Flanegan, Kingsley hammer Westmoreland for missing debate
By W. WINSTON SKINNER
U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland did not attend Sunday’s Atlanta Press Club debate.
His challengers, Chip Flanegan and Kent Kingsley, made political jabs because of Westmoreland’s absence. When they had time to ask a question of another candidate, each chose to pose a query to Westmoreland’s empty lectern.
“My question to you, Mr. Westmoreland is this: Why aren’t you here today?” Kingsley said. “Why aren’t you here to stand in front of the people and answer the questions if you want to go back to Congress?”
Kingsley said that, if elected, he will hold a town hall meeting in each of the 13 counties in the district twice each year. He also said that two years from now, “I won’t miss debates. I won’t miss forums.”
Flanegan said every budget for which Westmoreland has voted “has hundreds of millions of dollars of deficit spending.” He added, “I don’t believe that’s leadership we should be getting in Washington.”
Scott Slade of WSB Radio was the moderator for the forum, which was taped and broadcast Sunday at Georgia Public Broadcasting’s studios in Atlanta. Two of the panelists were Coweta residents — Walter Jones of Morris News Service and Winston Skinner of The Newnan Times-Herald.
The third panelist was freelance journalist Rahul Bali.
The Loudermilk-Young Debate Series is sponsored by the Atlanta Press Club. Debates among candidates for several Georgia races were taped at GPB on Sunday.
Both candidates were asked if they would re-elect John Boehner as Speaker of the House of Representatives and Eric Cantor as House Majority leader. Both said they would not vote to return Boehner to his position of leadership.
“I’ve been sorely disappointed in the leadership that he’s demonstrated,” Kingsley said of Boehner. He particularly pointed to the $1.3 trillion deficit as a failure of Boehner’s time as speaker.
“I believe there’s new, more inspired leadership that needs to be at the helm,” Kingsley said.
“I would not vote for John Boehner. I believe he did not show strong leadership,” Flanegan said. Approving continuing resolutions for funding negated the Republican Congress’s power and constitutes “a leadership mistake he (Boehner) made,” Flanegan said.
Both candidates said they would reserve judgement on Cantor.
Jones asked why the candidates would challenge Westmoreland, since all are Republicans and replacing him would lose seniority for the district’s representative.
Flanegan said Westmoreland “has not been effective” — proposing only one successful bill, which renamed a post office. “In my mind, effective leadership does something, not nothing,” he said.
“He has voted repeatedly for deficit spending,” Flanegan said. “That’s not what I would consider strong leadership from a Republican.”
Kingsley said implementing tort reform, allowing health insurance sales across state lines and creating a new program — “something the nation can afford” — are keys to better health reform. He said favors repealing the Affordable Care Act. “This country cannot afford it. It’s lousy legislation, and it needs to be repealed.”
Kingsley described the Affordable Care Act as “going down the path of European socialism.”
Skinner asked Flanegan to be specific about remarks he made at a campaign stop in Newnan in which he said he would like to eliminate entirely some parts of the federal budget.
Flanegan said there needs to be a lowering of federal spending “across the board” by “whatever percentage it has to be to get the budget in fiscal balance.” That overall cut is “the first thing we have to do” and should not exempt “any sacred cows.”
He said he would then like to see “zero-based budgeting” with each department head having to “justify his existence.”
Pressed for an answer about specific parts of the budget, Flanegan said he would favor giving block grants for education to the states and eliminating the federal Education Department’s “middle man” status. “The Department of Education doesn’t do any educating,” he observed.
“You can use that same principle across the line,” Flanegan said.
In a related vein, Kingsley recommended looking back to the Constitution for the federal government’s role and identifying “what we can do without” that the national government now provides.
Flanegan spoke of the need for “bringing the deficit under control and keeping us from heading into a debt crisis that is looming.”
Flanegan said “the looming debt crisis” was caused by “the government’s reckless borrowing and spending.”
“We’ve established here already that our nation is in fiscal crisis,” Kingsley said. He said there needs to be “significant changes in our methodology” as far as budgeting is concerned.
“We’ve got to get our budget under control and our deficit under control,” Kingsley said.
Flanegan said federal spending “has gotten out of control” because the government’s role has expanded beyond the Constitution’s intent. “We’re facing an economy that will be worse than the Great Depression if we don’t get the spending under control,” Flanegan said.
Bali asked both candidates if they would consider cutting or eliminating funding for public broadcasting, and they both said they would.
Bali also asked both candidates if they would vote to raise the debt ceiling. Flanegan said he would if the debt ceiling were reached before “we reach fiscal balance.”
Kingsley said he would not vote to raise the debt ceiling, refusing to “kick the can down the road.” A failure to raise the debt ceiling would force the president, Senate and Congress to “come to a grownup solution on our budgetary problems,” he said.
Kingsley said he is for “turning the ship of state around” – by balancing the budget and implementing the Fair Tax, a national sales tax concept, and term limits.