GAINESVILLE, Ga. — Roger Fitzpatrick, an ex-Marine and former White County administrator, appears to have established himself as the No. 1 contender for 9th District Congressman Doug Collins’ job with a strong performance during the AccessWDUN/Gainesville Times town hall meeting at Brenau Downtown Center last night.
Fitzpatrick demonstrated confidence, knowledge of the issues and likeability in responding to questions from a near-capacity crowd that showed its appreciation with loud and frequent applause for the Cleveland, Georgia native.
In addition to Fitzpatrick and Collins, the 90-minute event featured Lanier Tea Party Patriots founder Mike Scupin, retired Army and National Guard Brigadier General Bernie Fontaine and former 10th District Congressman Paul Broun. The challengers took turns answering questions from attendees as well as tweets from WDUN Radio’s listening audience.
Fitzpatrick, who served nine years in the Marine Corps Reserves and 32 years as a White County teacher and administrator, said veterans would be better served by getting rid of the Veterans Administration and allowing private industry to fill that role. He also called for an end to the Department of Education, saying, “The federal government has no business in education.”
He borrowed a line from President Bill Clinton when asked what is the most important issue facing the nation. “It’s the economy stupid,” he said. But, he added that getting government out of the way so businesses can thrive was a close second.
An issue that has plagued Collins throughout the campaign and has him in deep trouble with voters in the ultra conservative 9th District has been his support for President Barack Obama’s Omnibus bill. The bill provides funding for Planned Parenthood, the Muslim refugee program, sanctuary cities and a foreign worker program that costs Americans jobs at a time of increasing concerns about terrorist threats against the United States.
When Collins tried to explain his vote, he was shouted down by angry voters and his response was drowned out until Fitzpatrick’s Marine training kicked in and he stepped forward to admonish the audience, saying, “Show some respect, please.” The intervention earned Fitzpatrick the crowd’s admiration.
Collins then continued, saying, “The facts are if you could have gotten Planned Parenthood out of the Omnibus bill you would have done it but you couldn’t. The way you get it done is through the reconciliation act or a bill which I had voted for prior to that.” But that explanation failed to sway his opponents.
Fitzpatrick said, “Anything that would violate the moral conscience of a decent individual or the original intent (of the Constitution), you cannot vote for.” He also pointed out that Planned Parenthood is now paying for transgender operations.
Scupin called Collis’ explanation the “Doug Collins Dog and Pony Show” and said, “It doesn’t just happen with Planned Parenthood. It happens with nearly every vote he makes up there. He’s against the Department of Education because of how it effects his wife when she teaches and yet he votes to fund it. This has got to stop. Either you’re for it or against it.”
Broun said, “I would not have voted for the Omnibus bill. I never have.”
Voters also wanted to know if the candidates would support presumptive Republican nominee for President Donald Trump.
Fontaine said, “Of course I support Donald Trump.”
Scupin said, “Donald Trump is the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party and as such I definitely will support him. Donald Trump rose to the top of the Republican Party not because of Donald Trump but because of the Republican Party.Their failure to do the right thing when they had the opportunity is what gave him a path to this victory.”
Broun said, “The people have spoken. We need to have the people’s choice be the nominee of our party. I don’t want to see the establishment try to steal away the people’s choice.”
Collins seemed a bit more hesitant, saying, “If Trump is our nominee, I’ll support the nominee. But what about the values Donald Trump has. The question is where do you stand on conservative values? Will you be the standard bearer of our party’s values? The fact is that nobody in this room would be happy with Hillary Clinton in the White House. Nobody who would be happy with a socialist running the White House.
Fitzpatrick said, “I voted for Ted Cruz and would do so again but Donald Trump won the nomination and I will support the nominee. Whoever gets in there — and I sure do hope it’s Donald Trump — you’ve got to work with and if he stands up and does something I don’t like then he needs to be called out on it even if he is a Republican.”