By Eli Watkins
For seven years now, a member of Congress hailing from Athens, Rep. Paul Broun, M.D. of the 10th District, has received a mixture of scorn and praise for his colorful statements and conservative voting pattern. Broun is running for retiring U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss’ seat, which leaves the race for the 10th District wide open.
The people of the 10th will vote to replace Broun this year, whether he successfully ascends to the Senate or his career goes the way of the wooly mammoth.
Seven of the eight candidates qualified for the ballot are Republicans. The overwhelming partisan imbalance reflects the fact that the 10th district leans heavily republican. According to the Cook Political Report, this district’s voters went for the 2012 Republican nominee for president, Governor Mitt Romney, by a margin of 26 percentage points. In 2012, Broun won the general election unopposed, despite 4,000 write-in votes for deceased English biologist Charles Darwin. Barring any unforeseen circumstances involving their eventual nominee, the Republican voters in the 10th district will likely decide the election.
As it stands now, the district spans many rural locations in the eastern side of the state. It stretches from Barrow and Walton counties in the northwest to Johnson and Jefferson in the southeast. Major cities include Athens, Milledgeville, Monroe, and Winder.
The general election is on November 4, but in a district this conservative, it seems the more important date to pay attention to is the primary on May 20.
Some of these candidates differ on rhetoric, but their policy stances and mutual distaste for President Obama show they agree on broad political principles. Their backgrounds involve military service, business experience, grassroots involvement, and one count of involvement in the legislature. Please see the list below for details on each candidate.
- Mike Collins is a business owner from Jackson, Georgia. He is the son of former Rep. Mac Collins, who defeated Rep. Broun in a (1992) primary. According to his website, this Collins has spent much of his life in the private sector, serving on the Boards of Georgia’s Associated Credit Union and Motor Trucking Association and as president of his county’s Chamber of Commerce, as well as running his own trucking company. His campaign is focusing on this private sector experience. Brandon Phillips, a consultant for the campaign, said, “He’s the only one with real business experience.” On the issues, Collins is a conservative candidate in general agreement with his opponents. He is against tax increases, same sex marriage, and the availability of abortions. He supports Fairtax, robust military spending, and gun rights. According to the FEC, Collins’ disclosures show $324,606 in total contributions.
- Gary Gerrard is a former Army officer and an Athens native as well as a practicing attorney and former adjunct law professor for a few universities including the University of Georgia. He supports a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution and advocates the creation of a budget reconciliation commission to increase action on budget cuts in the style of a mechanism Congress employed to close military bases. He wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act and abolish the Department of Education. When asked what distinguishes him from his opponents, Gerrard said, “There is at least one person in the race, maybe more, that has an originalist intent of the constitution that I believe is naive.” According to the FEC, Gerrard’s disclosures show $114,835 in contributions.
- Jody Hice is a radio host and minister living in Walton County. His religious background and his political activism are intertwined. In a forum hosted by the Newton Conservative Liberty Alliance and the Covington News, Hice summed up his appeal when he said, “I’m a Christian. I’m a constitutionalist. I’m a conservative.” Hice is proud over his fight with the American Civil Liberties Union over a Barrow County courthouse’s display of the Ten Commandments. In 2008, he joined 30 other pastors in protesting an IRS code by telling his congregation to vote for Senator John McCain. Perhaps the most overtly pro-Broun candidate, Hice takes some of the most absolutist conservative positions. He makes a number of pledges on his website, including a promise not to raise the debt ceiling, a policy many economists describe as more or less the economic equivalent of seppuku. According to the FEC, Hice’s disclosures show $255,567 in total contributions.
- Donna Sheldon has the dual distinction of being the only woman and prior office holder in the race. She served in the Georgia House of Representatives, where she eventually became Chair of the House Majority Caucus. She helped craft a bill on the House Transportation Committee that led to the T-SPLOST referendum in 2012. Her work in the legislature earned her praise from several right-leaning organizations. American Conservative Union gave her a 100 percent rating. The Susan B. Anthony List, a national pro-life organization, endorsed her in this race for her firm history of support for pro-life initiatives. According to the FEC, Hice’s disclosures show $384,056 in total contributions.
- Stephen Simpson is a retired military officer from Milledgeville. No stranger to running in this district, Simpson lost to Broun in the 2012 primary, but is now bolstered in the crowded field with the support of former Governor Sonny Perdue. Simpson is also a former member of the intelligence community. When he brought up this point at the NCLA and Covington News forum, he said wryly, “When I worked for the NSA, we didn’t overreach.” He often references Obama administration controversies like the attack in Benghazi, Libya and discriminatory IRS practices, popular topics in the republican base. He also focuses, like his opponents, on budget cuts and employment. According to the FEC, Hice’s disclosures show $185,630 in total contributions.
- Brian Slowinski is a self-described non-establishment conservative tea party republican candidate, and to the observer, it appears he is right. Whether it is his trademark of repeating his name three times or his homemade announcement video on YouTube, people can see Slowinski really was correct when he said, “I’m not part of the professional political class.” Slowinski holds Rep. Broun in high esteem, and it seems he would vote similarly to the tea party favorite. His issue positions for the most part are similar to the rest of the candidates. However, Slowinski also has an anti-establishment and libertarian bent. He supports firing Speaker John Boehner and auditing the Federal Reserve. Hice’s campaign has no funds listed by the FEC for 2013.
- S. Mitchell Swann is a Marine Colonel from Athens. He has experience in foreign policy. According to his website, Swann worked on U.S. policy for the Middle East when he was a staff officer with U.S. Central Command. Given his background, it is no surprise that Swann focuses on international issues more than the other candidates do. Demonstrating his perspective in this regard, he said, “We are the last nation of consequence in Western Civilization.” However, he does share many of the domestic concerns as his opponents. He supports budget cuts and a flat tax. One area he may differ from his opponents on is immigration. Swan has a plan to offer undocumented immigrants windows of opportunities to pay fees and ultimately gain citizenship. The FEC did not have anything from Swann’s campaign because he had not entered the race until after the last disclosure deadline.
Voters will decide which Republican candidate of those seven listed above to put on the general election ballot. On the other side of the aisle stands Ken Dious, the sole Democrat in the race. He is a civil rights lawyer, and according to his website, “was the first African-American student at University of Georgia to integrate the football team and wear a Bulldog uniform.” This means that if Dious were to win the election, Georgia’s congressional delegation would have another member of the civil rights movement.
When it comes to policy, Dious’ positions span the portion of the U.S. political spectrum unoccupied by his opponents. According to his website, Dious believes the state of Georgia should promote its “attractive tax code,” but also said he supports a “national healthcare plan.” He served as an Obama delegate in the 2008 Democratic National Convention, which may put him at odds with the vast majority of this district’s anti-Obama voters.
According to the FEC, Dious’ disclosures show $11,395 in contributions. To democratic activists, this campaign seems like a good chance for Dious–or any other Democrats looking for footholds in the area–to build up support as the state’s demographics change. Still, Dious is hopeful about his chances.
“I think my chance in this race is good,” said Dious, “but we’re trying to get my message out.”
Unless one of the Republican candidates walks away with the May primary, the two highest polling candidates will go on to compete in a runoff in June. Then the winner of that contest will face the hurdle that is the November general election. So far, the qualifying process narrowed the 700,000 or so people in the 10th district to eight possible candidates. Now it is up to the voters to make that last jump down to one representative.