By Maria Saporta
With only three weeks left to go before the Nov. 2 election, the three gubernatorial candidates faced each other in a debate at the Temple — showing their sense of humor as well as their frustrations.
The first question posed by moderator Julia Wallace, editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, was what three traits should the next governor have.
Former Gov. Roy Barnes, the Democratic candidate, answered: “honesty, integrity and transparency.” Then Barnes, in a direct reference to his opponent — former Congressman Nathan Deal — went on to say: “I don’t believe you can lead this state unless people know everything about you.”
Barnes has said repeatedly that Deal will not release all his financial information for public review.
Deal, the Republican candidate, said the three traits most important to him were: “an established record of dedicated service, and adherence to principles, and someone who will be impartial.”
And John Monds, the Libertarian, said his top three traits were to be “honest, consistent and humble.” He then added that he doesn’t believe in top-down governance.
The funniest interchange of the evening’s debate — which was sponsored by the Temple, the Anti-Defamation League, and the American Jewish Committee — was when Wallace asked each candidate to talk about his wife.
Deal said he met his wife, Sandra, on a blind date that had lasted more than 40 years. “People love Sandra. I just try to get them to like me. You would be honored to call her your first lady,” Deal said.
Then Monds spoke of wife, Kathaleena, as being “the love of my life,” adding that “I can’t imagine being married to anybody else.” He then ended his comments by saying: “I can’t wait to get home tonight….”
Barnes waited a few seconds before answering. He then said he wanted to see where Monds was going with that.
Ironically, Barnes also met his wife, Marie, on a blind date, and they also been married for four decades. “She’s no shrinking violet,” he said jokingly before turning serious. “I’m one of those lucky people who married the first woman I fell in love with.”
The debate became far more fractious when the candidates questioned each other.
Barnes asked Deal that if he had been in the General Assembly in 2001, how would he have voted on changing the state flag to remove the Confederate symbol. Changing the flag was one of the reasons why Barnes lost his re-election eight years ago.
“I saw where that got you Roy,” Deal quickly said, and then added: “I think the flag that we have in the state of Georgia is a fair compromise, and I probably would have gone in that direction.”
Then Deal asked Barnes about his support of Georgia adopting an energy portfolio that would include renewable resources.
“Georgia is the Saudi Arabia of pine trees,” Barnes said, adding that he supported the use of biomass, and believed that renewable sources of energy could initially make up 3 to 5 percent of the state’s portfolio with a goal of going to 10 percent.
Deal then accused Barnes of not only supporting biomass, but wind and solar, which he said don’t work in Georgia.
“We don’t have solar in South Georgia?” Barnes countered back to Deal. Then he said the state could do more if Georgia Power didn’t have so many lobbyists.
In his second question to Deal, Barnes asked the former congressman why he has spent $80,000 of his campaign funds on lawyers, especially since Deal has been so critical that Barnes is a lawyer (as is Deal).
Deal, however, said he had been a defense lawyer, a big difference from being a trial lawyer who is suing people all over the state.
Then Deal accused Barnes of negative campaigning.
“That’s kind of like the skunk telling a possum that your breath stinks,” retorted Barnes, who repeated his question about the $80,000 and asked why Deal kept calling him Roybama.
“I don’t know about your association with Obama,” Deal said. “We just point out the facts, but the facts hurt.”
“I’ll quit telling the truth if you quit telling lies,” Barnes told Deal, asking him about how he had been able to have a no-bid contract with the state when he had been a legislator.
“If it was so bad, why was it in place the entire time you were governor?” Deal shot back.
To that, Barnes said the contract was so hidden he didn’t know about it.
One area of consensus was Sunday alcohol sales. Barnes said he has supported a referendum on Sunday sales. Deal said local communities should decide. Monds said he certainly favored Sunday alcohol sales and casino gambling as well.
The candidates were asked what was the greatest impediment in building transit in Georgia. Deal said it was a matter of money and the need for a plan. Monds said he favor public-private partnerships. And Barnes said the greatest impediment was “leadership.”
Now the region of 5.5 million people needs to have a consolidated transportation plan. “We have had a lack of leadership for eight years,” Barnes said. “Either do it or we are going to die.”
Then Barnes was asked by Wallace about his support of President Barack Obama.
“I like to vote for Democrats so I can live like a Republican,” Barnes said. He then said he has voted for Republican candidates in the past.
When pressed on which Republican he would support rather than Obama, Barnes said Tommy Thompson, the former governor of Wisconsin and former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. He also said he would have supported former North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt, a Democrat, for a national office.
“I’m not going to vote for Sarah Palin,” Barnes said. “I’m tied of the nuts on both sides. I will vote for who I think is best and who is more moderate.”
Deal was then asked by Wallace why he had paid so little on taxes and whether he would agree to release all his supplemental tax documents for the past five years so the public.
“I don’t think that’s necessary,” Deal said, adding that he was protecting business partners from media scrutiny.
Barnes also was asked about reapportionment and the creation of gerrymandered congressional districts.
“There are sinners on both sides of reapportionment, Barnes said. Then he said he
agreed with Gov. Sonny Perdue, Barnes said, who called for an independent commission to help redraw the districts. “If I’m governor, that’s what’s going to happen or I’m not going to sign the bill.”
In their closing statements, their differences were more defined.
“I believe you have a clear choice in this election,” Deal said. “You don’t want bigger government.”
The Barnes asked the audience of several hundred people.
“This election is not about Nathan Deal or Roy Barnes,” Barnes said, forgetting to mention Monds.
“It’s about who can best run this state, who can best manage the state and who you would hire to run your own business and balance the books,” he added. “I suggest you know the answer.”