with your tax money about veterans, when, in fact, the [Department of Veterans Affairs]  can’t be saved. We are the product of a single-payer system where we wait in line, we receive terrible service when we get there and sometimes they just throw pills at us.”

Woodall said he did not favor removing the VA but wanted a more competitive system.

“The challenge we have with where the federal government is involved in healthcare, even with third-party payer systems … is people don’t have skin in the game any longer,” Woodall said. “If you don’t have skin in the game as a consumer, you can’t challenge anything.


Legislative priorities

Both candidates were also asked what legislation they would like to tackle. 

Hazel said he wanted to bring members of the military home from conflicts overseas.

“Taking the lives of the men and women flippantly and sending them overseas to countries where we have not declared war, putting boots on the ground and destroying families, souls, lives, those are my brothers that have 10-plus deployments down the line,” Hazel said. “That is unforgivable.”

Woodall said, like healthcare, international relations is something all have some involvement with. 

“If you don’t have a son or a daughter, a mom or a dad involved in the war effort today, it’s not at the top of your list,” Woodall said. “If we don’t have skin in the game, like healthcare, we make bad decisions. In foreign affairs we make bad decisions too.”