Congressional District 13 candidates square off during primary debate

US Capitol

Republican and Democratic candidates for Georgia’s 13th Congressional District debated virtually Monday morning on various topics, including responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

These debates held by the Atlanta Press Club are the first for the Georgia primary, which was delayed because of the pandemic, and will be held Tuesday, June 9.

Republican candidates businesswoman Becky Hites and businessman Caesar Gonzales spoke about the federal and state response to COVID-19 and the impact of closing businesses on Georgia’s small businesses and the state as a whole.

“For sure, the government needed to take some steps to address the financial pain that they created when they forced everybody to shut down and stay at home,” Hites said. “It’s going to be challenging next year on the budgeting because we’re going to start in a bigger hole than we were already in.”

Hites, who has worked on Wall Street, said she wanted to look at regrowing Georgia’s economy and infrastructure to create value for American citizens.

Gonzalez is a motorcycle shop owner and said that the Small Business Administration is not doing enough to help small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. He said that additional jobs skill training is needed for prospective workers in a world increasingly dominated by technology.

The debate shifted so that candidates were able to ask one another questions. Gonzalez began with questioning Hites’ connection to her constituents within the 13th District. Gonzalez pointed out that Hites’ speaking engagements have been outside of Georgia and the United States, so how does she plan on connecting with constituents in the 13th District?

Hites admitted that she was new to politics, but said her experience on Wall Street makes her qualified to bring businesses to Georgia. She said that she has been communicating with the Georgia Port Authority and economic development authorities to bring job creation to Georgia. Hites agreed with Gonzalez that jobs skill training is needed for prospective workers.

Electability was also brought up for the Republican candidates in a district that Hillary Clinton won in the 2016 Presidential Election. Gonzalez, as a self-described child of immigrants and mixed-race person, said he would know the needs of minorities within the district.

“Ms. Hites has no real connections or roots to the community,” Gonzalez said. “We’re talking about a community that’s largely a minority and the needs of the minority community tend to be a bit different from the mainstream.”

Hites said she would reach across the aisle to work with those who are moderates and conservative but not registered Republicans to connect with the community.

The Democratic debate was held after the Republicans for the 13th District, in which former chair of the Cobb County Democrats Dr. Michael Owens, former Mayor of East Point Jannquell Peters and Georgia House Representative Keisha Waites discussed healthcare, the Green New Deal, and more.

Noticeably missing from Monday’s debate was incumbent Congressman David Scott, who is running for re-election and has been in his position since 2003. Scott declined to join Monday’s debate.

“My question would actually be to Congressman Scott, first of all, [as to] why he’s not attending this debate. … Why [has he] decided to support Republicans time and time again in elections, why [has it] been over 10 years since we’ve had a public town hall in this district?” Owens said.

Peters also went after Scott, accusing him of supporting special interests over the people in his district.

Waites differed with Owens on student loan forgiveness, as Waites said she believes in the programs that already exist for individuals working in public service. She would support measures to reduce the barriers like tedious paperwork that exist to those working in public service jobs to obtain their loan forgiveness.

Owens said that student loan forgiveness must go further, canceling student loan debts for all students and banning credit card companies from college campuses.

All candidates expressed support for the Green New Deal amid the climate crisis and said that reforms are needed to the prison system to end mass incarceration. Owens was the only candidate who said he supports decriminalizing marijuana.

In light of the COVID-19 crisis, Owens said he supports Medicare for All while Waites spoke to the need for single-payer healthcare. Peters said that along with healthcare, individuals must have money in these times of crisis, and that is why she supports raising the minimum wage to $15 during the pandemic.

Arielle Robinson is a student at Kennesaw State University. She also freelances for the Atlanta-Journal Constitution and is the former president of KSU’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists as well as a former CNN intern. She enjoys music, reading, and live shows.