Moderator Pete Combs of WSB Radio asked Gregory about his critical comments on the county’s partnership with the Atlanta Braves to build a new $672 million stadium near Cumberland Mall.
Combs reminded the audience Gregory called the use of such a public-private financing arrangement “theft, where a large corporation and some public officials have conspired to forcibly take money without consent from the electorate and then spend it on a private business venture.”
Combs asked Gregory what he intended to do to change the county’s arrangement with the Braves if re-elected.
Gregory: Braves deal ‘legal plunder, corporate welfare’
Gregory said in a free market, everyone votes on whether a product or service is useful every time they make a purchase.
“So what I would say to the Atlanta Braves is, ‘We would love to have you. You, just like any other business, you take out your loan. You build your stadium. You buy your land. You make your investment. You take the risk, and you keep all the profits,’” Gregory said. “We don’t need to be putting or socializing the risk on the backs of taxpayers. It really is legal plunder, corporate welfare, corporatism, whatever you want to call it. The taxpayers don’t need to fund private business.”
Gregory said he would love to have a water park in his backyard, but understands the government is not going to give him the money to build one.
Combs turned to Reeves to comment on the question.
“One of the key differences between Mr. Gregory and myself is his absolute point of view about the complete exclusion of government involved in private enterprise,” Reeves said. “He and I disagree, and I believe there are certain partnerships that certainly provide economic growth and jobs, and that’s what I’m all about.”
Combs asked Reeves about statements Reeves made on his website, referring to the district as “devoid of leadership,” and that Gregory has “done nothing but let us down since his election, and he has embarrassed us through his actions.”
Said Combs: “Sir, these are damning accusations, and yet you fail in your website to cite specifics.”
Combs asked Reeves to name examples for the audience and share why he was the better candidate.
The reason voters should oust Gregory and elect him, Reeves said, is he will represent the people “and not an ideology that’s out of touch with 99 percent of the people.”
The district is full of families and students preparing for college and seniors who have their own particular needs, Reeves said.
“Mr. Gregory has taken his agenda down to the Capitol and voted against time after time after time legislation that is to benefit the people in this district and what they need,” Reeves said. “I know this community. I understand this community and what it means. And we don’t need a fringe, extreme agenda. We need what’s best for our families.”
Following the Constitution ‘extreme’?
Combs asked Gregory to respond.
“I’m not sure when following the Constitution became extreme,” Gregory said, a statement that sparked cheers and applause from the audience.
In his closing remarks, Gregory called for eliminating state, corporate and individual income taxes, lowering or repealing property taxes and instituting a single, low, flat consumption tax. He also called for fighting Obamacare and opposing unions.
“Jobs are a natural byproduct of the free market, and the absence of government interference and prosperity follows when individuals and private businesses are allowed to keep and reinvest the fruits of their labor,” he said.
Gregory said the state shouldn’t be in the business of picking winners and losers.
“Socialist policies of economic intervention distort the market forces of supply and demand and interfere with the price signals, leading to mal-investment with all sorts of disastrous consequences,” Gregory said. “Businesses’ economic success or failure should be determined by consumers, not political connections. For ultimately, it’s economic liberty that is the key to economic prosperity.”
Reeves says Gregory is an absent legislator
Reeves was given the last word while on stage, and launched into a blistering attack of Gregory.
“My opponent has had two years to be our representative, and he squandered that opportunity by focusing on making enemies at the Capitol instead of actually representing his constituents,” Reeves said. “He’s done nothing for our community except embarrass us.”
Reeves said Gregory was the only legislator in Georgia to vote against “critical issues like elder abuse and the HOPE scholarship.”
Reeves said Gregory has done nothing to grow the economy.
“Instead of working on economic solutions with his colleagues, he’s spent his time focused on radical things, like Georgia having its own currency,” Reeves said.
Reeves called Gregory an “absent legislator,” and “someone who is absent from our community.”
“When have you ever seen him out? When have you seen him in the trenches, serving our community? He’s out of touch with our community,” Reeves said.
By comparison, Reeves said he’s heavily involved in the community, sitting on various nonprofit boards from the Strand Theatre to Reconnecting Families. Reeves said he’s been endorsed by Sheriff Neil Warren and District Attorney Vic Reynolds.
The MDJ followed up with Gregory after the forum to ask about Reeves’ final allegations.
Gregory said when the elder abuse bill came through the House the first time, he voted in favor of it.
But on the last day of the session, Gregory said, the Senate revised it with language “that was a violation of our Fifth Amendment rights to attorney-client privilege, and I voted against it. These are the kind of backroom deals that happen at the Capitol that are destructive to the rights of all Georgians.”
As for voting against HOPE legislation, Gregory said the bill lowered the grade point average requirement from 3.0 to 2.0, something he called a bad precedent because it’s not a good idea to lower education standards.
In addition, lowering the GPA to obtain HOPE funding does nothing to address the rising costs of higher education in Georgia, but lowers the value of a college degree, he said.
“The more the government pumps into subsidizing institutions through federal student loans and programs like HOPE, the more prices continue to skyrocket for everyone,” Gregory said. “In the long run, this doesn’t benefit parents and students; it benefits institutions and politicians.”
There was a time not so long ago when Americans could work their way through college, Gregory said.
“Now, our young people are graduating saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan and credit card debt due to the inflated cost of a college education — all thanks to government intervention,” he said. “And they still can’t find jobs. We should be looking at free-market principles to lower the overall cost of education and to restore value to a college degree.”
Ideological purist or a mainstream Republican?
Kerwin Swint, a political science professor at Kennesaw State University, said in some ways, the race between Gregory and Reeves is an example at the state level of the battle over who controls the Republican Party at the national level.
“It’s pretty consistent with a lot of the power plays we’re seeing between what we call ‘tea party Republicans,’ but it can be sort of a broad label,” Swint said. “Gregory is particularly rigid, and what I mean is there are some tea party Republicans who aren’t as ideological or rigid as he seems to be.”
Swint said Gregory is not popular with his colleagues in the Georgia House under the leadership of Speaker David Ralston.
“He’s considered to be by some an extremist, in it for purely ideological — almost narrow ideological — reasons without a lot of flexibility or thought into his positions, and I think he fits in pretty well with a lot of the Ron Paul, libertarian, hard-right-wing-tea-party Republicans we’re seeing these days,” Swint said. “Reeves, I know less about, but from what I can tell, he’s a pretty mainstream, conservative Republican — very much in keeping with the state house these days.”
Whether a mainstream Republican or a purist appeals to voters in District 34 will be determined May 20. Gregory ousted state Rep. Judy Manning (R-Marietta) two years ago in a surprise upset.
“Judy Manning was certainly not a tea party Republican,” Swint said. “She was considered by many when she was in office to be more moderate if anything, representing that district. I would suspect a lot of the business types in that district — a lot of the ones concerned about economic growth and commercial enterprises — probably would fall more to Reeves. And of course the ideological purists would stay with Gregory.”
Swint said Gregory reminds him of the late state Rep. Bobby Franklin, a Republican who represented northeast Cobb before he died of a heart attack in 2011.
Like Gregory, Franklin wasn’t afraid to challenge the Republican House leadership and was a critic of Speaker Ralston.
“Franklin kept getting re-elected and re-elected and re-elected, you know, so it just depends on the makeup of that district and who really wants to come out and vote,” Swint said.