MARIETTA — In his first public appearance here since announcing for U.S. Senate, Georgia football great Herschel Walker joined the “Grumpy Old Men” breakfast club to lay out his stance on a variety of topics at The Red Eyed Mule on Thursday morning.
In the hourlong breakfast roundtable, Walker, who hopes to unseat Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., in 2022, fielded questions on affordable housing, his dismay with the defund the police movement, his concern over the withdrawal from Afghanistan, charter school systems, overburdening infrastructure projects with federal regulation and the importance of his faith.
Before facing Warnock in the November 2022 general election, Walker must first win the Republican primary, which includes other Republicans such as Georgia Secretary of Agriculture Gary Black, Atlanta banking executive Latham Saddler and small business owner Kelvin King.
Walker expressed dismay over what he sees as a movement in this country out to divide people because of their race or other reasons.
“That’s not America,” he said. “We’ve come so far as a people to have our government, our elected officials, try to separate people, and we can’t do that.”
But voters share the blame for not staying vigilant and holding elected officials accountable, Walker said.
“We’re putting people in office that’s not responsible,” he said. “If you think about this, some of the stuff we’re fighting about today, we’ve been fighting about it since Jimmy Carter was in office. We haven’t changed.”
He did have kind words for former President Donald Trump, however. Walker was a vocal Trump supporter in the runup to the 2020 election, and Trump had encouraged him to run for U.S. Senate.
“A lot has changed since Trump left office,” Walker said. “Like Trump or not, Trump, he had some policies that were incredible. He said some crazy stuff though. Now he said some crazy stuff, but I said, ‘Guys, don’t look at what he says, look at what he does.’”
Walker also said it was unfortunate that politics had regressed from working across the political aisle to “get things done,” to largely name-calling.
“You’ve got to be willing to compromise and communicate. You can never get anything done unless you communicate,” he said, noting that politicians used to be able to accomplish tasks over a meal together. “I don’t know if they do that today. ... Let’s quit this name-calling. Let’s get things done.”
The visit to Marietta was one of several stops Walker is making on a statewide listening tour. Campaign officials said Walker had already stopped in Forsyth, Macon, Dublin and Savannah, and after Marietta, he planned to head to other cities in Georgia.
Walker aims to meet with community and business leaders, as well as longtime citizens in each area, to understand what issues they want to see addressed in Congress, according to his campaign.
Affordable housingChris Poston, COO of Traton Homes, said as housing prices remain bloated over just two years ago, an excess of regulation and markups on services required for building on purchased land has kept builders like him from being able to offer affordable homes. Poston said supplies are also part of the problem as the supply chain continues to be “an absolute wreck.”
Referring to recent supplements to federal unemployment benefits during the pandemic, he also said “paying people to not work,” has led to an inability to produce the same volume of items like windows, cabinets and roofing shingles, and has driven up costs for those products.
Plus, even though he has job openings and continues to offer more money for those openings, Poston said he hasn’t been able to hire workers.
“We’re inflating at such a rate right now, there’s a subdivision way outside of Atlanta that we’re selling (homes) in the $500,000s on little small lots, and the bad thing is, that’s a $300,000 house two years ago,” he said. “I worry with (the) supply chain, with governmental regulations that have made things go up so much, what that’s going to do if we don’t start fixing the supply chain and easing the regulations.”
Poston said business owners will not absorb the increase in cost, and instead pass it to consumers, further exacerbating a lack of affordable housing.
“I have stuff in Marietta that I’d love to be selling in the $270,000s, but I can’t. Now it’s selling for $370,000,” he said.
Walker said he understood the “trickle-down” effect from business owners to consumers that higher taxes and regulations can have. He also said part of the supply chain problem comes from the U.S. not producing much of what it needs domestically.
Carl Sigman, owner of Carl Sigman Commercial, followed Poston with comments from the commercial side of real estate, where he likewise said supply chain issues are wreaking havoc on his business and keeping employees who are trying to feed their families out of work.
“And my thing is, if you got the product sitting at a port, my goodness, I can bring 200 guys … and we can unload some cargo,” he said.
Sigman said he felt Trump was “a doer,” while President Joe Biden’s administration “just wants to look good and put it to the back burner.”
Walker said the Biden administration hasn’t been running the country correctly. He said the answer is accountability of elected officials. If they’re not doing their job, vote them out, he said, extending that same sentiment to himself.
Military and policeCalling the recent withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan “a shame,” Walker trained his sites on the need for more support of veterans and police.
“We just turn our backs on our military. Our military is the fabric and the foundation of this country. That’s the reason we’re the greatest country in the world,” he said. “How do we turn our backs on them? How do we turn our backs on all the police?”
Walker took shots at the “defund the police” movement and said criminals had been made to look like heroes and police like demons in recent history.
“You don’t defund the police, you give them better training. You give them better equipment,” he said.
Walker pointed out how scary it is for police officers to walk up to vehicles without knowing who is inside or what their intentions may be. He also said being disciplined as a child and taught to respect authority, kept him out of trouble growing up, and that respect is what can keep interactions with police officers calm.
Homelessness and mental healthThough it has always been one of his priorities, MUST Ministries President and CEO Ike Reighard said addressing homelessness and helping the needy in local communities is high on the list of things he’d like to see addressed in Congress. He noted that many of the homeless in the Cobb area are veterans with post-traumatic stress from their service.
Reighard said the pandemic had exacerbated homelessness, as well as unemployment and hunger, other issues MUST seeks to help people with.
Walker said Reighard’s priorities, especially addressing homelessness, were issues close to his own heart.
People who are homeless often also have mental health needs that aren’t being met, he said. The need for mental health services has been stigmatized, he added, and people with mental health problems may want help but not understand how to get it.
Walker said he had talked to a man who had bought a small hotel that had closed and was housing the homeless there and giving them jobs.
“I think that’s an incredible, incredible idea, because you’ve got all of these great places now that are going out of business,” he said. Instead of tearing those kinds of places down, Walker said, why not put money into them, get the homeless off the street and teach them a trade or other skill to make them employable?
For her part, former Cobb GOP Chair Rose Wing said she believed people moved to Cobb County in part for its stellar education system and asked Walker to share his thoughts on education.
Walker said he’d been learning about charter school systems during a visit to Dublin, Georgia, calling the system “interesting,” for its flexibility in allowing students to focus on where their talents lie.
Marietta City Schools is a charter system, which means the district has a charter, or contract, with the state of Georgia “to increase student achievement,” according to the district.
Charter systems have more flexibility to operate beyond state mandates and make adjustments in staffing, teaching methods and management in exchange for higher accountability. While they adhere to state curriculum, charter systems can use new educational programs and are given resources to implement them.
Walker said he found that system interesting, given that the main focus was still graduating the student, but making sure that the system focused on what would be best for the individual students’ skills.
“He may not go to a four-year college. He may go to a tech school,” he said. “And so I said, ‘Why are we not looking at putting a system like that in place?’”
Cutting federal regulationsReferring to his work constructing roads, bridges and other local infrastructure, Greg Teague, president of Croy Engineering, said he was concerned about federal regulations that drive up the cost and extend the timeline of engineering projects with federal money attached.
Teague said while the federal government needs to be involved in and funding infrastructure projects, excessive regulations, including long environmental studies, can waste money that could be used in better ways.
Walker pointed to his own frustration with regulations on his “chicken business,” which he said required him to fill out forms regarding his status as a minority.
“While I’m filling out forms, people are selling more chicken, so I’m getting further and further behind,” he said, segueing into his position. “When you have all these federal regulations, that’s terrible. You’ve got to go to the states. That’s the reason I said you’ve got to get local leaders that you get into office that can cut these regulations out.”
Walker said the federal government “has a tendency to be overreaching.”
Climate issuesAfter criticizing the Biden administration looking to spend “money we don’t have” on a proposed $3.5 trillion dollar bill expanding the social safety net, Walker took aim at the climate change inclusions in that proposal, as well as talk of the progressive Green New Deal.
Walker said the U.S. has “some of the cleanest water” and air of any country in the world. The countries that the U.S. needs to talk to about cleaning up the world’s air and water, he said, are places like India and China.
“They’ve got to clean up stuff over there for us to clean ours up,” he said. “No matter what we spend here, they’ve got to help us.”
Attendees pleased with Walker’s policy positionsAs Walker took photos with fans and supporters and prepared to leave, attendees of The Red Eyed Mule listening session who spoke with the MDJ said they were pleased with Walker’s policy positions. They also said they felt Walker was someone who cared about the country, working across the aisle and getting things done.
Mickey Brand, a member of the Grumpy Old Men’s breakfast table, called Walker’s visit “great.”
“I really enjoyed everything he said,” Brand said, noting he was most concerned about U.S. border security, respect for law and order and equal treatment according to the law. “He probably doesn’t know this yet, but I sent him a contribution in the mail just a few days ago. Yeah, I fully support him.”
Marietta resident Jamie Berrong said Walker’s comments on what he said was a loss of logical thought in policy making was what “got my attention.”
“He can see that stuff is not making sense, and I think a lot of people are starting to say, ‘Hey, something’s not right with this administration we’ve got,’” he said. “They didn’t like Trump because of his bad tweets or this and that, but (Walker) even said Trump said some crazy things but his policies were good. That’s what the issue is. Trump was doing what was good for America. You can’t judge a person on what they say, it’s what they do and how things are going.”
Berrong said he also liked Walker’s comments on the importance of not defunding the police, providing law enforcement better training and support for the military.
“Everything that he was saying is stuff that I’ve been saying and thinking, and we need someone like him that’s not scared to say — he’s not in a popularity contest,” he said. “Like he said, he doesn’t need anymore feathers in his cap. He’s doing this because he cares.”