CONYERS -- Candidates for Georgia's Fourth Congressional District were asked at a forum last week what they would do about the failure of elected representatives in Washington to cooperate with one another.
The question was one of two posed to the three Democratic and two Republican candidates at a forum hosted by the Rockdale-Newton County League of Women Voters on June 12.
Incumbent Democrat Hank Johnson of DeKalb County, who is seeking his fourth term, blamed the Republicans in Congress for the current lack of cooperation in Washington.
Johnson said following the election of Barack Obama as president, U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell declared that the Republicans would do everything possible to ensure that Obama was a one-term president.
"From that point there has been absolutely no cooperation," Johnson said, adding, "I think we need change in the Republican Party in their senior leadership to bring about more of a cooperative spirit, and let's get our work done in Congress."
Other candidates for the Fourth District took a less partisan approach to the question.
Republican Chris Vaughn, a minister and corporate speaker from Rockdale County, said that a new civility is needed in Congress so that the focus can be placed on the needs of voters.
"We need to get down to the purest value of all, which is are people being served and are people being helped," Vaughn said.
Democrat Courtney Dillard, a businessman and minister from Rockdale County, said a collaborative of leaders at the local level would help to identify important issues for the leadership in Washington. Dillard said this type of collaboration would allow members of Congress to help bridge the gaps between relationships.
Greg Pallen of Oxford, a Republican who owns a business in Rockdale County, said there is a disconnect between candidates and their constituents because of corporate contributions. Pallen said those contributions need to be limited so that representatives would work for the people who elect them.
Democrat Lincoln Nunnally, another Rockdale businessman, said elected officials in Washington need to remember how they got there.
"People in Congress need to remember what they are there for," he said. "They are there for one reason -- to serve the people."
Nunnally said those elected to Congress should spend more time in their districts and less in Washington in order to remember who they serve -- which then could lead to more negotiations across the aisle.
Candidates were also asked how they would resolve the tangle of immigration laws.
Dillard said the concerns and issues facing local law enforcement should first be explored. There should first be collaboration at the local level on immigration issues, he said.
"Immigration starts at the border and it ends up in our community ... " he said. "It can be solved at the congressional level when we make sure we know what is going on with our local law enforcement, with our local police."
Johnson said immigration laws should not be enforced on a state-by-state basis.
He advocates first making sure that U.S. borders are secure, then dealing with illegal immigrants who are already here.
"They must be given a sensible way of becoming citizens of this country, especially the young people, those who were brought here by their parents."
Johnson said he supports a "dream act" that would provide a pathway to legal residency.
Nunnally said he sees the primary issue with illegal immigration is that those who are here illegally are not contributing to the programs that are in place that support them. Nunnally said effort should be made to scrutinize how illegals are paid, or perhaps consider a consumption tax.
Pallen said he understands that farmers in this country rely on the labor of illegal immigrants.
"They'll tell you they need migrant workers to pick their crops ... but we need to make sure they are paying their taxes and paying their fair share," he said.
Vaughn said he'd just like to see immigration services and the Department of Justice uphold the current immigration laws.
"The federal government needs to allow the laws to be enforced, and we would not have near the issue we have with illegal immigration," he said.