Former candidates find new cause

A pair of unsuccessful Georgia congressional candidates have taken up a new challenge that may be even more daunting than cracking the membership of the nation’s most exclusive club.
Gaining entry in Congress is difficult, but 535 members have won their seats there. So far, almost no one has reached the distinction this duo seeks, solving the country’s debt problem.
Last week, Rick Allen, who barely lost the Republican nomination in the 12th District, and Martha Zollar, edged out of the GOP nod in the 9th, announced they had teamed up to co-chair the Campaign to Fix the Debt.
Two renegade legislators have joined them, Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Martinez, and Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus.
Harbin has some relevant experience as the first Republican chairman of the Georgia House Appropriations Committee in 13 decades. But House Speaker David Ralston cut him loose from the post, leaving Harbin in a position to be as candid as he wants.
McKoon, still a freshman, started off being candid by sponsoring legislation to prohibit legislators from accepting gifts from lobbyists. Although the leadership in the House and Senate eventually came around to his position after an overwhelming straw poll during the primary, they didn’t get there joyfully.
Maybe this is the right combination of people to champion debt reduction.

The two co-chairs also bring another quality, time.

“We both have a little time on our hands right now,” Allen quipped. “She was run off, and so was I.”

Besides coming up short in close contests, Allen and Zollar have the perspective of having touched base with a lot of people recently.

“We both know a lot. Let me tell you: You travel the 12th district, and this is on everyone’s mind,” he said.

Fix the Debt aims to organize in key states in an effort to apply a grassroots squeeze to those who are in Congress during the post-election, lame-duck session and President Barack Obama.

“If they’re pressed by their constituents, then you’ll see action,” Allen said.

It’s not that the president and members of Congress don’t at least give lip service to reducing the deficit, Allen acknowledges. It’s that no one agrees on the solution.

Obama and his fellow Democrats call for raising taxes on upper-income Americans. Republicans like Allen and Zollar demand that spending be cut instead.

Fix the Debt is a bipartisan group aligned with the Concord Coalition that champions the Simpson-Bowles plan for coordinated spending cuts and tax hikes through the elimination of deductions.

Allen, though, when quizzed just a few days into his task told a reporter that only Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s plan of spending cuts would satisfy him. That’s because he thinks everyone who isn’t poor and too disabled to work should pay something in taxes.

“I don’t think we have poor people in this country, I’ll be honest with you,” Allen said.

While he might have gotten off message, Allen has the energy of a candidate and the experience of a business owner to help deliver the campaign’s message.

With the “fiscal cliff” looming despite Obama’s comments in the last debate that “it won’t happen,” federal officials are focused on the problem. This new campaign’s online petition, letter-writing push and tea-party type rallies may convince them that the public is willing to support compromise by both parties.

(Walter Jones is the bureau chief for the Morris News Service in Atlanta.)

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