Bishop, House offer differing approaches to grow jobs

jgaines@macon.comOctober 27, 2012 

Sanford Bishop and John House agree that jobs are the top priority in the 2nd Congressional District and that government’s role is to create a climate for job growth. But their ways of getting there are very different.

Bishop, a 10-term Democratic incumbent, calls for investing in agricultural research, supporting programs for the poor and using his clout to keep Georgia’s military bases open.

“I think the issues have been the same: jobs and the economy, better education, safe communities, a cleaner environment, affordable, accessible health care, a strong national defense,” he said. “I think that over the years I have been effective at doing that.”

House, a retired U.S. Army colonel and political novice, argues that Bishop’s approach has been unsuccessful. The Republican candidate calls instead for cutting federal regulations and corporate taxes.

“I would say (Bishop) owns whatever has happened in Washington, D.C.,” House said. “He’s either voted for what’s occurred or he’s been powerless to stop it, if he’s been against it.”

The 2nd District includes all or part of 32 counties in Middle Georgia and the southwest part of the state. During Bishop’s first two terms it included Macon, but those lines changed in 1995. Much of Macon returned to the 2nd District following the 2010 census, increasing the proportion of Democrats in the district which also covers Columbus and Albany, and a broad swath of rural agricultural land.

Bishop, an Albany resident and native of Mobile, Ala., holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Morehouse College and a law degree from Emory University, according to the Wall Street Journal. He worked as a lawyer in Columbus before joining the Georgia House of Representatives in 1977. He became a Georgia state senator in 1990 and was first elected to Congress in 1992.

Bishop serves on the House Appropriations Committee and three of its subcommittees. He’s the ranking member of the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies subcommittee, and a member of the Subcommittee on Legislative Affairs and the Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food & Drug Administration and Related Agencies.

Bishop says his long legislative experience has taught him how Washington works, and his seniority gives him an automatic advantage in influential committee assignments.

Bishop is a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of conservative Democrats who are mostly from the South. He was one of the few Congressional Black Caucus members to back the Iraq War, but he also backed President Barack Obama’s $800 billion stimulus program and the Affordable Care Act, according to The Washington Post.

House is a native and current resident of Columbus, as is his wife, Marilyn. According to the Wall Street Journal he holds a master’s degree in business administration from Auburn University, in history from the University of Kansas, from the U.S. Command and General Staff College, and from the U.S. Naval War College; and a doctorate in business administration from Northcentral University.

A 26-year Army veteran, he held a number of staff commands for training and operations, serving in Germany, Korea and Operation Desert Storm. Since his 2001 retirement he has been a military-industry consultant and college instructor.

Campaign finance reports show that Bishop has almost 100 times as much campaign money as House. Federal Election Commission filings at the end of September showed Bishop with $378,126 on hand, compared to $16,656 for House. But House’s campaign also had $12,829 in debt, leaving him with a net of $3,827.

House said the top complaints he hears from small business owners are “stifling” federal regulation, particularly from farmers and bankers, and fears about the coming implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

His focus would be to repeal regulations that constituents tell him are hindering business, by voting against them or personally intervening with regulatory agencies, he said.

“Tell me exactly what you want me to go get rid of, because it’s a problem, and I’ll go after it,” House said.

He’s counting on Bishop’s disgruntled former backers and his own military career to overcome the incumbent’s huge cash advantage, as well as help him solve problems if he’s elected.

“I think me being a veteran helps me reach across that party line or any other line you want to lay out there to divide us, because there are people from all walks of life in this country that have served in the military,” House said.

Bishop said it’s intense partisanship, largely driven by tea party-backed newcomers to Congress, that created the current federal gridlock. He said any of his focus issues should be devoid of partisanship.

“I’ve worked very well with members of both parties, because many of the issues that affect our district are not Republican-Democrat issues, they’re regional issues, American issues,” he said. “Regardless of what’s been going on in Congress as a whole, I believe I’ve given good stewardship, a good account for my stewardship for the people of the 2nd District.”

Bishop says he would continue pushing hard for funding agricultural research. There are many federally funded research stations in Georgia, and it’s their work that can keep American products internationally competitive through high quality, he said.

Bishop said he supports school lunch and other food assistance programs for the young, poor and elderly. But his seat on the military construction subcommittee give him a special advantage in steering the district’s many military bases through rounds of the Base Realignment and Closing process, he said.

“I am proud to say that we had $3.5 billion of military construction at Fort Benning alone, as a result of that BRAC process and reorganization,” Bishop said.

House said federal revenue needs to increase, but he would attempt to do that through cutting regulations and the corporate tax rate, hoping that would spur hiring.

One of his campaign fliers says he advocates the Fair Tax, a plan to replace all federal income taxes -- including corporate and capital gains taxes, gift taxes, Social Security and Medicare deductions -- with a nationwide retail sales tax. Advocates say the sales tax rate would be around 23 percent, not counting local and state levies, to bring in the same amount of money. But opponents and nonpartisan tax analysts estimate the federal sales tax rate would have to be 30 percent to 34 percent, falling most heavily on the middle class.

Bishop backs the unofficial recommendation of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, commonly known by the name of its co-chairs Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles. The group’s December 2010 report called for a combination of cuts to defense and entitlement programs, eliminating earmarks and many tax deductions, but also cutting the corporate tax rate. The net result would be spending cuts of $200 billion per year and revenue increases of $100 billion.

The candidates’ positions on abortion differ in one respect.

“I believe that abortion should be very, very rare -- but legal and safe -- and allowed only in case of rape, incest or the life of the mother,” Bishop said.

House only supports abortion if the mother’s life is threatened, not for rape or incest.

“The birth of my first daughter convinced me that that was a baby inside Marilyn,” he said, referring to his wife. “And regardless of how that baby got there, it’s still a life.”

House said that Bishop has “more than once” claimed to be a military veteran, though Bishop never served on active duty. Bishop went through basic training and took advanced ROTC, but he failed his commissioning physical and received an honorable discharge at that point.

“ROTC in college does not make you a veteran. Mr. Bishop continues to claim he’s a veteran. He is mistaken,” House said, citing the definition of “veteran” from Title 38 of U.S. Code.

But neither the portions of Bishop’s official biography House highlights, nor a video clip he cites, actually use “veteran” to describe Bishop.

Bishop said he could be considered a veteran “depending on which definition you use,” but he denied actually claiming veteran status himself. The Title 38 language sets requirements for getting veterans’ benefits, which Bishop says he never sought.

To contact writer Jim Gaines call 744-4489.

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