A few local leaders recently took the opportunity to speak with Congressman Doug Collins in a video meeting spearheaded by Jones County Commissioner Jonathan Pitts.
Pitts began the April 16 Webex session by introducing Collins, and the congressman took the reigns of the meeting from there.
Collins gave a brief overview of his career. Before entering politics in the Georgia House, representing Georgia’s 27th District, he said he was a pastor for 11 years. He has served 19 years as a chaplain in the Air Force Reserve Command and was deployed to Iraq during the Iraq War. As a lieutenant colonel, he remains active in the reserves.
Collins explained that he left the church and went to law school before he was elected to the state House in 2008. He served as a state representative until he was elected to represent Georgia’s Ninth District in the U.S. Congress in 2012.
The congressman is currently running against U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler in the Republican primary election that is scheduled to take place June 9. Loeffler was appointed to replace Sen. Johnny Isakson, who retired in December. The winner of the primary election will face a democratic candidate in November.
Collins said lots of things rolled to a stop with the pandemic, and since then, he has been actively getting legislation passed to get help to those impacted.
“I have a money and morals approach,” he said.
Questions from local leaders were submitted to Collins ahead of time, and he addressed those questions beginning with the long-term effect of the pandemic by banker Gary Rosser.
Collins said that was a huge concern.
“That is why you saw such a huge federal response. It’s worked so far but ran out of money,” he said. “We hope to put more in over the next few weeks.”
Jones County Commissioner Sam Kitchens asked about the federal plan compared to the state plan for COVID-19 as it relates to healthcare and the economy.
Collins said states must be able to open.
“(Gov. Brian) Kemp has his own plans. Staying home has been effective, but the hotspots are overrun,” he said. “Getting people back to work is another question.”
The congressman said states need testing kits quickly. He added that antibody tests are needed.
“The big difference is there is no vaccine,” he said.
Collins said the federal government had a more economic role.
“We need to find more money for the states,” he said.
School Superintendent Chuck Gibson asked about the need for more resources for the schools. He said sanitizing materials and sprayers are needed for schools that do not have large overheads to cover the costs.
Collins said that was the intent of the money being provided going forward.
Board of Education member Dr. Nancy Nash asked about funds for school safety, and Collins said he understood that it was harder to provide school safety but that was more of a state issue. He said one part of the school safety issue that is countrywide is mental health, and that is not being addressed.
The congressman said state mental health facilities had been closed to create a community-based system, which never happened.
“Kids need help with mental health,” he said.
He went on to say that 35-50 percent of the inmates in local jails are addicts or people with mental health issues.
“Law enforcement cannot continue to be on the frontline of mental health,” he said.
Collins said that was the reason for the creation of the mental health accountability court.
Sheriff Butch Reece’s question was the congressman’s position on jamming the illegal phones in prisons and jails. The issue is it seems keeping phones out of prisons is impossible, so making them useless is the next best idea.
Collins reply was brief.
“I don’t know why we can’t make that happen,” he said.
Deb Mohler with the Georgia Department of Insurance asked if HR 5717 was getting any movement.
HR 5717 was introduced in January. A summary of the resolution states its purpose is to end the epidemic of gun violence and build safer communities by strengthening federal firearms laws and supporting gun violence research, intervention and prevention initiatives.
The resolution was referred to the subcommittee on crime, terrorism and homeland security March 10.
Collins said the legislation was not going anywhere else.
“It didn’t deal with real issues,” he stated.
Nash asked about term limits.
Collins responded that he always answers to the voters.
“Term limits really don’t work. The states already have an 85 percent turnover rate,” he said.
He said the problem with term limits for elected officials is there are no term limits for staff or government agencies.
“You can vote me in or vote me out, but there needs to be a balance. Some staff members have been there so long, they are more powerful than the elected officials,” he said.
Kitchens had a question about bringing broadband to rural areas, and Collins said that was a key issue he has been working on. He said the management of Windstream had not been good about expanding in rural areas.
“We need to get more money freed up,” he said. “We are encouraging anyone who wants to be competitive to help out.”
Gibson had a question about internet for schools. Collins said he understands the importance of that because it is now being used to communicate.
Terry Harvin said more working across the aisle was needed.
Collins said he agreed that working together was beneficial.
“But don’t mistake me to be anything but a conservative,” he said. “With that being said, I don’t have to agree with everything you do to take common ground when we can find it. Every hill is not a hill to die on.”
Rosser asked where all the money the federal government is distributing during the pandemic is coming from.
Collins said it’s coming from debt.
“We were in a deficit situation to start with. We needed to be better planned for a pandemic,” he said.
Rosser said the news that all the loan money was gone was frustrating. Collins said more funding was coming.
“A lot of that money has already been marked for those who applied for loans, it just hasn’t been processed,” he said.
Pitts said the purpose of the call was to give Collins the opportunity to introduce himself and answer questions from Jones County’s community leaders. He said the call came about after a planned visit to Central Georgia by the congressman in March was changed to a Webex conference call due to the pandemic.
The commissioner said the conversation with Collins absolutely exceeded his expectations.
“The call was scheduled for 30 minutes, and it lasted almost an hour. He answered everyone’s questions,” Pitts said. “I have gotten positive feedback from some of the people on the on the call and my contacts with Congressman Collins.”