No matter your politics, there’s no arguing that Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams has an impressive resume.
Yale-educated lawyer. Businesswoman and entrepreneur. Frequent guest on cable news networks. Romance novelist, writing under the pen name Selena Montgomery.
Now, Abrams wants to add the state’s top executive office.
The Atlanta Democrat announced her bid for governor June 3, making her one of two Democrats and a handful Republicans who’ve made their candidacies official.
Abrams stopped by the Courier office June 24 during a swing through the area. She was set to speak at local churches on June 25.
Abrams said there’s been progress in Georgia, but not enough. She said she wants a government that works for all residents, regardless of demographics or location.
“As I’ve watched this state change and grow, I think we’ve done some good things in that we’ve created paths to opportunities for a number of families. But too many families are left out, or left behind,” she said. “We need a governor who thinks about all of Georgia ….”
Abrams said the way to help folks do more than survive starts with education, or “believing we can educate bold and ambitious children who think the future is limitless,” she said, touting investment in education starting with day care and continuing through high school.
“Right now we under invest and under expect,” she said, noting she also champions free technical school for “anyone who needs an education,” while also trying to make higher education more affordable.
“The HOPE scholarship does some of that, but for too many students where it’s a need-based issue, we don’t have the solution.”
Abrams also wants to see more economic development, and “growing jobs in place,” she said.
“We’ve got pockets of opportunity, but too often we’ve also got pockets of poverty within those communities and certainly in rural Georgia,” Abrams said. “We have to be intentional about growing jobs in place. Our strategy to date has been to attract large companies and creating regional job centers.”
That’s not enough, she said, pointing to her own entrepreneurship in starting companies and growing them.
“One strategy is insufficient,” Abrams said. “We can’t rely on large companies to come in and save our economy.”
Health care and second chances
Georgia was one of the state’s that didn’t expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Abrams wants that done, and said she sees it as both a moral and economic necessity.
“Medicaid expansion is critical,” she said. “It not only provides healthcare, it also provides 56,000 new jobs.”
Not surprisingly, Abrams sees what’s happening in Congress as frightening.
“The Senate version of TrumpCare, which would as of (June 22) create an $800 billion tax cut for the wealthiest families in America at the expense of those who rely on Medicaid and even those who have private insurance, is a dangerous bill for a number of reasons.”
Abrams claims Georgia’s Medicaid program is already one of the nation’s most restrictive and is limited to those who are “aged, blind, disabled or parents with children who can’t make more than $6,600 a year,” so a proposed cap means those who rely on Medicaid “will get squeezed, and that means primarily children and elderly people in nursing homes.”
“And on top of that, the rural hospital crisis we’re facing, with more than 10 hospitals closing in the last decade, is going to accelerate. The very little money they’ve got now coming in through Medicaid, that’s going to disappear.”
Abrams said the proposed bill also will allow insurers to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions and cap lifetime expenditures.
“Health care is a right,” she said. “It’s also good economic development. People can’t go to work if they’re sick or injured.”
Abrams also is a proponent of prisoner re-entry programs to help ease the transition from jail to work.
“We’re either going to pay for it by putting them back in jail or in social welfare services, or we can help them get back on their feet so they can take care of their children, their family,” she said. “We have to think about prisoner re-entry as part of our economic development. And economic development is not simply about bringing in jobs. It has to be about letting people take care of themselves, uplifting families and their income, and we have to be intentional about that every day.”
Fort Stewart, the environment
When it comes to the military, Abrams said she worked with both parties in the Georgia House to help the state “move forward” and avoid base closures through a bill to make it easier for military family members to get jobs when they move to the state and access to education. But here too, Abrams said the expansion of Medicaid is a necessity.
“We benefit from the economic benefit the military brings, but we’re not doing everything we need to do for military families when they decide to stay here,” Abrams said. “There are 25,000 veterans who have been denied access to health care because they can only get it through Medicaid expansion. We can’t expect to attract and retain the highest paying jobs that come through the military if we’re not willing to make the conditions necessary for those families to stay here.”
Abrams, who grew up in Gulfport, Mississippi, is also a believer in climate change, she said, but it’s an issue that transcends politics.
“The environment is not a Democrat issue or a Republican issue,” she said. “It’s a people issue and an economic issue. We rely on agriculture, it’s our No. 1 industry, but if we do not pay attention to water issues, and we don’t pay attention to climate issues, then the loss of a peach crop is going to be the least of our worries. If we don’t pay attention to rising tides, then ports like the one in Savannah are going to face challenges.”
Abrams said she’s proud of working with Republicans in a coalition aimed at stopping what she called the “erosion of environmental regulations.”
“Call it climate change or property rights, we have to protect our land if we want to have a heritage for our children to inherit.”
If elected, Abrams would be the nation’s first black-female governor. She’d be the state’s first black governor. But she hopes to appeal to voters across the board.
“"I understand the obligation to build a coalition of voters who reflect the diversity of our state and are too often left out of the conversation about its future. We will run a campaign that begins with growing the civic power of Georgians, a power I will ask them to use to help me lead this state. It is my hope that by working to become governor of Georgia – the first African American woman to do so here or anywhere else in the country – I will not only have the ability to uplift all families in my state, but to redefine our belief in who can lead."
Abrams, who founded the New Georgia Project and helped register some 200,000 voters between 2014 and 2016, said she’s watched as Republican governors have won by narrower margins at the same time the state’s demographics have changed.
“Georgia is now 52 percent white and 48 percent people of color,” she said. “That doesn’t predict success, it does signal where people stand and communities of color are more likely to be Democrats. But there also are strong progressive white voters who’ve remained consistent across election cycles, they’re just for some friends to come join them.”
If Abrams wins her party’s nomination, she said expects to build a coalition of voters to close the 200,000-vote gap by which Gov. Nathan Deal won re-election. And with 6.2 million registered voters in the state, Abrams said “there are 200,000 Democrats out there who don’t feel this is their state yet, that don’t feel this is their government. I need to convince them voting matters, and if they vote for me, their life will change.”
Kinship care and background
Abrams said one of her proudest achievements in the legislature has been working across party lines to change laws that make it easier for grandparents to get help to care for grandchildren rather than have them put into foster care. Known as kinship care, that program and others like it “are real things that help real people who want their lives to get better. They don’t care about politics, they don’t care which party I’m in.”
Still, Abrams said she’s a Democrat because “my values are grounded in the ethos of the Democratic party. Because I believe in economic security and educational opportunity for everyone. Because I believe government works for everyone. And I will work with everyone, Democrat, Republican or independent, to make that happen.”
Her own story is well told. One of five children, she grew up in a family she described as “working poor, working class on a good day.”
Abrams said growing up gave her an understanding of the challenges working families face.
“My parents both worked full time jobs and still struggled to make ends meet,” she said. “I understand what it means to have a government that works for you. I understand what it means to have an education, because education helped move my family out of poverty. In a single generation, my parents produced two PHD’s, two JD’s and a social worker. And I also have a younger brother serving time in Mississippi because of drug addiction and mental illness.”
Abrams said government should understand both the successes and failures, “and how all of those belong in our society and deserve to have opportunities and pathways to success. That’s why I’m running for governor.”