ALBANY, Ga. -- The two men asking the voters of Georgia's Second Congressional District to send them to Washington centered much of their commentary Thursday night on service in the last public debate before election day -- public service and self service.
U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany, and state Rep. Mike Keown, R-Coolidge, both poked holes at each other's service records as public officials while touting their own as an example of why their respective tenures should be extended.
Bishop opened with comments pointing to his highly coveted positions on the appropriations, agriculture and defense committees -- committees he says have help keep military bases like Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany and Fort Benning open and thriving and farmers with subsidies and support.
Keown opened his part of the debate by telling the audience --estimated at 400 people by Municipal Auditorium officials -- about how his faith and concern for his family's future had led him to get into the race and that he was scared that what he called Washington's addiction to spending would cripple Southwest Georgian's ability to thrive.
In terms of issues, the candidates shared their philosophies on spending, jobs and healthcare and, at times, took jabs at one another during their responses.
The panel of journalists asking the questions didn't shy away from controversial issues.
Albany Herald reporter Terry Lewis asked Bishop about a scholarship scandal in which seven scholarships awarded in his name through the Congressional Black Caucus were steered to relatives and friends and whether he viewed that situation differently than when he criticized then-U.S. Rep. Charles Hatcher over Hatcher's own House banking "priviledge scandal" when Bishop was first campaigning for congress back in 1992.
Bishop said he was unaware to whom the scholarships had been awarded; that they had been awarded by the Black Caucus Foundation and a group of Black Caucus wives -- an answer that was met with snickers and murmurs from part of the crowd.
Keown was questioned by WFXL-TV reporter James Kennedy on his vote to cut funding for a popular property tax relief program that added between $200 and $300 to property tax bills throughout the state.
In response, Keown said the cuts were a part of an overall effort to trim the state's budget before deflecting the answer over to Bishop by saying that "the real hardship is being brought on by Congress."
Keown, who has campaigned as the small government, fiscal and social conservative candidate, stuck to that point, reiterating his position against healthcare reform and cap-and-trade.
While the crowd remained mostly respectful during the event, both sides -- supporters of Bishop and Keown -- applauded and snickered as the debate ebbed and flowed their respective directions.
One audience members yelled at Bishop after he finished answering a question about his support of environmental control legislation referred to as cap-and-trade, yelling "But you did vote for it!" after Bishop said that if it came back to the House in its current form that he wouldn't support it.
He said he did support it initially because of the other components of the bill which promote energy independence through funding of homegrown fuel development and research -- an issue he said ultimately was a national security issue.
Bishop defended the $500 billion the healthcare bill would cut from Medicare as the removal of government waste, fraud and abuse from the program, while Keown told the audience when asked that he doesn't believe the Constitution should be interpreted saying, "That's what got us where we are now, too many people have tried to interpret it."
In their closing statements, Bishop took shots at Keown's service, saying that he "had no markers of positive service," saying that, if elected, Keown's support of the Republican agenda including partial privatization of social security and tax breaks for the wealthy would "rob seniors, rob farmers," while making him a "reverse Robin Hood."
Playing on Bishop's words, Keown said in his closing statement, "There's only person in this auditorium who has robbed anyone and he's standing right there."
Click here to see the debate.