The questions were posed, the answers timed --- just like any other political debate. But some maintain that the Oct. 2 debate hosted by the Catoosa County Chamber of Commerce wasnt free of bias.
Bruce Coker, a Democrat challenger for the state Senates District 53 seat, said he believes the Chamber and Catoosa County Republican Party were working in conjunction. Coker is running against Republican state Sen. Jeff Mullis of Chickamauga.
I have never in my entire life seen such partisan maneuvering, Coker said. To give you an example, Jeff Scott showed up at the event and Nathan Deal did not. Obviously, we all are in agreement that Mr. Deals place right now is in Washington working on the mess that our country is in.
Scott, a Democrat from Walker County, is running against Republican U.S. Congressman Nathan Deal for the District 9 seat.
What was so shocking is that they allowed Nathan Deal to have a representative to read a public statement, then hammered Jeff Scott with partisan questions carefully constructed without the possibility of a response from Nathan Deal on the same questions, he said.
Mullis was on a trip to Europe with Gov. Sonny Perdue, and he was unable to participate in the debate. Coker said since Mullis was not there, the moderator could not cross-examine him.
I must note that I wasn't ever given a breakdown from the Catoosa County Chamber about the specifics of the basic rules regarding the operations other than who it would be moderated by, Coker said. I was shocked when they allowed Jay Neal, who is running unopposed for the State House, to debate me on behalf of Jeff Mullis.
This was the most politically divisive thing they could have done. After all, I am not running for state House nor am I running against Jay Neal, he said. I am 48 years old, and I have seen many political debates, but I have never seen one where a colleague was allowed to do such a thing as this.
Coker added that when he had a conflict and was unable to attend the debate during the primaries, the Chamber did not offer the same courtesy of allowing him to have a substitute.
This was the most obvious political maneuvering to compromise fairness that I have ever witnessed, Coker said. I think fairness should always be exercised when debating issues that are important to the lives of every citizen and must not be manipulated.
Chris Scott, Catoosa County Democratic Party chairman, pointed out a discrepancy in representation between the Republican and Democratic candidates. He said four absent Republican candidates had representatives at the most recent debate, including a Chamber officer, to speak on their behalf.
Only two Democratic candidates were absent but had no one to speak, he said. The most despicable action took place when the Chamber blind-sided Senate candidate Bruce Coker. Coker took the stage thinking he would answer questions from the moderator since his opponent, Jeff Mullis, was vacationing in Spain with Governor Perdue. Instead, Republican state Rep. Jay Neal was allowed to return to the stage and debate Coker on Mullis behalf.
This was the lowest form of partisan politics that could have been displayed by a non-partisan Catoosa County Chamber of Commerce, he said.
Scott substituted for Democrat Ralph Noble at the Catoosa County primary debate event earlier in the year, reading a statement on his behalf. However, he fielded no debate questions in his absence because Noble was unopposed at that time.
Catoosa Chamber president Martha Eaker denies the debate was partisan in any way.
I am very proud of the fact that the Chamber conducted these debates as a way to educate and inform the public and I stand by the fact that is exactly what we did, she said Monday, Oct. 6.
Eaker said if candidates requested someone to represent them, the Chamber allowed it.
Every candidate received an invitation to attend, she said. If someone called me and could not attend for some reason and ask about sending someone to represent them, I said that was acceptable.
If they did not ask I certainly did not suggest anyone sending a rep, she said. The Chamber of Commerce conducted this in a fair and nonpartisan format, going so far as to have moderators from the Georgia Chamber of Commerce to assure the debate was unbiased.
Mullis, in response to allegations, said he accepted the invitation from Gov. Perdue for the European trip long before the debate was scheduled.
I thought it was important for me to go to this trade and transportation meeting for Northwest Georgia, he said. My way was not paid for by taxpayers dollars.
Mullis said as new industry opportunities come into Northwest Georgia, establishing strong relationships will be the key to competing with surrounding areas for businesses and new jobs