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Democratic congressional candidates talk issues at Pembroke forum
Democratic forum held in Pembroke
From left, moderator Rev. Francys Johnson, Joyce Griggs, Dr. Michelle Munroe and Wade Herring. Photo by Jeff Whitten.

Near the end of Saturday’s First Congressional District Candidate’s Forum at Mount Moriah Baptist Church, Democrat Wade Herring summed up the biggest challenge facing his party in November.

That will be beating the elephant that wasn’t in the room, Republican incumbent, U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, who has won each of the last three elections by double-digit percentage points over Democrats.

“It’s going to take more than enthusiasm, more than passion and wishful thinking (to unseat Carter)” said Herring, a Savannah attorney and one of three Democrats who hope to win their party’s nomination in the May 24 primary.

Yet for much of the forum, hosted by the Bryan County Democrat Committee and moderated by the Rev. Francys Johnson, there was surprisingly little mention of Carter. 

Instead, Johnson posed detailed questions to Herring, retired Lt. Col. Joyce Griggs, an attorney, Dr. Michelle Munroe, a retired colonel, Richmond Hill resident and a former commander of Winn Army Community Hospital on Fort Stewart.

Each offered their take on issues ranging from jobs, education, health care, social justice, policing, paying for government, the environment and voting rights.

Here’s a brief look at the issues discussed at the forum.

All three candidates support federal investments in education, transportation and health care, for example, as well as tuition free child care.

Griggs would also like to see Congress pass a living wage higher than the $15 minimum wage being paid by some companies. She said she would cut taxes for the working poor.

Munroe said she would support higher taxes on the top 1 percent of earners, as well as tax breaks and incentives for local businesses; Herring said he would raise taxes on those making more than $400,000 annually to help fund investments in infrastructure and people.

With regard to social justice and police shootings, candidates echoed similar themes, with demilitarization of police departments, national policing standards and better mental health care suggested as solutions to what they agreed was a complicated problem.

Griggs suggested using the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Brunswick to better train local law enforcement officers. She also said she wants to hold police accountable and would remove qualified immunity in cases such as police involved killings.

Munroe agreed with ending qualified immunity, saying “no one should get a get out of jail free card,” but Herring cautioned against getting rid of it entirely.

“If we eliminate qualified immunity, it’s going to make it more difficult to recruit people into public service,” he said.

All three candidates believe the federal government, and Congress, should play a role in state and local issues.

Munroe said she believes Congress can influence state legislators on issues; Griggs cited misconduct in Glynn County by the District Attorney in the Ahmaud Arbery case as a reason she wants to see an expanded watchdog role by the federal government as well as using FLETC as a training center for local law enforcement agencies.

Herring said he doesn’t want to see the Department of Justice “politicized, it’s about justice, not politics,” while noting ultimately Arbery’s killers were punished.

All three candidates said they supported the idea of a national standard on use of force by police.

The environment and climate change also prompted questions, with each candidate saying it was not only real, but a looming threat on coastal Georgia.

“We need to come at it with some urgency,” Herring said, adding that NOAA predicts sea levels will rise a foot in the next 30 years. “Folks, that’s a mortgage.”

Each candidate spoke of modest childhoods and hard work while noting their background meant they felt compelled to serve. And while they focused more on issues than the Republican they hope to unseat, they made mention of Carter with reference to Jan. 6 and healthcare.

Griggs, who lost to Carter in 2020 by a 58 to 42 percent margin and also ran unsuccessfully against former Rep. Jack Kingston, touted her military service and willingness to be a “strong voice,” in Congress for voters, noting she’s “not a politician,” and adding, “I am a servant for all people.”

She said seeing the events surrounding Jan. 6 “infuriated her,” and made her angry. She said Carter should resign.

Munroe also referred to her military service, saying she’s third generation military but the first officer in her family.

She said her experience leading Winn Army Community Hospital with some 85,000 “constituents,” gives her the expertise and background to represent District 1. She said Carter failed to uphold his oath of office by not voting to certify the state’s electoral votes in the 2020 presidential election.

Herring, meanwhile, said he decided to run on Jan. 6, 2021, the day President Trump supporters stormed the Capitol Building in an effort to stop Congress from certifying the election results, after Carter supported an objection to certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election. “I’ve put a law practice I’ve spent 30 years building on hold to run in this election,” he said. “This is personal to me. Buddy and I go to the same church.”

Carter has insisted he didn’t say the election itself was fraudulent, but was instead objecting to the election process in Georgia.

He’s also reportedly said it is time for the former president, his supporters and the Republican party to move on from the previous election.

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