APN Chat with Vernon Jones, Congressional Candidate, 4th District
(APN) ATLANTA — In our continuing coverage of statewide and Congressional elections, we sat down with former Dekalb County CEO Vernon Jones, who is running for US Congress for Georgia’s fourth district, a seat currently held by US Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA).
Johnson won the seat in 2006 in a Democratic Primary Run-off with former US Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-GA). APN endorsed McKinney in that race. McKinney went on to be the Green Party’s Presidential nominee in 2008 and is now an international activist.
Johnson was un-opposed in 2008, except for a write-in challenge by Faye Coffield, who is still challenging the ballot access restrictions she faced in that race.
This year both Jones and Dekalb Commissioner Connie Stokes are challenging Johnson for the seat. Johnson also faces questions about his recent revelation that he has been battling Hepatitis C and experiencing side effects from his medications.
Stokes has already completed her interview with APN. This leaves Johnson in the position of being the only candidate who has not stated their positions for the record.
APN made several attempts to schedule an interview with Johnson. Johnson’s spokesman, Andy Phelan, requested APN email him with the interview request.
After APN emailed the request, Phelan emailed back to offer a May 08 date, but stated that the interview could only take place at one of the events Johnson would be attending.
However, the interview is approximately an hour long and an event venue is not an ideal setting to conduct such a substantive interview. APN left a voicemail for Phelan in hopes of discussing this, but Phelan did not return the call.
APN then emailed Phelan to request a returned call. Instead of returning the call, Phelan sent an email copying and pasting the previous statement, which obviously APN had already received.
APN then emailed Phelan to reiterate the request for a returned call, which was not responded to in any way.
Apparently, APN is not the only news agency or organization having difficulty. On Common Ground newspaper in Dekalb ran an article called, “Where’s Hank? Fourth hopefuls turn out for debates – without Hank.”
Johnson missed the debate at the Lithonia Greater Chamber of Commerce on May 19, the newspaper reported. He also missed a debate with the Delta Sigma Beta sorority, Decatur chapter.
Stokes previously ran for this seat in 2004, when former US Rep. Denise Majette (D-GA) ran for US Senate, leaving an open seat. McKinney beat Stokes and several other candidates in that race.
Stokes said she decided to run in 2004 when the Republicans took over the legislature and stripped her of all her committee leadership roles in the State Senate. She adds that she was supportive of McKinney despite her decision to run for the open seat and that she sent financial contributions to McKinney’s previous campaigns.
The last time Johnson had a challenger was in the 2006 Run-off with McKinney. Johnson received about 60 percent of the vote, versus 40 percent for McKinney, although there were several instances of E-voting machines flipping votes in that election.
Johnson will have a difficult time winning back the 40 percent of voters who supported McKinney; many of them were quite dedicated to McKinney and unhappy with the way she was treated during the 2006 race.
Therefore, if Jones and Stokes are able to take more than 11 percent of the voters away from Johnson, assuming he is campaigning for the same 60 percent he received in 2006, then he will be forced into a run-off.
Jones believes that Stokes’s being in the race helps ensure that Johnson will go into a Run-off because Stokes will cut further into Johnson’s support.
Many people also question whether the 60 percent support for Johnson in 2006 was more than a vote against McKinney; in other words, that many of those voters would have supported anybody who wasn’t McKinney. It was called the ABC, or Anybody But Cynthia, vote.
The question for Johnson will be whether he has built upon his 2006 support by working with constituents; whether voters will be confident enough that he can carry out his job despite his illness; and whether he can make the case, particularly to former McKinney supporters, as to why he believes he is actually the most progressive choice in the current Primary race.
So far in this election season, APN has interviewed David Poythress, a candidate for Governor; Angela Moore and Gail Buckner, candidates for Secretary of State; Beth Farokhi and Brian Westlake, candidates for State School Superintendent; Connie Stokes, candidate for the 4th Congressional District; and Joan Garner and Keisha Waites, candidates for Fulton County District 6 [Waites interview coming soon]. We hope to also bring interviews with more candidates shortly.
Jones previously served in the Georgia House of Representatives from 1992 to 2000, and served as Dekalb CEO from 2000 to 2008.
Jones ran for US Senate in 2008. APN endorsed Rand Knight in that Primary. Jones went into a Run-off with Jim Martin, who won the nomination but lost to US Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA). Jones made the argument that, as a more Conservative candidate, he would have been more able to beat Chambliss.
APN asked Jones about his position on several substantive public policy issues, and whether he would’ve supported various bills had he been in Congress the last few years.
FORMER US REP. MCKINNEY INTRODUCED ARTICLES OF IMPEACHMENT AGAINST GEORGE BUSH; MCKINNEY, LEWIS, AND JOHNSON SUPPORTED A REVIEW INTO POSSIBLE GROUNDS FOR IMPEACHING BUSH; JOHNSON ALSO SUPPORTED IMPEACHING VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY. WOULD YOU HAVE SUPPORTED ANY OF THESE BILLS?
No I would not. It’s a matter of priority. My priority would’ve been job creation. The President and Vice President can be impeached at the polls.
WOULD YOU HAVE SUPPORTED THE HEALTH CARE EXPANSION BILL WHICH OBAMA RECENTLY SIGNED, WHICH LEWIS AND JOHNSON SUPPORTED? WOULD YOU HAVE SUPPORTED HR 676, SINGLE-PAYER, ALSO CALLED MEDICARE FOR ALL, WHICH BOTH ALSO SUPPORTED?
Had I been in Congress, I would’ve had more influence on that bill. I had concerns regarding immigration in that bill, regarding abortion in that bill, and my biggest concern is what is the bill gonna cost?
They’re underestimating the cost. If they make illegals legal, it’s gonna bust that budget. American citizens will miss out.
Johnson signed the bill with no debate or discussion.
I did health care reform in the General Assembly, what we now know as Peach Care [health care for needy children].
A lot of people think they’re gonna have health care [but it’s not really universal care].
They didn’t even account for this whole new group of people coming in whose economic status is worse than yours.
I would’ve had serious concerns. It would’ve been hard to support that bill.
Georgia has to get matching dollars. Where is the state supposed to get that from?
I would’ve voted for it. I would come back each year for amendments. It doesn’t go into effect until 2014.
[Re: single-payer] I support in concept what they’re saying. I don’t know regarding the bill.
DO YOU SUPPORT NUCLEAR POWER?
I support power that’s clean, environmentally sound, using the latest and greatest technology.
There could be environmental issues, but jobs are created by it.
I much prefer alternative sources of energy. In Dekalb, we’re taking methane gas from landfills. We built a five million dollar facility. Georgia Power is paying for it and converting it into electricity. We paid off the cost of building the plant in the first four years.
The problem is the legislature allowed for the rate to be increased to pay for [Plant Vogtle] because Georgia Power said they didn’t have the money. Then Obama [provided the federal loan guarantees]… But nobody’s getting reimbursed.
You have nuts on both sides. You have people saying nuclear power is gonna scorch the Earth. Then you have executives who are gonna profit off of it. We need to have more discussion and debate. It’s almost like you don’t know who to believe.
Let’s discuss every way possible to make sure it’s safe and environmentally sound. I would like to see ongoing independent studies with government oversight. Paid for as part of the rate increase.
WHAT’S YOUR PLAN TO INCREASE SOLAR AND WIND POWER?
I haven’t worked on that. I’m very supportive of alternative energy, it would mean more jobs.
DID YOU SUPPORT THE DEMOLITIONS OF PUBLIC HOUSING?
I would prefer reinvesting as opposed to demolishing. If you go to a housing project, you see people packed together.
I support rebuilding. Allow market-rate people to come in there. If you’re convicted of a crime, you can no longer live there. Let’s partner with local schools.
How can we give incentives to the private sector to give them jobs?
They tear down and give them vouchers. Where are they gonna go? They go to the suburbs.
That property is really prime property. A developer is able to go in for lower cost and minimize their investment.
It does sound good when you say getting rid of dilapidated, crime ridden… But why relocate? Why can’t they stay there?
Vouchers is just like giving a prisoner a bus ticket when they get out of jail. Who’s gonna hire them? You haven’t fixed the problem. You moved it somewhere else.
I was on the Homelessness Joint Task Force with [former Atlanta Mayor] Shirley Franklin. I was fighting them wanting to build housing for homeless people in Dekalb County. You can address that in Atlanta. We have our own homeless people to take care of.
DO YOU SUPPORT A NATIONAL STANDARD FOR A VOTER-VERIFIABLE PAPER TRAIL IN ANY ELECTRONIC VOTING USED IN FEDERAL ELECTIONS?
Absolutely. You need a paper trail. With technology too, voting should be advanced in other ways. You can go online and pay your bills. You should be able to go online and vote.
DO YOU SUPPORT RESTORING FELON VOTING RIGHTS IN FEDERAL ELECTIONS?
If someone has… served their time and paid their fine, their voting rights should be restored. People currently in jail, I look at that a little differently, just like suspending your driver’s license, you can lose certain privileges.
One of the requirements of probation should be to register to vote and do some community service.
WOULD YOU SUPPORT A CREDIT CARD INTEREST RATE CAP OF 15% OR 18%? WHAT ELSE WOULD YOU DO TO REIN IN BANK ABUSES?
I support a reasonable rate cap. What gets me is banks got TARP money then came back and increased interest on us. I believe in free enterprise, but I don’t believe in gauging.
WOULD YOU HAVE SUPPORTED DE-FUNDING THE OCCUPATION OF IRAQ IN 2006? WOULD YOU SUPPORT DE-FUNDING THE OCCUPATIONS OF IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN TODAY?
You have to [continue funding]. You can’t leave the soldiers high and dry.
You have to [continue funding today]. However, if it’s a priority to build schools in Iraq, it should be a priority to build them here too. Let’s use Iraq’s oil money to pay for the war.
WOULD YOU SUPPORT THE LEGALIZATION OF MARIJUANA?
It merits some discussions for medical purpose. Some will say legalizing certain drugs such as marijuana can eliminate violent crime and can be taxed and money earmarked for education.
HOW WOULD YOU SUPPORT PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION IN GEORGIA?
My program is Jobs First. Extend the MARTA line east to Stonecrest, that would create 1,000 jobs.
Hank [the incumbent] hasn’t shown any performance. He begged [US Rep.] Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to put him on the Transportation Committee, and now there’s a discussion of this.
He didn’t do anything for four years. Now he’s doing it through press releases because he’s not showing up at forums.
I hope he uses more of my ideas until I get elected. He’s supposed to be a friend of [President] Obama. Obama gave seven billion dollars for transportation, and Georgia got a study.
HOW WOULD YOU ADDRESS AFFORDABLE HOUSING?
With the large foreclosure of homes now, there’s an incredible opportunity for private companies to work with HUD on making some homes available for families with affordable needs.
US REPS. JOHNSON AND LEWIS SUPPORTED TROY DAVIS IN HIS DEATH ROW APPEAL AND JOHNSON INTRODUCED LEGISLATION TO REFORM FEDERAL LAW PREVENTING INNOCENCE CLAIMS FROM BEING HEARD. WOULD YOU HAVE SUPPORTED DAVIS OR THIS LEGISLATION?
I have very little knowledge about that case. If there’s evidence that can prove a person’s innocence or guilt, I would be open to that idea.
DID YOU SUPPORT THE PRIVATIZATION OF GRADY HOSPITAL?
They’re getting federal funds. There’s still limited oversight.
I believe in public and private hospitals. Grady has become a dumping ground for many surrounding counties. The funding mechanism is the issue.
They say there are some things they [Grady Hospital Memorial Corporation] are doing to create private interest in donations. But I happen to disagree. There are the same problems now as before.
Some in the media–the AJC–is more comfortable with who’s running the Board now. The AJC, WSB, Cox Communications were in favor of it.
The AJC sets the agenda for what the legislature covers every year. But now they look more like an insert in a newspaper than a newspaper itself. Why should they be able to tell anyone how to run their business is they can’t run their own business?
I made sure there were more Dekalb representatives on the private board.
I didn’t vote on it because I was a non-voting member of Dekalb Commission. Did I support a nonprofit coming in without any oversight? Clearly I didn’t.
But they’re going to have to make cuts, if they can’t get support from the legislature or other counties.
WOULD YOU SUPPORT THE BUSH-ERA PLANS FOR NEW NUCLEAR BOMB PRODUCTION OR WOULD YOU NOT SUPPORT FUNDING FOR CONSTRUCTION OF THE NEW FACILITIES?
I support advanced weapon technology to be used defensively. We have to take advantage of new technologies because warfare is changing. I would hate for Iran to have more advanced weapons than us. We couldn’t defend ourselves.
[Re: whether to test them, despite the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty] They have to be tested. I believe in defending America.
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Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor for The Atlanta Progressive News and is reachable at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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