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Governor hopefuls talk issues

Photo by Tori Boone

Photo by Tori Boone

DULUTH -- Four Republicans seeking to become Georgia's next governor tried to convince Gwinnettians on Saturday that they would be tough enough to take on the job.

Two talked about battling Democrat Roy Barnes, the former governor trying to win back his seat, while two more talked about standing up to President Barack Obama, during a debate sponsored by FreedomWorks.

"It is about standing up and fighting for what needs to be done for the state," said Karen Handel, the former secretary of state who talked about righting financial catastrophes as Fulton commission chairwoman and leading the state's voter ID fight against Barnes.

With Gwinnett County standing to lose its major water source in a legal battle over Lake Lanier, both former Sen. Eric Johnson and Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine said the state should aggresively pursue use of the Tennessee River, possibly going to court over a mistaken border line.

Former Congressman Nathan Deal talked about his public battle with Obama about health care and his tough stance on illegal immigration while serving in Washington, helping create the federal 287(g) program.

All four called for tax reform, with Oxendine calling out Deal for supporting the FairTax in Washington but saying the elimination of the income tax would not work in Georgia.

"That's hypocrisy, and I'm not a hypocrite," said Oxendine, who lives in Duluth. "If income tax is wrong in Washington, it's wrong in Georgia."

Few issues divided the candidates, who were intent on school choice, improving transportation, state's rights and enforcing laws against illegal immigration.

But after Oxendine said he did not support a proposal to make the state's commissioners and secretaries appointed positions instead of elected, Johnson said a debate was merited on positions where people regulate industries, which could create conflicts, referencing a current investigation into Oxendine's office.