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Candidates for Georgia US Congressional District 2 seat square off in debate at GSW

AMERICUS – On Wednesday, October 28, the only debate between the democratic and republican candidates who are vying to represent US Congressional District 2 took place at the Rosalynn Carter Health & Human Services Complex on the campus of Georgia Southwestern State University (GSW). For those who could not attend in person, the debate was streamed live on GSW’s YouTube channel.

Incumbent US Representative Sanford Bishop, the democratic candidate, squared off against his challenger, Republican Don Cole. Dr. Jason Berggren, Political Science professor at GSW, was the moderator for the debate.

Five GSW students; Wilson Evans, Caleb Kot, Savannah Hall, Dylan Wall and Carrington Price, made up the panel that asked both candidates various questions. Evans, Kot, Hall and Wall are all Political Science majors, while Price is a Middle-Grades Education major. The panel asked the candidates questions concerning topics such as immigration, healthcare, the coronavirus, abortion, defunding the police and packing the US Supreme Court, among other topics.

The format of the debate went as follows: Each candidate had up to two minutes to provide an opening statement. Then Dr. Berggren and the panelists asked each candidate a series of questions and each candidate had two minutes to answer the same questions. Then there was a rebuttal clarification round, in which each candidate was given two minutes to clarify, amplify or refute certain things that were discussed in the opening statements or in earlier topics.

After a five-minute recess, Dr. Berggren and the panelists asked the candidates another series of questions and each candidate was given two minutes to answer the same questions. Once this was completed, each candidate had a second rebuttal and clarification round, in which each candidate was given two minutes to clarify, amplify or refute anything discussed during the opening statements or during the discussions on earlier topics.

Near the end of the debate, Dr. Beggren gave each candidate one last question and each candidate had two minutes to make their closing statements.

Don Cole, the republican candidate for Representative for Georgia’s Second Congressional District, debated the incumbent candidate, Congressman Sanford Bishop (D), at Georgia Southwestern State University.
Photo by Ken Gustafson

Congressman Bishop was the first to give his opening statement and he began his remarks by saying that it was a privilege for him to be representing Congressional District 2 and that God has ordered the steps of his life and blessed him with tools, such as a Christian upbringing and the education and training that earned him a degree in Political Science.

Bishop mentioned that he has served 16 years in the Georgia General Assembly, 14 in the Georgia House of Representatives and two in the State Senate. Hel also mentioned that he has been a US Congressman for almost 28 years. Bishop went on to say that his experience and God-given tools have given him what he has needed to represent the people of the Second Congressional District. He added that he has used the political and legislative processes to bring about jobs, a stronger economy, better education, safe communities, a clean environment, affordable and accessible healthcare and a strong national defense in the context of a balanced budget.

“These are the essential ingredients to improving the quality of life,” said Bishop. “I have done my dead-level best to use the tools that God gave me that allowed my experience over the years to be able to work for and on the behalf of the people in the Second Congressional District to bring more than $22 billion in your tax dollars back home to enhance our quality of life, improving our schools, building our roads, creating jobs, boosting our local economy while supporting our law enforcement, all of this to improve our quality of life,” continued Bishop.

Bishop concluded his opening statement by saying that he believes he has done well in representing the Second Congressional District and asked those in the room and those watching the live stream to allow him to continue representing them and to work for them to improve their quality of life.

Don Cole, the republican candidate, began his opening statement by saying that he is a father, a husband, a pastor, a former US Army veteran and a public administrator. He stated that he has also served in numerous state, county, city and federal leadership roles and up until last February, had been working with US Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Purdue as his speechwriter.   He went on to tell Bishop that he gave a “nice message” in his opening speech, but that it doesn’t match with his record as a Congressman. “I am running for Congress because our deeply-held, shared values are not being represented in Washington,” said Cole. “These values are deeper than the color of our skin, the shape of our eyes or the accent of which we speak, so here as why you should vote for a change,”

Cole went on to say that Bishop has given his 100 percent support for Planned Parenthood and has a “zero rating” with the National Rifle Association (NRA). Cole emphatically stated that Bishop’s support of Planned Parenthood and his “zero rating ” with the NRA do not match up with the values of District 2. “He (Bishop) voted to impeach our President,” said Cole. “Support President Trump, then take a vote away from Nancy Pelosi and vote for Don Cole,” he continued.

Cole went on to point out that Bishop is under investigation for possible violations of ethics rules and federal law. As evidence, Cole sited a report that states that there are 114 “findings of fact” that were unanimously adopted by a bi-partisan, independent commission. Cole stated that this report accuses Bishop of using tax dollars to throw lavish parties at exclusive resorts and that Bishop tried to cover it up by saying that he wasn’t throwing Christmas parties, but holding constituent meetings. “He (Bishop) sacrificed his Second Amendment rights. He use to brag about having an A rating,” said Cole. “The NRA dropped him to a C because they cannot count on him. I’ve got an A rating with the NRA.”

Cole also accused Bishop of putting Puerto Rico ahead of the farmers in District 2 by siding with Nancy Pelosi in holding up relief for victims of Hurricane Michael. “I promise you. Nobody is going to work harder than me and I ask for your vote. It’s time for a change,” said Cole.

Once both candidates concluded their opening statements, it was time for the panelists to ask their questions to the candidates and the first question was directed to Cole. The question was what he thought about how the federal government responded to the COVID-19 Pandemic. In particular, what did the Trump Administration get right and what did it get wrong.

Cole: “In the first place, President Trump did respond immediately when he heard about this. He closed the doors to China. Everybody else blamed him for taking this action to try to stop it from coming into the United States. Nancy Pelosi was out dancing in Chinatown with the people there, saying ‘There’s nothing wrong. Don’t worry about it.’ It wasn’t President Trump that ignored it. When he came up and he saw what was going on, he responded immediately. He is still responding immediately.” Cole continued answering the question by stating that Governor Brian Kemp had the Georgia World Congress Center converted into a 200-bed hospital right away and that President Trump has “turned on the Operation Fast Track in warp speed.” Cole pointed out that President Trump asked the automobile manufacturing plants to make respirators and stated that he believes the country is coming out of the crisis. “We’re going to come out of it better,” concluded Cole.

Bishop was asked the same question.

Bishop: “First off, the administration failed to be straight with the American people. The administration tried to hide the seriousness of COVID-19. The administration is still hiding the seriousness of COVID-19. I think each and everyone in this room and each and everyone under the sound of my voice probably knows someone that has been impacted by COVID-19, particularly here in Southwest Georgia. We were an epicenter of COVID-19.” Bishop went on to say that the response to the pandemic was ineffective and that local healthcare providers were not alerted early enough so that they could be prepared. He also stated that there was too long a delay in implementing testing for the disease, as well as the tracing and treatment for it.

He also mentioned that President Trump had stated that the disease would be gone by Easter and that he didn’t want the public to panic, but in Bishop’s opinion, President Trump didn’t want anything to disturb his chances for reelection.

“He (President Trump) was self-centered. He put himself and his reelection before the good of the American people and we have over 200,000 people who have died and many more who have been infected because of his failure to act,” said Bishop.

Incumbent Democratic Congressman Sanford Bishop tires to make his case as to why he should be reelected to another term as the Representative for Georgia’s Second Congressional District.
Photo by Ken Gustafson

Bishop went on to say that the Congress responded with the CARES Act and that he is proud of the fact that he is Chair of the Agriculture Subcommittee. He finished by saying that more needs to be done for the American people, but that Congress needs help from the senate and the administration.

The next question was for Congressman Bishop.

Question: COVID-19 appears to have first emerged in China, perhaps as early as November. There is a consensus that it was not exactly forthright the international community on the nature and the extent of the problem. What level of responsibility does China have for COVID-19 becoming a pandemic? Should there be repercussions and should there be a reassessment in US-China relations?

Bishop: “First off, China should have warned the world. It did not. They tried to hide or they sequestered. Once they did, of course, the President said that he was sure that China had it under control. Yes, the President did stop the entry from China, but he didn’t stop the spread, so I believe that China does bare responsibility and that they should be held accountable in the court of public opinion. However, China is one of our major trading partners, or was one of our major trading partners and, of course, as a result of that, I suppose that the President was unwilling to challenge China at the beginning of this pandemic.” Bishop went on to say that, in his opinion, President Trump is putting all the blame on China and is not taking any responsibility for not responding quick enough to try and slow down the virus.

“Failure to respond, failure to own up to what we were faced with, failure to alert the American people and protect the American people is his dereliction of duty and his malfeasance,” said Bishop.

The same exact question was posed to Cole and he began his response by stating that there should be repercussions and that one of those repercussions should be to open the doors fro lawsuits against China. “This is the Chinese Virus,” said Cole. “They allowed this to come in. They knew what was going on and they said nothing. They did not warn the world and the World Health Organization was obviously complicit in this of not telling everyone,” said Cole. “Some of the things that the President advised people were based on the advice that he was getting from the same people who are now saying ‘Oh, you messed all up’. There should be penalties from China and it should be from people who have lost loved ones. We just had a funeral the other day, standing at the grave side of one of the medical providers in our community that caught COVID and died from it and I prayed every night when I saw the horrible spread through Southwest Georgia and you could look at a map and you could see that Southwest Georgia was kind of the epicenter of this.”

Cole continued to answer the question by stating that the reason the disease began to spread all over Southwest Georgia was because someone from Atlanta who was infected with COVID came down to attend a funeral in the Albany area and that it began to spread all over Southwest Georgia from there. “We should make China accountable,” said Cole. “And as far as the President going easy on China, I think that’s a joke. He has been tough on China from the beginning. In trade and everything else, he’s stood up to them. In fact, he’s the only President that has stood up to them and our farmers have stood by him even though they were the target along with it.” Cole continued by saying that the US should be looking at China as its advisory. “We can have good trading relations if they want to trade and I want to see them trade, but they’re a dangerous people,” said Cole.

The student panelists asked the next series of questions that were asked to the candidates. Panelist Wilson Evans asked this question:

Due to COVID, unemployment is at 7.9 percent and unemployment claims are on the rise. Major companies like Disney and United Airlines have announced more layoffs. The travel, hospitality and entertainment industries have been hit especially hard. Small businesses are closing. More Americans are struggling to pay their bills and rent and are facing food scarcity.   An estimated eight million Americans have fallen into poverty since the spring. What is the Congress doing, or what should it do to address this?

Cole: “Well, I think the first thing that we did do that the President and the Congress were working on is the fact that trying to fix an airplane in mid flight is kind of what it was, looking out to see what’s going to happen to our economy when this is out here and we didn’t know what this virus was going to be like. We didn’t know the complete impact. The President did not want to create a panic about that. He wanted to find out what was going on. We addressed this with all of the various packages we have passed in order to get something out to the people.”

Cole went on to say that Georgia has reopened its economy, while some of the other states have not reopened their economies and that is creating a problem nation wide. “They (other states) have not stepped out to start targeted, measured ways in which we can reopen where you don’t have to shut everything down,” said Cole. “We can see where the problems are, focus on those and then do whatever it is that we need to do. There’s another bill that the President has been trying to get through, but it was Nancy Pelosi who was holding up the funding on that and it has not yet come through because they wanted to see money go to states that have refused to open their economies, states that are still shutting down. They want to give money to states and bureaucracies rather than to individual people, which is what the President wants to do,” continued Cole.

Congressman Bishop was asked the exact same question and this was his response.

Bishop: “Congress has passed several pieces of legislation and I might add that all of them originated in the House of Representatives. “The administration didn’t offer anything and, of course, the House of Representatives too the bull by the horns after the President refused to act and actually enacted the CARES Act.” Bishop went on to say that some of those pieces of legislation that Congress passed addressed unemployment benefits, stimulus payments for families and extended nutrition for families that were out of work, didn’t have income coming in and were having difficulty putting food on the table. Bishop added that legislation was passed to provide funds for school lunch programs, but because of the shutdowns, they weren’t able to do that, so they had to adjust those regulations through the Department of Agriculture so that they could do non-congregate feeding and actually take the food to the kids. Bishop added that food banks also had to be enhanced and that The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) had to be refurbished so that food banks could provide food for those who needed it.

“We did the Paycheck Protection Program to allow employers to be able to keep people on the payrolls,” said Bishop. “We also had the Emergency Injury Disaster Loans from the SBA (Small Business Administration). Those were put out, but unfortunately, the administration mishandled it and it was not distributed.”

Bishop also mentioned that the US House of Representatives passed the HEROES Act to help first responders of state and local governments because they lost funds during the shutdown. “We need to help them help the American people,” said Bishop.

The next question was asked by student panelist Caleb Kot.

Question: With the recent confirmation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the US Supreme Court, there’s increasing talk again of the issue of abortion and whether or not Roe v Wade will be overturned. First, what is your position? Do you consider yourself pro-life and believe that Roe should be overturned, or are you pro-choice and believe that Roe should be upheld? Second, if Roe is upheld, do you favor any restrictions on abortion services, procedures or government funding, such as the Hyde Amendment? According to Wikipedia, the Hyde Amendment is a legislative provision that bars the use of federal funds to pay for abortion except in the cases of rape, incest or if the life of the mother is in danger. The Hyde Amendment took effect in 1980 and it was named for its chief sponsor, Republican Congressman Henry Hyde of Illinois.

Bishop was the first to answer this question and this was his response:

“I believe that abortion should be rare but legal. It should be in cases of rape, incest and to protect the life and safety of the mother. I don’t think abortion is something that any of us would like to see. I can’t say that I’m pro-choice entirely, but I am for life. I’m not for life for just the unborn. I’m for life for a child after he or she is born, when they’re adolescence, when they’re adults, as well as when they are seniors because all life deserves to be supported, nurtured and protected. I do believe in and I have supported the Hyde Amendment for years and of course, with the Supreme Court, there is a possibility that that law may change.” Bishop went on to say that he doesn’t think that anyone wants to go back to the days of back alley abortions that are unsafe and are awful for anybody that is involved with it. “I think that we must make sure that if they’re done, they’re done safely,” said Bishop. “I have supported Panned Parenthood because they support millions and millions of individuals who don’t have healthcare and are able to get healthcare through their health services.” Bishop added that less than one percent of Planned Parenthood’s budget is spent on abortions, but he also added that he doesn’t believe that an abortion should not take place except in the cases of rape, incest or if the life of the mother is threatened.

The same exact question was asked to Mr. Cole. Cole began his answer by stating that, in his opinion, absolutely no funding should go to Planned Parenthood.

“Planned Parenthood has committed atrocities, a holocaust,” said Cole. “They’re approach is abortion as a family planning and a termination of life in order to stop the pregnancies and to manage birth control. I don’t know what the Supreme Court might do. Justice Barrett has indicated that she is going to go by the Constitution and rule according to that, so whatever happens along that line, we’ll be watching to see what might happen there. I don’t even know what kind of cases are coming up.”

The two candidates for Congressional Representative for Georgia’s Second Congressional District pose with the student panelists.
L-R: Student Panelists Caleb Kot, Wilson Evans and Carrington Price, Congressman Bishop, Student Panelist Dylan Wall, Republican Candidate Don Cole, Dr. Jason Berggren, GSW Political Science Professor.
Photo by Ken Gustafson

Cole went on to say that he is unquestionably and unapologetically pro-life and that he believes that it is totally inconsistent to say that people don’t want to go back to the unsafe days of abortion. “Every abortion is not safe for the baby,” said Cole. “We need to just cut down to the bottom line. We’re talking about a baby. An abortion is not a way to end a pregnancy in order for cutting down population control. Planned Parenthood is operating in that way and they’re atrocities of selling baby parts, saying ‘Let’s save the abortions at just the right time, do it in just the right way’. To sit there and say ‘We’re going to sell this part and sell this part, allow this part to go out’, we’ve got the tapes of it. We’ve heard people callously sitting around, drinking wine, and talking over a dinner about it as if they’re talking about a crop of some kind. This is horrible. It is a blight on our nation and we need to end it.” Cole concluded his answer by reiterating his position that Planned Parenthood should not be funded in any way, shape or form, especially with the tax dollars of the American people.

The next question came from student panelist Carrington Price and it was first directed to Cole.

Question: Considering the issue of guns and gun violence in America, Mr. Cole, what measures should the US Congress take to ensure greater public safety and responsible gun ownership without violating or infringing on Second Amendment rights?

Cole: “The Second Amendment is very clear. The right to own and bear firearms shall not be infringed upon. A good government has nothing to fear from an armed citizenry.” Cole went on to say that he sees more and more people out in public walking around with guns and open carry permits and it doesn’t bother him at all. “I think we get into a slippery slope whenever the government starts looking at and says ‘We want to control this and control that’. It’s not the guns that are killing people. It is people that are killing people using firearms, using guns in order to do that,” said Cole. “We have to be very, very careful about that. We cannot infringe on the rights of the individual to own and bear a firearm and I will stand for the Second Amendment rights without hesitation.”

The same exact question was posed to Congressman Bishop and this was his response:

“First off, let me say that I believe in the Second Amendment. I believe that every citizen should have the right to own and bear arms for protection. I’ve been a member of the NRA for probably almost 28 years. When I joined the NRA, they believed very firmly that the Second Amendment right did have limits and that guns should only be in the hands of people who are responsible, so people who had criminal records or people who were mentally ill or people who were otherwise irresponsible should not have that right and the only way to do that is through a reasonable background check.”

Bishop went on to say that the courts have upheld that reasonable background check and also stated that he has had an A+ rating with the NRA. However, Bishop added that he could not go along with the NRA when they would not support plugging up a loophole that allowed Dylan Roof to go into a church in Charleston, SC and kill nine people only because the law did not allow them to wait another day.

“I cannot allow the NRA to not allow a loophole that would allow a kid who is not licensed to have a gun, who cannot have a gun legally, to go into an elementary school and kill innocent children,” said Bishop. Bishop was referring to two mass shootings that took place. One took place on June 17, 2015 at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC when Dylan Roof, who was 20 years old at the time, shot and killed nine people in the church during a Bible study. The other shooting Bishop was referring to took place on December 14, 2012, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, where Adam Lanza, who was 20 years old at the time, shot and killed 28 people, including 20 children between the ages of six and seven years old. Bishop also referenced a shooting that took place on October 27, 2018 in a Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

“Yes, government has an obligation to protect us, to protect the community,” said Bishop. “Yes, we have a right to the Second Amendment, but it is subject to limitations established by the court, and that is reasonable back ground checks.”

The next question posed to the candidates came from Student Panelist Dylan Wall and it was first posed to Congressman Bishop.

Wall: Because of its advice and consent role in filling vacancies and Congressional role relating to the US Supreme Court, it is normally thought of as a Senate power. However, the House also has important powers relating to the highest court. For example, the House and Senate together can determine how many justices can serve on the court. Since 1869, the number has been nine, but before that, membership was set at as few as five and as many as 10. There has been a lot of talk of expanding The Supreme Court. First, what is your position on court expansion? Do you favor it or oppose it? Second, do you support any other reforms to the court, such as term limits or mandatory retirement ages?

Bishop: “First off, let me say that the Supreme Court is the highest law of the land. It interprets our Constitution and I’m an institutionalist. I believe strongly that we should not medal with the court for political reasons. The court should be solid. We have three branches of government. The Supreme Court is one of the top of the third branch: the legislative, the executive and judiciary. I am not certain whether or not the court should, at some point in time, be expanded. I’m not in a position to say that the court, with all of the various numbers of members that it has had, has rendered decisions that have carried this land forward. Some of them were good decisions in retrospect. Some of them were not so good decisions.” Bishop continued answering the question by saying that the Supreme Court has had to adjust its rulings and adjust its interpretations of the US Constitution to make it endure for the duration of the country. “I believe that the arc of justice is long, but it slowly bends toward justice,” said Bishop. “I believe that the Supreme Court, if we don’t politicize it, will ultimately dispense justice and that we will be able to manage the three equal branches of government, with the Supreme Court having the ultimate decision-making power.”

The same exact question was posed to Mr. Cole and he began his response by saying that he does not support any term limits or mandatory retirement and he does not support expanding the court from what it is now. “The talks of expanding the court were last mentioned before most recently back in the Roosevelt Administration. That was put to sleep because he just wanted to do what he wanted to do and the American people said ‘No, we’re not going to do that,” said Cole. “Now, it’s being brought up again; Pelosi, Schumer, Biden talks about it but then doesn’t talk about it, mentions it but doesn’t mention it. They all want to stack the court. They want to use it as a political tool. They want to add more people to it because things have not gone the way that they want them to go because the court is shifting over time because the court is becoming more constitutional.” Cole continued to answer the question by saying that the U.S. Constitution is to be looked at as the country’s solid foundation on which it stands and that the laws are to be interpreted, not made by judges. “I don’t support anything that is going to change that,” said Cole. Cole added, however, that Congress does have something to say about how the district courts, such as how many there are and how many judges are serving on those courts. “There could very well be a time in which we need to look at and say ‘Do we need more or do we need to change these around? Just what do we need to do here in order to keep things moving on through the federal system.” However, Cole stated that he believes that nine Supreme Court justices is enough for right now and that there’s really no reason to have more than that. He concluded his answer by saying that Justice Barrett’s confirmation was done according to the Constitution and every other Supreme Court confirmation in the past has also been done according to the Constitution. “We should just keep going. That (the Constitution) is the basis for our nation,” said Cole.

At this point, the debate moved into the rebuttal and response portion. Each candidate was given two minutes to add two or amplify a previous answer, or respond to something the other candidate said on the previous issues.

Cole was asked to go first and he began is rebuttal by stating that as a pastor, he realizes how COVID-19 has impacted the way entire communities grieve over the loss of a loved one. “It came down through here and spread like wild fire because there were people at all these different groups around at two big funerals,” said Cole. There were a lot of people that came in everywhere and this virus spread. It took the action as a state, and as a nation, to put things on hold to try to lock it down, to try to control it, but we cannot ignore the impact of shutting everything down, of shutting down an economy. There’s an impact in suicide. There’s an impact in depression. There’s an impact in people’s lives that spreads throughout and we have to balance all of that out to the best of our ability. That’s the only thing that came to my mind in responding to this time right now,” continued Cole.

Bishop began his two-minute rebuttal or amplification speech by saying that the best thing that can be done to open the economy is to control and crush the virus. “We’ve got to do that and the only way we can do that is to test,” said Bishop. “We’ve got to test people. We’ve got to make sure that they have adequate testing and that there’s tracing and that there’s treatment, that there’s isolation. If we want to send our people back to work, we need to make sure that the workplace is safe. Our HEROES Act was going to do that, but the Senate put a pause on it. We want our children to go back to school so they won’t have to say at home and, of course, if the children are at home, then the parents can’t go to work.” Bishop went on to say that parents want their kids to go to safe schools, but that funds are needed to make sure that these schools are sanitized and have the proper ventilation. “They can have distance. They can have additional personnel so that it can be safe for those children to go home so that they won’t contaminate their parents or their parents won’t contaminate them from having a contaminated workplace.” For those reasons that he mentioned, Bishop stated that it is important that Congress pass the HEROES Act so that the resources can be put in place so state and local governments can protect their communities and their citizens from COVID-19 and so that these state and local governments can have some financial relief so that they won’t have to lay off police officers and other first responders. “We have got to give some relief to the American people,” said Bishop. “We have got to give additional stimulus, additional unemployment, additional nutrition, food bank service so that people who are insecure will be able to eat. We have got to do what it takes to respond to the needs of the American people and we have not done that because the Senate refused to act.”

The next question to the candidates had to do with what each of them will do, as far as the oil, coal and gas industries are concerned and how each of them would handle the issue of climate change. More specifically, both candidates were asked if they thought that oil, gas and coal all still have a future in the American economy and should they all still have a future. Congressman Bishop was asked to go first.

Bishop began his response by saying that the coal, gas and oil industries still have a future, but that human beings also have an obligation to be good stewards of the earth. He added that in his opinion, scientists, who have done a great deal of research, have established that climate change is a reality. “What we have got to do is we have got to manage this transition,” said Bishop. “We’ve got to manage our ability to protect the earth, but also to be able to use the earth.” Bishop went on to quote parts of Psalm 24:1, which states that the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it. He continued by saying that, in his words, the “total portfolio” should be used.

“Yes, we use oil while we have it available and now we have plenty of that available,” said Bishop. “But we also need to prepare and be innovative so that we can conserve and protect our planet.” He went on to say that America needs to use that innovation by using alternatives to fossil fuels, such as nuclear power. Bishop said that Congress was able to get the Federal Energy and Regulatory Commission (FERC) to allow Georgia to use and develop the power plant over in Burke County.

Bishop continued by stating that he believes that nuclear energy is a clean fuel and that he believes that it will be, in his words, “well for our future.”

“We have solar panels that are going all over our congressional district and all over the country, which also is another source of energy,” said Bishop. “But going forward for the 21st century, the country that controls energy will control the commerce and the economy.” He concluded by reiterating that he is for preserving the fossil fuels, but would like to see them weaned out little by little in a balanced kind of way with new technologies and new jobs. “We owe it to generations yet to come to preserve the earth for them for the future years,” concluded Bishop.

Cole was asked the exact same question and this was his response:

“A few years ago, you were paying $4.00 a gallon for gasoline,” Cole told the crowd gathered. “The United States is now energy independent. We are exporting energy to other nations. How have we done that? We’ve done that because President Trump and the republicans have cut regulation, have cut the impediments in the way that were stopping us from developing, from producing and we are now growing. If you want your power bills to go through the roof, and in Albany, they’re some of the highest around anywhere, from what I’m told. If you want those to go up, then go ahead and go with this craziness of the Green New Deal.”

Cole continued by saying that the Green New Deal is nothing more than an effort to get the government involved to dictate and to keep America from being the strongest nation in the world. He further added that other nations in the Paris Climate Accord were not required to do what the United States was required to do.

“Why should we cripple ourselves with this kind of thing whenever we don’t have to do that and I’m glad we’re out of that. I’m glad that we are producing. I’m glad that we are energy independent now. I’m glad that gas is down to $1.70, $1.60 a gallon instead of $4.00 a gallon.” Cole continued by stating that he is glad that the economy is going to keep going even through the COVID-19 crisis and that the country, once it comes completely through the crisis, will be stronger than ever.

The next question posed to the candidates came from student panelist Caleb Kot. Kot’s question was related to immigration. Kot first stated that there are approximately 11 million people living in the United States illegally and he wanted to know how they would treat children who were brought to the United States by their parents, but did not choose to come on their own free will. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, was intended to give eligible persons, such as these children, protection from deportation. Kot wanted to know what the views of each candidate are on DACA and other similar programs. He also wanted to know if these programs are constitutional and would the candidates go further and offer permanent residency, or even a path to citizenship to those improperly documented.

Cole was the first to respond and began by saying that former President Ronald Reagan tried this plan several years ago and all that happened was more people kept flooding into the country. “There was a promise that we were going to secure the borders. Congress never did that,” said Cole. “It never got about and all we had was a flood of people coming in. No, we do not need to have a path to citizenship. If people want to become a citizen, they will be here legally. They will go through the process.” However, Cole added that what Congress and the Federal Government needs to do is to find a way to streamline the ability for law-abiding people to come in. “It shouldn’t be that hard,” said Cole. “You shouldn’t have to have an attorney, a local farmer to hire an attorney in order to get somebody to work on the farm with you. We can have a simple, easy way that is correct and proper, but we don’t need to give any path. We don’t need to give any message that there’s going to be any path and we need to secure the borders.” Cole went on to say that President Trump has secured the borders in spite of the democrats and, in his opinion, could even do more. He went on to say that there was a big crisis at the border a few years ago where crowds of people were trying to get into the country and that the Trump Administration ended the crisis. “He has put up fences. He has put up a wall and we need to keep those borders secure and we need to not give anybody a path and let them go back and come back through like everybody else who is legally here to do that,” said Cole.

The same question was posed to Congressman Bishop and this was his response.

Bishop: “I support DACA for those youngsters who came here through no fault of their own because they were brought by their parents. They’ve known no other home but the United States of America. They should not be sent, exported or deported from America.” Bishop went on to say that DACA is a sound policy and that it should be implemented, but also stated that, in his opinion, a comprehensive immigration bill is needed and that Congress has been trying to pass such a bill for several years. “Our agricultural producers need guest workers and that should be a part of it,” said Bishop. “And of course, during the pandemic, we had a crisis there, but we were able to get that worked out with the customs, as well as the Department of Labor, but we’ve got to have guest workers who will do the agricultural work that is so vitally needed in order for our agricultural producers to continue producing the highest quality food in the world.”

Bishop went on to say that as a person of faith, he likens the immigration problem to what Jesus said in the 25th chapter of Matthew and he quoted the part where it says “When I was hungry, you gave me meat. When I was thirsty, you gave me drink. When I was a stranger, you took me in and as much as you did it to the least of these, you did it unto me.” Bishop added that America has always been a “shining city on a hill” where people wanted to come and that the Statue of Liberty says “Give me your tired, your poor huddled masses yearning to be free.”

“That is the America I believe in,” said Bishop. “I believe that America can accommodate its diversity and the plurality of cultures that have come and made America great.”

The next question posed to the candidates had to do with the future of health care and this question was also asked by Kot. “The President says he wants to end Obama Care, but keep the protection for pre-existing conditions. What is your view on healthcare, Mr. Bishop?

Bishop began his response by stating that he believes that healthcare is a right and that every American should be able to have affordable and accessible healthcare.

“We believe that we have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. You cannot have that if you don’t have healthcare,” said Bishop. “The Affordable Care Act (Obama Care) made that possible for almost 90 percent of the people in this country, but it has been taken away little by little by those who don’t believe that everybody should be entitled to healthcare.” Bishop went on to say that the pandemic has lifted the cover to show the health disparities all over the country, particularly here in Southwest Georgia. He added that the Second Congressional District had so many people that suffered and died as a result of pre-existing conditions. “They didn’t have adequate healthcare for preventative care, so they suffered from the conditions that made them especially vulnerable to the virus,” said Bishop. “But one of the things coming out of this is that we have got to leave this place and go back and try to make sure that we can enhance healthcare for all Americans.”

Bishop went on to say that Georgia’s Second Congressional District has some of the worst health outcomes anywhere in the country and that it needs to be cleared up.

“If our legislature had adopted Medicaid Expansion, if they would do it now, 500,000 additional Georgians would have access to healthcare,” said Bishop.

The same exact question was posed to Cole and he began his response by stating that the Affordable Care Act was neither affordable, nor was it healthcare. He went further by saying that the premiums went through the roof and the deductibles went through the roof. “It was at a point where if you were sick or if you had a $10,000.00 deductible, you may as well not have insurance at all and a lot of people decided on that option,” said Cole. Cole went on to say that the courts ruled that people can’t be forced to buy insurance. He further added that the idea of the government providing all of the insurance for a person, or all of that person’s healthcare is only going to make what use to be the driver services.

“You like standing in line at driver services? Well fortunately in Georgia, Governor Sonny Purdue shortened that,” said Cole. “But it’s only going to make you stand in line longer and get less service than before.” Cole added that if the government was to be the one to provide insurance, employers will not be able to provide insurance for their employees because the employer will be forced to drop insurance in order to have government-provided insurance. “This is only another way in order to get government hands into your individual life and government doesn’t do anything good. I don’t care what it says on the paper. The question is how is it delivered. How long are you sitting in line waiting on something,” said Cole. “How long are you looking to get some kind of a service that you need? You won’t have that.”

Cole continued his response by saying that President Trump and the republicans are working on a plan in which insurance companies can provide insurance for people with pre-existing conditions and that for those who have a medical difficulty now, there are provisions and ways in which those people can be taken care of.

“We don’t need the government involved,” said Cole.

Student panelist Carrington Price posed the nest question to the candidates.

Price: “Although public education is largely a matter for the states and local governments, there has been a role for the Federal Government. What do you think that role should be for grades K-12? Should it encourage greater school choice? Should it set goals for schools? What role should it have for universities such as Georgia Southwestern?”

The question was directed first to Cole, who began his response by saying that there should be school choice for parents so that they can send their children to the school they feel best meets the educational needs of their child. “If they’re charter schools. If they’re public schools, it makes everybody compete and it’s a freedom for the family,” said Cole. He continued by reiterating his belief that parents should be able to send their kids to any school they wish, whether it be public, charter or if they want to home school their kids. He added that parents should have this option especially in areas where there are failing schools and that it is a horrible thing to force a family living in a poverty-stricken area to force them to send their child to a school that is failing. Cole continued his response by saying that the government is not the answer, but that the answer is putting it back in the hands of the parents and, in his words, letting the money follow the student. “You will see education improve overnight with that action,” said Cole.

The same exact question was posed to Congressman Bishop and he responded by first saying that the Federal Government supports education, which is really a local function. He added that the Federal Government provides resources to school systems and when it provides resources, the government does so by attaching incentives for the school systems to try to meet certain standards.

“As far as public schools are concerned, I attended public schools from K-12,” said Bishop. “I believe in public schools. The majority of students in this country attend public schools, but there’s a disparity between the quality of education and the quality of resources that are made available to public schools all across this country.”

Bishop went on to say that an equalization of those resources is needed and that it is the Federal Government’s role to make sure that adequate resources are provided for every school system. “It should not matter the zip code that a child lives in,” said Bishop. “That child should have the same opportunity to realize his or her full potential regardless of where they live.”

Bishop continued his response by saying that parents shouldn’t have to have a choice if the adequate resources, coupled with the right incentives, are provided to all of the school systems whether they be in rural areas or urban areas.

“We can create an educational system in this country that is equivalent to none, but there are countries across the world who exceed us in the STEM disciplines: Science, Math, Technology, Engineering, because we do not put those basic foundation in our students in our K-12,” concluded Bishop.

The next question that was posed to the candidates was done so by Student Panelist Dylan Wall. It had to do with the recent police shootings of African Americans. The specific question asked by Wall was “What is your take on this year’s events involving race and policing and what can and should Congress do?”

Bishop was the first candidate to answer and he began his response by saying that what has been happening is very, very disturbing and that it is something that has awakened the conscience of the nation. “I have always and continue to be supportive of law enforcement,” said Bishop. “Some of my closest friends are law enforcement personnel. I have some friends that were actually killed in the line of duty. I support their families and I encourage them and support legislation to provide for survivors of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty,” said Bishop. He went on to say that in his opinion, 99 percent of the country’s law enforcement officers serve and protect their communities and that he does what he can as a Congressman to provide the support that they need. Bishop did add, however, that in his opinion, there are some “bad apples” and that Congress needs to set standards so that there is equal and fair policing and justice in policing. “Yes, we need to eliminate chokeholds. We need to make sure that when lethal force is used that lethal force is required,” said Bishop. “There needs to be training, standards. I do not support defunding the police. I’ve done everything that I could to support law enforcement with resources here in the Second Congressional District, additional equipment, surplus equipment, radios, special appropriations of which we use to call earmarks to our local law enforcement so they could be able to get the equipment that they needed.”

Bishop went on to say that he supports the Police Officer’s Bill of Rights, but that balance is very much needed. “We need body cameras. We need to make sure that there is adequate training, there’s cultural training and that there’s standards that can hold all of us to the standard of care for equal justice under law. Everyone needs to be held accountable, including police officers,” concluded Bishop.

The same exact question was posed to Cole and he began his response by saying that when he first heard of the idea of defunding the police, he thought he was watching a Saturday Night Live skit. “It was so out of the ordinary, it was so out-of-the-world thinking,” said Cole. “And yet, it has spread around. More and more and more saying ‘Defund the police. Defund the police.” Cole went on to strongly emphasize that the vast majority of police officers in this nation are good officers and that there is an infinitesimal amount of police officers who are not good. He added that police officers do not want o be looked at as if they are the enemy. “Their job, and it’s on all the police cars around, is to protect and to serve,” said Cole. “That is their attitude. That is their hope. That is their desire. They are out there putting their lives on the line. We need to unquestionably, unapologetically, without a doubt serve them in every way.” Cole went on to say that Senator Tim Scott, a republican from South Carolina, tried introducing Criminal Justice Reform and made an impassioned speech before the entire Senate, sharing his own circumstances.

“He wanted to meet and he offered every kind of amendment,” said Cole. “He said ‘I will accept what ever you want to’, but democrats blocked it. Democrats blocked it. Democrats blocked it because they did not want to see that. They wanted it as a talking point to incite, to spread around. No, we don’t need to be talking about defunding the police. We want to be behind them all the way with everything, not just handing out federal money here and there. We need to be standing beside them,” continued Cole.

At this point in the debate, there was a second rebuttal and response time for each candidate, which lasted two minutes. Cole went first and began his speech by saying that Comprehensive Immigration Reform is nothing more than another term for amnesty for illegal immigrants and that Americans need to “run the other way” when they here it. “I don’t care how you cut it, how you look at it, that’s what they’re talking about,” said Cole. “What we need to do is secure the border, enforce the laws we’ve got right now and then work to a way to simplify the coming into the country. For those who are already in the country illegally, They’re going to have to go back and come back through just like everybody else has who has worked toward that.” Cole went on to say that the best way to equalize education is to put it in the hands of the parents and let them decide where they want to send their kids to school. “I guarantee you when the parents can decide, there will be a better equalization,” said Cole. He went on to reference the success of Baconton Charter School in Mitchell County and that everyone wants to get in there because parents have a choice. “It is local control over them. That’s what we need to encourage. That’s what we need to support and we don’t need a big federal handout or a big federal oversight,” said Cole.

Bishop began his rebuttal by saying that he has spent quite a bit of time with the School Superintendent of Mitchell County and the principal of Baconton Charter School in an effort to try to get some justice for the charter schools. “They were serving everyone in those communities and yes, that charter school in Baconton was sought after, was high performing, but because of a federal regulation, they were not able to share in the funds that were going to the other school in that particular county,” said Bishop.   He went on to say that what he tried to do was work with them and put them in touch with the Charter School Association to help put in place some legislation that would allow them to be able to participate in that special program. “I have a great deal of respect for the efforts that are undergoing there in Mitchell County,” said Bishop. “I certainly want to do everything to see that everyone gets a solid education.”

Bishop also commented on the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act by saying that that piece of legislation was passed by the House of Representatives with a great deal of debate and a great deal of detail. According to Bishop, every aspect of the bill was dealt with as to how the quality of policing in America can be improved. However, Bishop added that when the legislation went to the Senate, it went to what he called “McConnell’s Graveyard”. Bishop also called Senator Tim Scott’s bill that Cole mentioned earlier in the debate a “Watered Down version” of the Justice and Policing Act. “It was unacceptable.   It was not voted upon in the Senate because people could see that it was paper-thin,” said Bishop.

The last question of the evening was about the upcoming 2020 Presidential Election and it had to do with voter fraud. Dr. Berggren, who asked this question, stated that President Trump had recently stated that the only way he could lose the election was if it was rigged. The question that Dr. Berggren asked the candidates was if both the republicans and democrats are claiming that the election is not fair or not free, how can the American people have confidence that their votes will count.

Bishop was the first to respond to this question and he began his response by stating that the most precious right that Americans have is the right to vote.

Bishop mentioned that his colleague, the late Georgia Congressman John Lewis, struggled, was beaten and almost died struggling and fighting for the right to vote for every American. “If we do not utilize that right to vote, we cannot preserve and save our democracy,” said Bishop. “I believe that we should take every effort that we can to make voting as accessible as we can possibly make it so that every American can have his or her voice heard when it comes to electing the people who will be ruling our country.” Bishop went on to say that it is not helpful for there to be voter intimidation or any impediments put in the way of people voting. He also stated that a candidate should not have to say that he or she lost an election because the other side cheated. “That’s what we use to say on the playground,” said Bishop. “We need to be adults. We need to take this election and our democracy seriously and we need to get it right.” Bishop also stated that every effort needs to be made to make sure that no foreign interference takes place and that cyber security guards against cyber attacks from countries such as China, Russia and Iran. “Our vote is our voice. It’s what makes us Americans,” concluded Bishop.

Cole began his response to the question by saying that the bottom line is that each person’s vote belongs to them. “When it comes down to it, you don’t have any control over what anybody else except you,” said Cole. “When you go in that voting booth, your vote belongs to you. It’s yours. It’s your right.” Cole went on to say that he supports everyone’s right to vote, but added that no one needs to be inciting or stirring up things that are going on. He mentioned that when he was in Albany, Cole had a conversation with a group of people who represented an organization called “Black Votes Matter”, an organization that is pushing people to get out and vote. Cole stated that he was able to have a civil and respectful conversation with them.

“We want a good, clear, clean election. The people will decide,” said Cole. “I am willing to trust the judgment of the people. When it all comes down to it, it’s yours.”

Near the end of the debate, each candidate made his closing statement. In his closing statement, Cole stated that the name of the very office that he and Bishop are seeking sums up the main and primary issue: Representative. “The question is who is being represented and who will stand up for you in the Second District,” said Cole. “I will stand up for you. I’ll work for you and no one is going to work harder for you than I will so we need a change and the reason is simple.” Cole went on to say that he doesn’t believe that the Second District has a representative who represents the deeply held, shared values. Cole sited Bishop’s 100 percent rating with Planned Parenthood and stated that such a rating with that organization doesn’t match the Second District. He also stated that Bishop voted to impeach President Trump. “If you supported President Trump, then you need to vote for Don Cole to take a vote away from Nancy Pelosi,” said Cole. He also reiterated the fact that Congressman Bishop is under investigation for possible ethics violations, which could lead to expulsion, indictment or both. “You don’t need to hire someone who might be arrested any day,” said Cole. “Former Congressman Duncan Hunter is going to prison for the same charges. This is a serious, serious matter. This is not anything to be taken lightly.”

Cole also sited Bishop’s NRA rating of C and that it’s not fit for the Second District. In addition to those things, Cole added that Bishop prioritized the needs of Puerto Rico ahead of farmers in Georgia’s Second Congressional District. “He’s going to do whatever Nancy Pelosi tells him,” said Cole. Cole went on to say that Bishop fought against a move that would have brought jobs to Fort Valley State University. “The worst part is I don’t think that opportunity even crossed his mind,” said Cole. “I’ll stand up for you. I’ll be the cheerleader here in the Second District. Georgia has been the best place in the nation to do business for seven years in a row.” Cole continued by stating that he will do everything he can to bring as many jobs to the Second District as he can and that nobody is going to work harder for the people of the Second District than he will. “I’m asking you to vote for Don Cole and to send DC to D.C.,” said Cole.

Bishop began his closing statement by saying that this job doesn’t belong to him or his opponent, but to the people of the Second Congressional District. “They have seen fit to send me back to work for them over the last 14 terms,” said Bishop. “They have done that because I have delivered for them.” Bishop went on to say that agriculture is the number one industry in the Second District and that he has the seniority and the experience. Bishop added that because of that seniority and experience, he is the Chairman of the Agriculture, Rural Development, Federal Drug Administration Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee. Bishop also stated that Defense is the second largest industry in Georgia and that he serves on the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee. “ I have delivered jobs to this community and to this district,” said Bishop. “Our military bases are protected…29,000 new personnel at Fort Benning, expansion of the Marine Corps Logistics Base to Worldwide Logistics Headquarters in Albany.”

Bishop concluded his closing statement by stating that he has delivered for the Second Congressional District both in good times and times of trouble and asked the voters to send him back so that he can, in his words, continue this ministry.