COVINGTON - Republicans are going to rise again. This was the message of party leaders and candidates who attended a Newton County GOP rally/fundraiser at Turner Lake Complex on Monday night.
They said the silent majority is speaking up and it's time for elected officials to take notice.
"We have got to take it back in 2010. Look at the road we're on now. We can get pumped up, but we've got to stay pumped up," Republican Party Chairman Ester Fleming told the crowd of nearly 300.
The most rousing applause came when officials and candidates spoke against the intrusion of government on individual rights.
Congressman John Linder, R-Ga., was the special guest speaker.
Linder said he recently received a letter from a long-time supporter who complained Republicans in Washington simply aren't doing enough these days.
But Linder said the Republican leadership is vocal: They just don't get press coverage.
"We're doing what we can when we can but they have the press on their side," Linder said.
While health care reform has become an emotional issue, Americans are just as angry over the stimulus package, bailouts of banks and automakers and increasing unemployment and welfare payouts, he said.
"The people we hear from are awake, angry and they know what's going on," he said.
Cynthia Cook, who attended the event with her husband Mike, agreed.
"We need some conservative people in office. Things have gotten out of control in Washington. We've got to work not only to get Washington in control but to keep the state in control," she said.
Four gubernatorial candidates attended the event: Secretary of State Karen Handel, State Sen. Eric Johnson, Ray McBerry and Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine.
Handel spoke first, saying the next governor has plenty of challenges ahead.
"I've always been one to never shrink away from challenges. ... I not only face challenges head on, I get the job done," she said.
Handel said she is pro-life, believes marriage should be only for opposite sex couples, wants lower taxes and would solve budget problems by cutting spending.
She said she has experience fighting for what she believes in, having faced off against former governor Roy Barnes, the ACLU and the Democratic Party on requirements to show a photo I.D. and proof of citizenship when registering to vote.
Handel said she would create jobs by focusing on small businesses, modernize the tax code and create a transportation plan that deals with current and future congestion.
State Sen. Eric Johnson spoke next, and told the crowd up front that "I'm not politically correct."
Johnson summed up his platform quickly.
"I'm pro-business, pro-family, pro-guns, pro-life. Next question," he said.
He also called for tax code reform, lower taxes, incentives for small business owners and school choice for parents.
"Parents should choose how and where their children are educated, not the government," he said. Johnson created Georgia's first voucher program allowing parents of children with special needs to send their child to the public or private school of their choice.
Henry County native Ray McBerry said he's the only Republican candidate who's not an elected official, and that's a good thing. McBerry said he understands the people's perspective.
The only way to guard against an out-of-control federal government is by invoking the state's right to sovereignty guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, he said.
He said the governor must stand up to the federal government and invoke the state's right to its water, and though he doesn't like eminent domain, maybe it should be invoked by the state to take back its reservoirs.
He cited incidents during Hurricane Katrina when federal agents confiscated guns from residents.
If elected, he said he would immediately put Washington on notice that, "The first time a federal agent tries confiscating the arms of a law-abiding citizen that federal agent will find himself in a Georgia jail."
The governor should not allow the federal government to force a health care plan on state residents, he said.
"Your governor is going to be the final guard of your liberty over the encroachment of the federal government," he said.
Oxendine spoke of his support of the FairTax. He promised to reform the tax code if he is elected, abolishing income tax.
He also promised more efficiency in government and better customer service.
The Insurance Commissioners' Office is open until 7 p.m. and if elected, other government offices would follow suit, he said.
He said since becoming insurance commissioner 14 years ago, he has cut staff by 20 percent but the workload has increased.
Oxendine said he has committed through what he calls A Contract with Georgia, to 12 promises he will see through if elected, including smaller government, implementing a statewide transportation plan and building more reservoirs.
Congressman Nathan Deal was at a town hall meeting on health care reform and did not attend, but his wife Sandra spoke briefly.
She said her husband has worked hard to promote conservative values in Washington but the executive branch does not enforce the laws he and other Republicans have passed. Deal is running for governor to enforce the laws he believes in, she said.