The forum was hosted by the Smyrna Business Association at the Smyrna Community Center. Questions for the candidates were written on note cards and passed to member Allan Lipset, who read them out loud.
Hill has been hammered on the topic of reproductive health by the Cobb Democratic Committee, which sent an Oct. 26 email stating: “Doug Stoner stands for the rights of women; Hunter Hill does not.”
Lipset asked the candidates if they supported government funding of Planned Parenthood. He also said that at a recent Cobb Democratic Breakfast, Stoner said if Republicans get into office, all women would lose contraceptives.
Hill was first to answer.
“You know, my opponent has unfairly couched me as somebody who is opposed to women,” Hill said. “The son of a mother, the brother of a sister, the husband of a wife, and the father of a daughter, I love women, and so that shouldn’t be the issue.”
Hill said his opponents claim he’s been endorsed by Georgia Right to Life.
“It’s not true. I was endorsed by Georgia Right to Life in my 2008 campaign — incidentally, against Sen. Stoner — but I’m not endorsed this time around,” he said. “But to clear the record, I am pro-life. I’ve come to that belief through a lot of prayer and personal belief and talk with my wife, and that’s just where I am personally, but I don’t believe that we need additional laws at the state level to address this very personal issue.”
Hill said he’s also been accused of opposing women’s contraception and in vitro
fertilization or wanting to support legislation in that vein, which is also false.
“I do not want to push legislation that would ban in vitro fertilization. I have no problem with that. So that’s just a couple areas to clear the record on me,” he said.
As for Planned Parenthood, Hill said he supports funding health care for women where the state is already providing it.
“And so if contraception is a part of that funding, then let’s keep it that way,” he said. “I have no problem with that. However, I am not for government-funded abortion, and another thing as it relates to Planned Parenthood, those services that they provide to the women who need them, things like mammograms, etc., those dollars can go directly to the entities that provide those mammograms, which Planned Parenthood does not. They funnel the money from us through them to those organizations providing the mammograms. Let’s cut out the middle man.”
Suzanne Ward, public relations director for Georgia Right to Life, told the Journal after the forum that when candidates qualify for office her organization mails them literature on how to secure an endorsement. The endorsement includes signing a pledge which states that there are no exceptions for abortion except if the life of the mother is in danger. Ward said while Hill was endorsed by her group in the previous race against Stoner, he didn’t turn in his paperwork for this race.
Hill said after the forum that he is pro-life with the exceptions of rape, incest and danger to the life of the mother.
Stoner, who is pro-choice, was next to address the topic.
“Well I’m glad to hear that Hunter and I agree on this issue, because we have a constitutional amendment sitting down in the Georgia State Legislature, and the way it’s written would do exactly what Hunter was discussing in the sense that it would ban basically most birth control, birth control methods, particularly pills, and also it could ban in vitro fertilization,” Stoner said. “That constitutional amendment is being supported by his leadership in the Senate.”
The District 6 senate seat is important, Stoner said, because if he loses, it gives Senate Republicans a constitutional majority.
“You need to have 38 votes to pass a constitutional amendment to go to the voters, so this seat will determine if such an amendment will go to the voters in the state of Georgia,” he said. “And so I’m glad to hear my challenger has said that he’s disavowed his previous endorsement in the sense of the Georgia Right to Life. … this is an issue that is between a women, with her family and her faith on this decision, and for those who talk about limited government, this is definitely one area that we do not need to be sticking our nose in.”
Lipset asked Hill if he wanted to respond, to which Hill said, “This is the Smyrna Business Association. My candidacy is based on making Georgia more economically competitive, so I don’t think we need to talk about it anymore.”
Lipset also asked about the charter school amendment, saying, “Given that elected school boards can already establish public charter schools, do you support the constitutional amendment that will supersede their authority and allow the state to establish state charter schools?”
Stoner said he voted against the amendment in the Senate. Stoner said while he supports charter schools, the amendment in question has the financial support of for-profit out-of-state charter school companies.
“What you’re going to have is a state commission that’s appointed by the Governor, the Speaker, and the Lt. Governor, who are going to be responsive to them, in my opinion, and so I just think it’s creating another bureaucracy. It’s not necessary, and I question since who is supporting and funding the campaign for it,” he said.
Hill, who supports the amendment, said it’s about making Georgia more competitive.
“For the last 10 years, we’ve been bottom-tier in education, so why wouldn’t we propose to do something that has the potential to really make a difference?” Hill said. “It’s about parents and their children having an alternative opportunity than that which the local school has afforded them, because at the end of the day, we don’t get a choice. It’s based on where you live, that’s where you are going to go to school.”
The candidates were also asked what it means for Smyrna now that District 6 is split between Cobb and Fulton counties.
Hill said it is a good opportunity for Smyrna because the city will have a senator who will serve in both the Cobb and Fulton legislative delegations and thus expand Smyrna’s influence in state government.
Stoner said he already works with community improvement districts in Fulton County because the interstate doesn’t stop at the county line.
“They go across, and we deal with those issues, so for years I’ve worked with the Buckhead CID on transportation issues, the Atlanta Regional Commission, actually with the Perimeter CID — which is actually split between Fulton and DeKalb county — on transportation issues,” Stoner said.
Candidates were asked about how they would help small-business owners in the district, and how they view state incentives for economic development.
Stoner said the state’s Department of Revenue is “stuck in the last third of the 20th century,” and in serious need of updating.
“One of the issues I’ve worked at updating the Department of Revenue to reduce the amount of paperwork you have to do and ensuring they have their records straight,” Stoner said.
As for economic incentives, Stoner said, “they’re important, but just like everything else, you need to be careful how you use them. You need to be aware of do they actually do their job, and you need to be transparent about it, because in my opinion in the years past we’ve had situations where folks have come down and asked for special-interest tax breaks, but without any proof they actually encourage economic development.”
Hill said his platform has been to make the state the most economically competitive in the country, which takes a three-fold approach: tax reform, improving public schools and transportation.
“As I’ve talked to business people all over this district who have invested in my campaign as well, they tell me that our income tax is detrimental to our growth here, so one of the things I’m going to be doing as a state senator is working to eliminate or reduce our state income tax in this state, which would give us a competitive advantage equal to what Florida and Tennessee have,” Hill said. “Now in the way of economic incentives, they’re essentially the state government giving back money to businesses. That usually helps big business. I don’t have a problem with big business. But we’re talking about small business. Tax incentives, tax credits, etc. if we’re going to help small business, we need to do what I believe in which is to get government out of the way, which is what eliminating income tax does. It allows individuals and businesses to come together voluntarily to create value, and then the government doesn’t have as much a say in whether one guy wins and the other guy loses.”
The candidates spoke in calm tones and were cordial to each other throughout, with Stoner nodding in agreement when Hill said something he liked and Hill referring to Stoner as “Doug.”
“I don’t know that you could even categorize it as a debate,” said Smyrna Mayor Max Bacon, who is not making an endorsement. “They were almost too friendly.”
Audience member Fred Aiken of Smyrna, who works for the Georgia Department of Labor, wouldn’t say who he plans to vote for, but when asked who did better at the forum, said “I would tend to lean toward Hill. His reasons for running I think were important to me.”
Smyrna Councilman Wade Lnenicka, who isn’t endorsing anyone, said voters in District 6 have two excellent candidates to choose from.
“Either one would do a great job for the citizens,” Lnenicka said. “I appreciate Sen. Stoner’s record of service. He’s been a good friend to Smyrna over the years, and I know that will continue. I also relate to Hunter Hill’s experience as an Army infantry officer, airborne and ranger, which I was also many years ago … They’re both great guys."