During last week's online political forum for the District 50 state senate seat, I thought I was in an echo chamber.

All six candidates sounded just alike, mouthing the same soundbites, adopting the same thoughts and generally offering little more than bland political positions for those brave enough to watch their boring performance.

Do I sound too critical?

Maybe, but out of six candidates, you'd think at least one would attempt to stand out from the others rather than engaging in a virtual group hug. If anyone had an original thought, they didn't share it. There was a lot of talk, but little information. Each candidate seemed to say, "me too!"

If they'd have done that in the first five minutes, we could have saved one-and-one-half hours of time and spent our evening watching some trashy television show that would have at least been entertaining.

If you didn't watch the forum, here's what all the candidates (all running for the Republican nomination) said:

"I'm pro-gun; I'm pro-life; I hate Democrats who are all liberal socialists that threaten our North Georgia Way of Life; I'm a Christian conservative; I hate government; I kiss Donald Trump's ring every day."

That, in a nutshell, is what every candidate said. It was a rote ticking-off of GOP talking points.

•••

If you scratch beneath the catchphrases, however, you'll find very little of substance in all of that.

What does it really mean to say you're "pro-gun" from a policy perspective? Do you mean that all gun regulations — background checks, age restrictions, keeping guns out of the hands of felons — should be done away with? And why even mention that you're "pro-gun" when there is no serious legislation in Georgia that would threaten anyone's right to own or have a gun? Why do virtually all GOP candidates politicize guns, but seldom talk about specific firearm policies?

And why do so many GOP candidates keep mentioning "socialists" in their campaigns? If there are any real "socialists" in the 50th Senate District, they're hiding in a cave somewhere — I don't know of any real socialists running for political office in Georgia, much less in Northeast Georgia. What would a socialist want to do to us anyway? Give away free money... no, wait, Republicans just did that in Congress.

Perhaps the dumbest comment from that group of candidates was how many contended they want to "protect our way of life."

What the hell are they wanting to protect us from? Who's trying to upend our "way of life" in Northeast Georgia and how do "they" want to change us?

Only one candidate, Tricia Hise, hinted about that when she said the area needed protecting from the evil capitol city: "We don't need Atlanta telling us what to do or how to do it," she opined with earnestness, although she never said who in Atlanta is telling us what to do.

•••

But perhaps the dumbest group-think comments were those bashing government in general.

Here are six people who claim they don't like government, but they're spending a ton of money to run for a government position.

Hise doesn't want "Atlanta" telling North Georgia what to do, but she's running for a position in Atlanta which does just that.

Go figure.

"Government should get out of the way," said candidate Stacy Hall, who seemed to speak for the entire group.

Yet Hall is currently a government official as chairman of the Habersham County Board of Commissioners. He wants to be a more important government official in Atlanta with his bid to become a state senator. Does Hall think he should "get out of the way" since he is government?

How does Hall, Hise and all of the other candidates reconcile their disdain for government with their naked ambition to be a part of government?

If you don't believe government has the potential to help people, then why would you want to be a part of something so evil, corrupt or ineffective? If government is bad, then why embrace it?

•••

The answer is, those candidates are just telling voters what they think we want to hear. They are echoing the disgruntled sentiments they hear on the street, not their own real beliefs. Every single one of those six candidates loves government —  they wouldn't be a candidate otherwise.

But like all politicians, they're scared to say what they really think, so they all adopt the same talking points. The result is nobody really stands out from the crowd and whomever is eventually elected can't really do anything in office because they've painted themselves into a political box.

•••

If we're being honest, there is only real issue of substance in the race and it's not the shallow slogans the candidates are saying. The only real issue the impact the virus is having — and will continue to have — on the state budget.

The bottom line: What will each candidate be willing to cut in the state budget to make ends meet? Will they dare to cut education spending, which is the single largest area of the state's budget? Will they dare to cut healthcare, or public safety spending in the middle of a pandemic?

How would each candidate make spending cuts? That is the only issue in the race because it's going to be a huge, huge problem in the coming months.

•••

Somebody from those six candidates will win the Republican nomination and very likely defeat the Democrat in November.

So who will it be?

Given the size of the field, there will likely be a runoff between two of the candidates late in the summer.

The two candidates with the most name recognition are Stacy Hall, BOC chairman in Habersham County, and Dan Gasaway, a former state representative.

Hall has a lot of contacts via his county government position. Gasaway also has connections, but could be hobbled by the multiple lawsuits which he filed after his defeat two years ago in the state rep race.

Tricia Hise, the only woman in the race, appears to be an earnest campaigner, but with the virus situation, personal campaigning has been halted. That will hurt her style.

Bo Hatchett will be helped by the endorsement of former Gov. Nathan Deal, but doesn't appear to have the connections of the other candidates.

Lee Moore from Franklin County and Andy Garrison from Jackson County live on the edge of the district, a disadvantage in such a large geographic district.

If I were betting, I'd say Hall and Gasaway will be in a runoff.

That would be interesting. Hall is a smooth talker while Gasaway is more blunt and pointed.

A real debate with sharp questions between those two could be interesting during a runoff.

Otherwise, wake me up when it's over. Last week was a sleeper.

Mike Buffington is co-publisher of Mainstreet Newspapers. He can be reached at mike@mainstreetnews.com.

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