Congressional candidates Rick Allen and Francys Johnson face off in debate

Rachel Adams

Current 12th District Republican Congressman Rick Allen and Democratic challenger Francys Johnson debated at Ogeechee Technical College Tuesday night.

The Statesboro Herald sponsored the forum. Joe McGlamery, president of the Statesboro Herald, was the moderator for the debate. Questions from both the Statesboro Herald and the audience were included.

Opening statements

The forum began with each candidate giving a two-minute opening statement.

Congressman Rick Allen went first and began by thanking everyone for coming. He introduced his wife, Robin Allen, who is the president of the Republican Congressional Spouses Club, a group based out of Washington, D.C. Allen then continued, outlining the goals he had after the election.

“I ran for Congress for several reasons, but the biggest reason was to grow the economy and grow jobs,” Allen said. “The greatest privilege I’ve had in my life is to give folks the dignity and respect that comes with a good job, to allow them, to empower them to do what God created them to do, and to allow them to provide for their family, their community, their church and this nation.”

Allen continued by saying that he believed his run in office was one of the most productive, in which over 1,000 bills were passed and over 200 were signed into law. He then concluded his opening statements with a comment of good faith.

“We heard the people, and this congress and this president have delivered,” Allen said. “Right now, we have 7 million jobs open in this country, and I’m glad to be a part of that.”

Democrat challenger Francys Johnson went next. He began by thanking everyone for coming and introducing himself. He then went on to discuss his reasons for running for congress.

“I am running for the exact reason that my brother, Rick Allen, ran four years ago,” Johnson said. “Because he believed that the congressman who was sitting was not doing the job.”

Johnson said that he was pushing for changes in the economy and job market of rural Georgia and specifically Bulloch County, while Allen was only focusing on the more metropolitan areas of the state.

“What about the folks in Statesboro? We deserve the same kind of quality of life of people who live in Augusta, or Evans, or Atlanta or Washington, D.C.”

Johnson concluded his opening statements with a promise to improve the quality of life of people living in rural Georgia. He then urged everyone to vote in the upcoming election.

The debate begins

After the opening statements, the questions began.

Questions and topics of discussion included:

  • Trade and economic benefits from the port in Savannah and an intercity highway
  • Rising health care costs, including the cost of prescription medications
  • Protection of immigrants who work and are a part of sustaining the economy in the 12th district

The port in Savannah and an intercity highway

Allen began his response with a comment on Savannah’s port and the improvements it has made to trade and transport.

“Obviously the port has made tremendous strides. It is the forth busiest port in the United States, and they’ve earned that because they are very efficient and productive there,” Allen said. “The importance of that port cannot be underestimated.”

Allen said that he was in support of an intercity highway, or a direct path, as he called it, from Savannah to Augusta because it would both improve the efficiency of goods transport and minimize the number of transport trucks on other roads. He also mentioned the need for another railroad exchange to further increase the speed and efficiency with which containers were loaded and shipped across the country.

Johnson expressed his concerns about the port in Savannah and the benefits that many people in some parts of Georgia were losing because of various issues in the transportation of goods.

“The fact of the matter is that we still have a port that is largely fragmented and separated from the largest cargo operation in the world at Hartsfield Atlanta, and the great many of us who live between the port and Hartsfield Atlanta don’t get the benefit from the bounty that is the forth largest port in the world [sic], and that’s wrong. It is wrong because we have a congressman who is not doing his job.”

Johnson mentioned that the railroad system was also fragmented, and that it was important that it be pulled together in order to improve the benefits from the Savannah port. He also stressed the importance of a separate system for transport trucks to minimize the number driving near smaller cars.

Rising healthcare costs

Another question from the moderator dealt with rising healthcare costs and the plans each candidate had to address the issue.

Allen gave the first response, and he expressed his thoughts about increased spending on health care over the years and the reasons for it.

“Before Obamacare, we were spending about $80 billion on Medicaid and Medicare,” Allen said. “Today, we’re spending about $300 billion, and in 10 years, it’s expected to be over $1 trillion.”

Allen also mentioned the importance of starting specific funds to help lower the price of healthcare as well as listening to doctors other healthcare professionals to avoid extraneous hospital costs.

“You have to restore the doctor-patient relationship,” Allen said. “Healthcare is a partnership. If you don’t do what your doctor says to do, if you don’t take your meds, it gets real expensive, and we have to restore that partnership.”

Johnson began his response with a push against Allen and the rest of the Republican party, whom he believes are all talk and no action. Johnson elaborated by saying that though the Republican party promised a better plan for affordable care, they never delivered.

“They promised the world,” Johnson said. “And right now they’ve been in power in Washington, D.C., with Congress, the Senate and the House, and the President, and we’ve yet to see that better plan.”

Johnson also said that by expanding Medicaid, like some other states already have, Georgia had the potential to save $12 billion a week in healthcare costs.

The protection of immigrants

Johnson gave the first answer, and he made it clear that he was in support of immigration and the people who work and live in the country.

“It begins with re-examining the ethos of this country, and I think that’s important to do. My opponent, he seems to think that if it makes money, then it’s right,” Johnson said. “But money doesn’t always mean that something is right, and it’s wrong to treat this new wave of new Americans any differently than we’ve treated those who’ve come to the shores from the very beginning.”

Johnson mentioned that it was time to implement better immigration reform.

“We might have all come here on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now, and I think we’ve got to pass comprehensive immigration reform.”

Allen began his response with a comment on the current immigration system and how it could be improved.

“Yes, we have a problem with the immigration system,” Allen said.

He mentioned a merit-based work program that would allow illegal immigrants to re-enter the United States legally after 10 years, which would also help give farmers the labor they needed.

“The folks who come here and get citizenship…they bring their parents, they bring their brothers and their sisters to the country, and that was the part of the legislation that I supported.”

Allen also gave his support of immigration regulation and reform, saying that unregulated immigration could greatly affect the economy.

Closing statements

Johnson gave his closing statements first with a comment on the election procedure and his approval of it.

“We need to elect our representatives and choose those who will exercise the power that we have,” Johnson said. “That’s a beautiful thing. And contentious as this race has been, all of that is preferable to other forms that people choose their leadership.”

Johnson concluded his closing statements by first addressing Allen, then the audience.

“Give me your vote, and I will give you the opportunity to see what real change looks like.”

Allen was next, and he began his closing statements by talking about the lack of infrastructure, as well as, the future growth of the economy. His worry was the lack of people to help build the infrastructure in the rapidly-expanding economy.

“In fact, the economy is growing at such a rapid rate, that my suggestion is that we wait until the economy cools until we do some of the infrastructure, other than broadband, and other than making sure we have cell service.”

Allen also mentioned the problem businesses are facing with a lack of workforce. At a call of, “Salaries!’ from the audience, Allen addressed the matter.

“That is what we’re doing, and let me tell you, salaries are going up,” Allen said, “We’ve seen real wage increase because it’s demand, okay, and I’m seeing it everywhere. We’re seeing it everywhere.”

Allen had to request extra time to finish his closing statements because of interjections from Johnson and an uproar from the crowd. He concluded his closing statements with information about workforce development and expanding the job market.

Thoughts concerning Georgia Southern students

When asked about how, if elected, they would implement plans that would involve and benefit GS students, Johnson and Allen shared their thoughts.

“If my opponent returns to congress, he has promised in the 2019 budget to reduce access to Pell Grants,” Johnson said. “That’s going to hurt the students who come to Georgia Southern. We have lots of counties in this district without any pediatricians, no OBGYN’s, no dentists or doctors or lawyers. So the students of Georgia Southern can count on me to defend their interests as students in this democratic process.”

Allen also shared his thoughts on the matter, where he stressed the importance of students acquiring job skills.

“Student debts are a real problem in the country,” Allen said. “We have the HOPE scholarship, and right now, because of the growth of the economy, there are folks right out of high school who can skill up and be hired, and the company can pay for their college education. So there are a lot of ways to get that done and a lot of benefits to this growing economy.”

The general election will take place on Nov. 6. Early voting has begun on the GS campus.

Rachel Adams, The George-Anne News Reporter, [email protected]