Forsyth County News: Woodall, Bourdeaux face off at candidate forum

PEACHTREE CORNERS – Candidates for Georgia’s 7th Congressional District, which contains parts of Forsyth and Gwinnett counties, debated issues in a balmy room at Peachtree Corners City Hall on Monday night, with some answers from the candidates and responses from the audience getting heated as well.

On Monday evening, the United Peachtree Corners Civic Association hosted a candidate forum featuring District 7 Candidates Incumbent Rep. Rob Woodall, a Republican, and Democratic challenger Carolyn Bourdeaux, along with other candidates representing Peachtree Corners at the state and local level.

Moderator Jim Blum, a resident of the city, asked the candidates pre-submitted questions from the audience and allowed each candidate to ask the other a question.

Opening statements

Both candidates had a chance to start the meeting with an opening statement.

Woodall, who was first elected to the seat in 2010, said the district looked the way today “America is going to look in 10 or 15 years, and that is nothing but good news.”

“There is absolutely a challenge in which direction do we want to see America move,” Woodall said. “Do we want to see America move from the top going down, or do we want to see America move from our district experiences and successes going up? We’ve got a lot of success in the last seven years pushing ideas from Georgia up to Washington, D.C.”

Bourdeaux, a Suwanee resident who teaches at Georgia State University and was previously director of the Georgia Senate Budget and Evaluation Office, said she was pushed to run due to health care issues and the election of President Donald Trump.

“I am running for office, though, because I think our healthcare system is badly broken and I think the choices made by those in Washington have made it much, much worse,” she said. “I am also running because we have a president who is corrupt and we have a Congress that is in hock to special interests, and I think we need a change.”

Medicare and Social Security

Blum’s first question centered on what the candidates would do to make sure there were not cuts to Medicare and Social Security for those who have paid in.

Bourdeaux said both her parents passed away last year and were “very, very dependent on Social Security and on Medicare.” She criticized those who were in favor of recent tax cuts but say there is no money for healthcare.

“What has happened in Washington, though, is that they recently passed a tax bill that ran up the national debt by an additional $2 trillion,” Bourdeaux said. “We are now carrying $21 trillion of debt; that’s $174,000 per taxpayer. Now the leadership in Congress and our congressman is saying, ‘Oh my goodness, we don’t have enough money for Medicare and Social Security.”

Woodall responded that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan had “never advocated cutting Medicare or Social Security.”

“He has advocated for doing what the non-partisan Medicare and Social Security trustees have said, which is all the money that we’ve put in is not enough to make it work,” he said. “Tax receipts today have never been higher in the history of America. The problem is not high tax receipts; the problem is overpromising to generations like mine. The time to make that change is now.”

Student loans

The candidates were also asked what they would do to help lower student loan debt, which has become a frequently debated issue across the country in recent years.

Woodall said those who take out loans should repay those amounts.

“The question isn’t why can’t folks pay the money back. The question is why are folks borrowing so much money to begin with,” he said.

He said Congress has taken steps for more job training, and the House changed legislation to allow financial aid planners to counsel students to not sign up for those loans.

Bourdeaux, who said she graduated college with debt and her family went into bankruptcy paying for it, said she was sympathetic to those with large amounts owed.

“In this district, the average debt for a student is around $26,000,” Bourdeaux said. “I think we need to address this with things like Pell Grants, and unfortunately our congressman has voted to cut Pell Grants for students.”

Opponent questions

Both candidates had a chance to ask their opponent a question on one of their issues, which prompted some fiery questions and responses.

Bourdeaux said Woodall had repeatedly voted to allow insurance companies to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions, which he disputed, and asked him “don’t you care about those folks or are you just scared to stand up to leadership in the House and the president.”

Woodall shot back that he had voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also referred to as Obamacare, but felt that pre-existing conditions were settled.

“What she said is not true. It is not true,” he said. “How many of you have been in a meeting with me where I said, ‘You know what, President [Barack] Obama led on eliminating pre-existing conditions and I think he won that debate and we’ll never return to pre-existing exclusions in this country again?’ It is absolutely the law of the land today and it has been.”

He said he favored an invisible-risk poll like in Maine and said saying he didn’t care or was corrupt was “politics at its worst.”

Woodall, in turn, asked if criticism from Bourdeaux that he was corrupt for taking donations from political action committees and other items and asked if Democratic Rep. John Lewis was also corrupt for taking similar funds. 

“I think we need to get special money out of politics, period,” she said. “Yes, I understand that people on both sides of the aisle play that game, but that is not the right game for us. What this means is that our congressman is funded by PACs. He is funded by lobbyists. He is not funded by you all, and I think he should be listening to you all and not PACs and special interests.”

Jake Best