APN Chat with US Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA), Congressional Candidate, 4th District
(APN) ATLANTA — In our continuing coverage of statewide and Congressional elections, we sat down with US Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA), who is running for reelection for Georgia’s fourth Congressional district.
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 former Dekalb CEO Vernon 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 and Jones have already completed their interviews with APN.
Johnson’s office had not initially responded to APN’s telephone communications regarding an interview. However, just one day after Johnson was criticized for not appearing at the Newsmakers Live forum, he met with APN that afternoon.
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.
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.
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 an uphill battle 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; Gail Buckner, Gary Holracher, Michael Mills, and Angela Moore, candidates for Secretary of State; Beth Farokhi and Brian Westlake, candidates for State School Superintendent; US Rep. Johnson, Vernon Jones, and Connie Stokes, candidates for the 4th Congressional District; and Joan Garner and Keisha Waites, candidates for Fulton County District 6. Publication of the Horlacher and Mills interviews will be forthcoming. We hope to also bring interviews with more candidates shortly.
Regarding Mr. Johnson’s health, APN met with Johnson for about 45 minutes and observed that Johnson seemed to have a low energy level and seemed to be pacing himself.
Johnson told APN he was diagnosed with Hepatitis C in 1999 and given 20 years to live. He said he completed an experimental medication treatment earlier this year, which had caused him to be quite tired and unable to climb the steps of Capitol Hill, but that his condition has improved since completing the treatment.
Johnson said he understands that constituents have questions about his health, and he agrees they are legitimate questions. He said he believes he can carry out all his duties, including voting, committee work, and traveling back and forth to Atlanta, but that he must make sure to get 8 hours of sleep per night and to eat well.
Sometimes Johnson did appear to have taken quite a few seconds to search for the right word when making a statement; however, like his low-energy level in general, it was difficult to know whether to attribute that to the illness or simply to his personality.
All in all, Johnson had a good grasp of almost all the issues, particularly the big picture, and he spoke eloquently.
APN asked Johnson about his position on several substantive public policy issues, and asked him to discuss his legislative record as well.
Johnson answered most of the questions in person. Then, he answered the remaining questions by email. Those responses which were sent by email are labeled below as such.
FORMER US REP. MCKINNEY INTRODUCED ARTICLES OF IMPEACHMENT AGAINST GEORGE BUSH; YOU, MCKINNEY, LEWIS SUPPORTED A REVIEW INTO POSSIBLE GROUNDS FOR IMPEACHING BUSH; YOU ALSO SUPPORTED IMPEACHING VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY. WHY?
I still think it’s important to create a record of past misuse of authority by the Executive Branch by the previous Administration.
There was excessive activity that was not Constitutionally-based, corruption on many fronts, lying to Congress, the American people, and international bodies about the reasons for going to war with Iraq, the eavesdropping and breaches of the right to privacy, the politicization of the US Department of Justice, secret dealings on substantive policy matters.
If we are not able to see the extent of the abuse, we are not able to guard against similar misuse of authority in the future.
ANALYSIS: Johnson supported accountability for the Bush Administration. Stokes and Jones did not.
YOU HAVE SUPPORTED THE HEALTH CARE EXPANSION BILL WHICH OBAMA RECENTLY SIGNED. YOU ALSO SUPPORTED HR 676, SINGLE-PAYER, ALSO CALLED MEDICARE FOR ALL. WHY DID YOU SUPPORT SINGLE-PAYER?
I still want universal single-payer. Take the profit out of health care decisions.
ANALYSIS: Johnson supported single-payer. Stokes and Jones were unclear on specifically what the bill called for.
DO YOU SUPPORT NUCLEAR POWER?
That’s a tough question. I’m pragmatic but afraid of an accident along the scale of the [oil spill]. [The problem is the] fossil fuel mentality, that we have to drill without regard to safety.
The same thing could happen with nuclear energy facilities [as with the Gulf Coast BP oil spill].
I do recognize nuclear power as being a reliable source that moves away from fossil fuels. I’m forced to reevaluate my willingness to support nuclear energy. I’m concerned about the number of facilities being licensed. We need to take a close look at safety.
ANALYSIS: It is unfortunate that all three candidates do not understand the full extent of health and environmental hazards to nuclear power, not only during accidents but as a matter of course of their operation.
WHAT’S YOUR PLAN TO INCREASE SOLAR AND WIND POWER?
(EMAIL RESPONSE) It’s not just a plan – the clean energy economy is being built right now . Last month, I toured Georgia Tech’s solar power research facility with U.S. Energy Secretary Dr. Steven Chu and John Baumstark of Suniva, a Norcross-based solar panel manufacturer. We are conducting cutting-edge research and investing in clean energy jobs right here in Georgia.
Under the Recovery Act that I helped marshal through Congress, solar panel manufacturers like Suniva are receiving tax credits to help them grow and hire new workers. Suniva received $5.7 million in tax credits under the Recovery Act and are now expanding their operations and creating more jobs right here in the Fourth Congressional District. Suniva is also supplying the panels for a 200-kilowatt solar farm southwest of Albany. The farm will produce 310,000 kilowatt hours of solar energy a year and sell it to Georgia Power under a five-year contract.
So we’re on the right track with solar right in our own back yards. As far as wind is concerned, I support the efforts of my House colleagues like Rep. Markey of Massachusetts who is moving forward with legislation that would incentivize production of wind turbines off our coasts. What’s worse – globs of oil washing up on our shores that destroy entire ecosystems and ways of life or the sight of remote wind turbines along the horizon? The bottom line is that our economy can grow by becoming the world’s leader in alternative energy. I share that vision with the President and I’m fighting to make it a reality.
DID YOU SUPPORT THE DEMOLITIONS OF PUBLIC HOUSING?
We should not have mass projects of poor people living in squalid conditions. I would support people being able to live amongst us.
I do not support removing poor people from cities and clustering them in suburbs. How are they supposed to get by on Section 8? How can someone pay for a house and maintenance costs, and you’ve got to have a lawnmower.
It’s not fair [to] build higher cost housing in places and displace families. Some places need to be demolished. Others need to be updated with a mix of residents.
ANALYSIS: All three candidates had some concerns about the voucher program and the displacement of urban poor families to the suburbs.
DO YOU SUPPORT A NATIONAL STANDARD FOR A VOTER-VERIFIABLE PAPER TRAIL IN ANY ELECTRONIC VOTING USED IN FEDERAL ELECTIONS?
I don’t think the paper trail is the answer. I support security of voting machines through the source codes. There needs to be an apparatus by which… that source code is on deposit with registrars, and once on deposit, then machines are kept secure.
You’ve got to prevent manipulation of the software codes.
(EMAIL) Congressman Johnson is an original cosponsor of HR 2984 (111th). Part of what this legislation does is direct the Director of the National Science Foundation to make grants to study, test, and develop accessible paper ballot voting, verification, and casting mechanisms and devices and best practices to enhance the accessibility of paper ballot voting and verification mechanisms for individuals with disabilities, for voters whose primary language is not English, and for voters with difficulties in literacy, including best practices for the mechanisms themselves.
ANALYSIS: All three candidates are concerned about elections integrity. Stokes and Jones support the VVPAT. Johnson is interested in looking at the software code.
DO YOU SUPPORT RESTORING FELON VOTING RIGHTS IN FEDERAL ELECTIONS?
Yes. I even support it in states. We can do it through federal legislation. It’s a right.
(EMAIL) I am an original co-sponsor of H.R. 3335 – the Democracy Restoration Act of 2009 – which declares that any individual who has been convicted of a criminal offense has the right of a US citizen to vote in any election for federal office. This is coming out of the Judiciary Committee, where I serve as a subcommittee chairman.
ANALYSIS: All three candidates support re-enfranchisement of ex-felons.
WOULD YOU SUPPORT A CREDIT CARD INTEREST RATE CAP OF 15% OR 18%? WHAT ELSE WOULD YOU DO TO REIN IN BANK ABUSES?
Yes I do. I think it’s important we protect our customers against overreaching.
ANALYSIS: All three candidates support a cap.
WHY DID YOU VOTE TO CONTINUE FUNDING THE OCCUPATION OF IRAQ IN 2007? WOULD YOU SUPPORT DE-FUNDING THE OCCUPATIONS OF IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN TODAY?
As a general principle I support a timely and orderly withdrawal from Iraq.
(EMAIL) As you may remember, this bill from Rep. Obey also had key provisions for veterans’ health care and Katrina relief and recovery – among other things worthy of support. I support the orderly withdrawal of all combat troops from Iraq in accordance with the President’s timetable, and that was why I so voted in ’07. With respect to Afghanistan, at this time I support the timetable for troop draw-downs as announced by the President.
ANALYSIS: Johnson and Stokes both support getting the troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan, although Johnson did make a controversial vote to continue funding the war in 2007, albeit with a timetable. Jones supports continuing to fund the US occupations of both countries.
WOULD YOU SUPPORT THE LEGALIZATION OF MARIJUANA?
Some studies have proven marijuana is useful and effective in some medical settings. Moreover, I would vote to decriminalize possession generally.
ANALYSIS: Johnson supports legalization. Jones supports looking into the issue but understands the benefits. Stokes would need to talk to her constituents first.
HOW WOULD YOU SUPPORT PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION IN GEORGIA?
(EMAIL) I have delivered real federal investment in our public transportation. MARTA has received more than $100 million under the Recovery Act, and I have directly appropriated millions of dollars for clean MARTA buses and the I-20 East corridor expansion project. I will be able to fight even more effectively to solve Georgia’s transportation challenges from my new post on the powerful House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, a key source of funding for transit projects in Georgia and nationwide.
The money that we did not receive was for high-speed rail. On that score, I share APN’s concerns. The federal government is looking for some sincerity that Georgia will use the federal transit funds wisely and effectively. But when Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said our governor and state legislature don’t want to put money toward matching federal funds for high-speed rail, it’s no wonder we were left at the station holding an empty bag in the latest round of funding. We were once a progressive and forward-looking city as far as transportation is concerned – we created MARTA and a world-class airport. But now we have stagnated, and relied too heavily on a philosophy that starts and ends with building more roads.
Let us use this as a lesson – let’s take the $750,000 in planning grants, and come together, stop bickering and provide real solutions to our problems. We all know the federal government – like state and local governments – is in a tight budget environment. Places like North Carolina and Florida succeeded because they were prepared and had a plan in place. Let’s not allow this opportunity to pass us by again – let’s finally put a plan in place that includes light rail, heavy rail, commuter rail and high-speed rail. The Atlanta Regional Commission and Transit Planning Board are on board so let’s convince our governor, too. From my seat on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I’m positioned to play a leading role. I will fight, win, and deliver the resources we need to transform how we get around here in Georgia.
HOW WOULD YOU ADDRESS AFFORDABLE HOUSING?
(EMAIL) I’ve been supporting affordable housing initiatives since I was a DeKalb County commissioner. Back then, I supported legislation that gave developers density bonuses to offer some of their homes at prices that our teachers, firefighters and police could afford. It’s important for our public safety workers and teachers to live in the neighborhoods where they work. As a member of Congress, I supported the president’s Making Home Affordable initiative, held town halls on how to avoid foreclosure and our office has helped hundreds of constituents find solutions to stay in their homes.
I also support using TAD (tax allocation district) funds to create affordable workforce housing. I recently toured part of the Atlanta BeltLine project with HUD Secretary Donovan and Mayor Reed. I’m interested in working on projects like this in the Fourth District to help supplement our affordable housing stock.
YOU SUPPORTED TROY DAVIS IN HIS DEATH ROW APPEAL AND INTRODUCED LEGISLATION TO REFORM FEDERAL LAW PREVENTING INNOCENCE CLAIMS FROM BEING HEARD. WHY?
(EMAIL) In the early 1980s fresh out of law school, I won the freedom of a man on death row accused of capital murder. He was held in the same prison in Jackson as Troy Davis, a Savannah man who has been sentenced to death despite newly discovered evidence that may cast some doubt on the jury’s verdict. The lack of evidence, Davis’s claims of innocence and the unreliable eyewitness testimony have all raised substantial questions in the case. Because of quirks in the legal system, the courts have refused to hear the new evidence.
That is why I introduced the Effective Death Penalty Appeals Act to ensure that defendants like Mr. Davis will have the opportunity to present newly discovered evidence of innocence before they are put to death by the state. It’s just common sense, and I believe it is required by the Constitution, which guarantees due process in court.
ANALYSIS: Johnson got involved in helping Davis and proposed legislative solutions. Neither Stokes nor Jones knew the details of the case well enough to comment.
DID YOU SUPPORT THE PRIVATIZATION OF GRADY HOSPITAL?
I didn’t like the idea or the way that it was done, because I didn’t think privatization was the way to go for a public hospital. I thought that state legislation forcing all counties to pay Grady’s expenses incurred in treating their patients, as well as more state funding was the best way to save Grady as a public institution.
ANALYSIS: Stokes voted to support privatization. Jones did not vote but said he was opposed. Johnson obviously did not vote on it but said he did not favor it.
WOULD YOU SUPPORT THE BUSH-ERA PLANS FOR NEW NUCLEAR BOMB PRODUCTION OR WOULD YOU NOT SUPPORT FUNDING FOR CONSTRUCTION OF THE NEW FACILITIES?
The President has proposed a limitation on nuclear weapons to 3,500 a piece between the US and Russia. I support the elimination of nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth.
Realizing it will not happen overnight, I support Obama’s significant step. Nuclear weapons… you do have to maintain them. There are safety concerns about letting them erode. I support maintenance of our core weapons until such time that we can kill them [the weapons].
ANALYSIS: Stokes and Johnson support disarmament. Jones supports producing new weapons to defend the US. However, neither Stokes nor Johnson took a firm position against the plans for the new bomb material plant.
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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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