UPDATE: Candidates, Organizers Discuss Debate Cancellation
Brandon Beach, Sean Jerguson, Michael Fitzgerald and Lori Pesta weigh in on why the planned January debates for the Senate District 21 seat fell through.
Both candidates in the Georgia Senate District 21 special election set for Jan. 8, 2013, cited poor communication and time constraints as the reasons why a proposed debate between the two was cancelled by the state GOP.
Sean Jerguson told Patch that he was contacted by Michael Fitzgerald, chairman of the Georgia GOP's Sixth Congressional District, shortly after he qualified on Dec. 11 and accepted a proposal to participate in a debate scheduled for Jan. 3, 2013.
He said that after this initial contact, he heard nothing further from Fitzgerald or his office.
Jerguson claims he was never made aware of a second proposed Jan. 5 debate. Jerguson told Patch that he was "willing and able" to debate challenger Brandon Beach at that time, however.
Fitzgerald has told Patch that he twice contacted Jerguson about the Jan. 5 debate before Christmas, which contradicts Jerguson's claims.
According to Fitzgerald, he called Jerguson's home and his cell phone, leaving messages on both occasions.
Fitzgerald has shared with Patch the records from his phone regarding calls to Jerguson.
"I called Jergueson's home phone on December 19 at 12:41 p.m. and Dec 21 at 3:02 p.m.," Fitzgerald wrote in an e-mail.
According to Fitzgerald, the Jan. 3 debate would have been held at the Crooked Creek Homeowners' Association Clubhouse in Milton, the site of a previous debate between Brandon Beach and Chip Rogers ahead of the July 31 Republican primary. Karen Handel was selected as the moderator for this debate.
Brandon Beach told Patch that he was contacted about a debate by Fitzgerald three or four days after he formally qualified for the election on Dec. 10.
According to Beach, Fitzgerald said that he wanted to hold a debate on either Jan. 3 or Jan. 4 in North Fulton County.
However, the Beach campaign was reserving the those two days for an event with former Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz. Beach told Fitzgerald he would have an answer on a date shortly.
Fitzgerald claims that Brandon Beach's campaign manager Bernie Tokarz told him that Beach had no time on his schedule for participating in a debate, according to Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald said that when he issued a final notice to the Beach camp about a Jan. 3 debate, Beach called him and asked the debate be pushed back to Jan. 5.
"I think there was a conscious decision on at least one of the candidates' part that they didn't want to have a debate, period," Fitzgerald said.
Meanwhile Lori Pesta, president of the Republican Women of Cherokee County, contacted Beach and suggested a non-sponsored debate in Cherokee County on Jan. 5.
Beach said he preferred to have a single debate in Cherokee County instead of two debates in two locations.
Unfortunately, interest in the Cherokee debate was low so it was canceled by the time Fitzgerald had reached out to the Beach campaign a second time, Beach said.
Beach states that the "compression of time" was the main cause of the lack of a debate in this election.
Pesta told Patch that a group of Republican Women had wanted to host, but not sponsor, a debate including the candidates for the House District 21 seat, not just Beach and Jerguson.
Pesta corroborated Fitzgerald's statement that the two debates were to be held independently of one another.
"It's pretty important that the voters are well informed on how the candidates relate to the issues," she added.
Pesta sent out Facebook invites and e-mails to the lesser-known candidates and personally called on both Beach and Jerguson to get commitments from them.
Pesta said Jerguson told her that he would add the Jan. 5 debate to his calendar. According to Pesta, Beach seemed hesitant to attend. Pesta said that Beach claimed a debate, "wouldn't be a good use of his time."
Further attempts by Pesta to get solid commitments from Beach and Jerguson were not successful, and Pesta said she decided to cancel the Cherokee debate instead of paying between $1,200 and $1,500 to rent the Chambers at City Center in downtown Woodstock for a debate that may not have anyone attending it.
"I think it shows a disrespect for Cherokee County in general," Pesta said.