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Georgia state senate candidate Shell Underwood stands and makes opening statements at a forum Tuesday night inside the city council chambers at Dalton City Hall. From left are, Conda Goodson, Chuck Payne, Debby Peppers, Underwood and William (Billy) Vinyard.
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Five candidates for the Georgia state senate speak to a large crowd at a forum Tuesday night inside the city council chambers at Dalton City Hall.

DALTON, Ga. — They were all in agreement about taxes: The government should take less from your paycheck. And you should pay less for the property you own. And the folks at the state capitol should rely more on sales tax.

"We could all benefit more in the long run," said Conda Goodson. "Everyone would have an even share in the pay."

"If we have sales tax," said Chuck Payne, "everybody pays equally."

"It's a tax on everybody," said Shell Underwood. "That's why it's the fair tax."

"It will help us grow and bring back jobs," said Billy Vinyard.

And that was it for the Georgia State Senate candidates — a like mind on fiscal policy Tuesday night during a forum at Dalton City Hall. Well, except for Debby Peppers, the fifth candidate, the only one not registered as a Republican in the Dec. 13 special election.

"It taxes the poor people at a rate higher than the wealthy people," Peppers said of the sales tax-heavy policy. " I don't see how you're going to stimulate the economy by raising prices on goods and services."

Tuesday's gathering was hosted by the Dalton Daily Citizen and the local League of Women Voters. It was one of two for the candidates hoping to take the place of state Sen. Charlie Bethel, R-Dalton, whom Gov. Nathan Deal appointed to the state Court of Appeals earlier this month. But for Peppers, it was her only opportunity to compete alongside the other candidates.

On Thursday night at 6, the other four will share their ideas with another crowd at the Charles "Judy" Poag Murray County Senior Center for a forum hosted by the local Republican party. The district they hope to represent covers Whitfield and Murray counties, as well as swaths of Gordon and Pickens counties.

The five candidates come from diverse backgrounds. Goodson is an active community volunteer. Payne is a retired juvenile court probation officer and the former chair of the Whitfield County Republican Party.

Peppers is an attorney and former Whitfield County Commissioner. Underwood is an insurance counselor and former teacher. Vinyard is a local contractor.

At the beginning of Tuesday's forum, the candidates announced who they voted for in the presidential election. "Trump," they all said — except Peppers. In a county where 70 percent of voters supported the Republican candidate, Peppers told the crowd she cast her ballot for Hillary Clinton.

She stood against the grain for the rest of the night.

After Peppers' response about sales tax, one man told the candidates he thought their policy could disproportionately hurt senior citizens — who have local exemptions on property taxes and don't have to pay income tax, he said, if they're retired. The Republican candidates said there is more nuance involved in their plans, which would account for senior citizens.

Goodson said she supports a plan to exempt state sales taxes on medicine and groceries for senior citizens. Underwood and Vinyard also said the plan sounds like a good idea, though they both want to comb through tax policy to figure out how specifically to make it work.

Said Payne: "There is a way to do it so that we are not taking advantage of those who are very limited in their income."

A woman in the audience Tuesday asked how the candidates felt about government- mandated vaccinations. Payne and Peppers said the program is vital to prevent widespread outbreaks of diseases like measles. Underwood said vaccinations should be required for any child who goes to school, to protect the health of classmates.

But Goodson and Vinyard both said government officials should not dictate that decision, at least most of the time.

"That is your child," Goodson said. "You ought to have that right for your child. It's not my place or my business."

Said Vinyard: "They should be vaccinated if it's life or death. It should be your choice after that."

Asked about a campus carry bill that Deal vetoed, the four Republicans said students should have the right to carry guns on campus. Goodson said students should be able to protect themselves from a mass shooter. Peppers disagreed, saying she supported the second amendment but didn't think gun owners should be able to carry everywhere, including a college campus.

"They're young," she said. "I don't think it's safe for the rest of us to revert to the O.K. Corral to make us feel safer."

A woman also asked the candidates whether they think abortion should be legal. Goodson said the only exception should be when a mother's health is at risk. Payne said abortion should be outlawed.

"I do not believe in abortion under any circumstance," said Underwood.

"I do not believe in abortion under any circumstance," added Vinyard, seconds later.

Peppers, again, dissented. She said Georgia law allows for abortion with a waiting period. It also requires a teenager to receive parental consent before the operation. She said the law is in line with what the U.S. Supreme Court mandated in its Roe vs. Wade ruling.

She said changing this law would mean a challenge to the highest court: "I don't think that's a proper use of taxpayer funds."

Contact Staff Writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.

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