Richmond Hill realtor Amy Tavio was a driving force in reorganizing the local Democratic Party and has long worked behind the scenes on local issues.
Now, the divorced mother of three who has never held political office hopes what she calls her search for “common sense, common ground” solutions for problems facing Georgians will convince residents of the 1st Congressional District to vote for her, regardless of their party affiliation.
Tavio announced earlier this week her candidacy as a Democrat, saying she’s running because “politics as usual isn’t working in D.C.”
“We’ve got career politicians on both sides that have dug their feet in and they’ve said they’re not willing to work together,” she said. “They’re not even being civil and respectful to one another. And those who are suffering with all of that playing out in Washington are the people here at home.”
Tavio said her own experiences as a real estate agent and small businesswoman, along with a number of conversations with friends who encouraged her to run, convinced her it was time to do something.
“I’ve witnessed our inability to work together in a number of ways. As a Realtor, sitting at kitchen tables with a box of tissues with a family trying to figure out how to get out from under a mortgage they’re upside down on so they can go someplace else where they’ve got a job opportunity,” she said. “I’ve noticed it with families trying to figure out how they’re going to pay their children’s medical bills and put food on the table at the same time.
“I’ve seen children moving back home because they can’t get a job after graduating from college and they’ve done everything right,” she added. “I’ve seen small businesses trying to keep their doors open, only to have the government shut down for three weeks and all of a sudden nobody walks into their restaurant anymore. It’s crazy. It doesn’t work and it doesn’t serve anyone.”
Tavio is the second Democrat to announce plans to run for the seat, which has been held by Republican Jack Kingston since he was elected in 1993. Kingston is running for Senate.
Earlier, Savannah’s Lesli Messenger also went public with her candidacy. There are six Republican candidates running, including state Sen. Buddy Carter of Pooler, former state Sen. Jeff Chapman of Brunswick, Bob Johnson, a surgeon and former Army ranger, businessman John McCallum of St. Simons, and Darwin Carter, a consultant from Bacon County who worked in the administration of former president Ronald Reagan.
Tavio is the only one of the group not to have sought office in the past. But she cites behind-the-scenes work on everything from local candidacies for office to the Belfast Commerce Centre and a failed attempt several years ago to bring a career academy to Bryan County.
Tavio also served as the county coordinator for the Atlantic Area CASA, as a Relay For Life committee member and as a volunteer with Bryan County Family Connection and the Bryan County’s Children Fund, according to her bio.
“I have contributed to my community as a citizen and as a community advocate,” she said. “(Until now) I’ve just chosen the volunteer path versus the path of politics. I’m not a career politician and quite honestly I think that’s a plus.”
Tavio’s platform is a combination of ideas, she said, with a focus on taking care of veterans, promoting education and economic development and protecting the environment.
“Taking care of our veterans is something we can agree on across party lines. It’s a particularly important issue in the 1st District, where we have so many people who have been overseas for three, four, five deployments or more,” she said.
Tavio said it’s important to take advantage of the ports in Savannah and Brunswick to help promote economic growth.
“Economic prosperity from the ports in this district means prosperity for the entire southeast United States,” she said. “We’ve got access to rail, to water, to interstates, our seasons are temperate and we’re not smack dab in the middle of the hurricane high-hit zones. This is a great place for people to bring economic opportunity and 21st-century jobs, so we’ll have quality employment for citizens, but we need to do a better job of attracting those industries here.
“We also need to do a better of job educating our citizens so when they complete 13 years of public education, from pre-K to 12th grade, they are well skilled and equipped either to enter the work force immediately, or go to a trade school or college,” she continued. “We need our citizens to have the ability to be self-reliant, productive and prosper.”
At the same time, “we don’t want to have fish floating down the Ogeechee River ever again,” Tavio said. “Balancing economic growth and preserving our natural resources is a fine line, but we can do it if we focus on what we really want to create, which is a planet worth passing on to future generations.”
Her stance on some issues are moderately liberal — she’s pro-choice and believes in campaign finance reform. And when it comes to gay marriage, Tavio said she thinks adults should be free to marry or live in a union with those they love but churches shouldn’t be required to conduct ceremonies they don’t agree with.
But she also apparently has some conservative leanings.
“I don’t have a problem with responsible gun owners,” she said. “We have laws on the books that protect the Second Amendment, we need to enforce those.
“If anything, we may need to look and make sure gun owners are educated about gun safety, but more regulations are not going to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. They’re going to have guns.”
The Affordable Care Act didn’t have an auspicious debut and needs fixing, she said, but it began to address a need.
“There is no doubt the cost and accessibility of health care in this country had grown beyond the reach of many Americans and was strangling our health care delivery model,” Tavio said. “There are some great parts of the Affordable Care Act that even my insurance agent, who is a Republican, said needed to be there.
“We need to work together to make the changes to make ACA work so it serves to deliver health care in an affordable way to all Americans, where the burden is spread out and not picked up by a handful, with others basically utilizing the system for free.”
Tavio said the free and reduced lunch program in schools — which became the center of controversy recently when Kingston suggested students who receive the benefits be required to sweep floors or do other tasks to learn a work ethic — does more than combat childhood hunger. It’s also economically smart, she said.
“Children go to school to learn, and without a doubt it’s very hard for a child to learn if their stomach is rumbling and empty,” she said.
“If we have children that succeed in our schools then when they graduate, they become productive members of society. If we have children not succeeding because they’re sitting there hungry, we’re creating people we’ll need to take care of. That doesn’t make sense as a compassionate society and it doesn’t make sense economically.”
Tavio also said it’s wrong to think even a majority of those on the program have deadbeat parents.
“Children who are receiving free and reduced lunches oftentimes have parents that are working, but they are working at a wage below what is required to sustain their families,” she said. “Most people in the 1st Congressional District want to work ... want to be able to take care of their family and be able to put food on the table themselves, and that comes with educational and economic development.”
She’s also a proponent of term limits and noted Kingston “ran on term limits” as a challenger.
Tavio she knows she’s an underdog in a district routinely seen as staunchly Republican, but she said she wouldn’t be running if she didn’t think she could win.
“There’s no doubt about it, a lot of my friends are Republicans,” Tavio said. “In fact, living in Richmond Hill I would have very few friends if I didn’t have friends who were Republicans.”
She said she spoke with Republican and Democrats about how “we get to find this pragmatic, common-sense middle road that seems to be not travelled in D.C., to actually start writing and passing policies that help Americans instead of hurting and hindering Americans.
“And if we’re looking at these next two years, there’s some real work that needs to be done,” Tavio added. “We’re going to have to put aside our party differences, have those hard battles and be willing to reach across the aisle and argue across the aisle, and at the end of the day say, ‘We don’t agree on everything, but we agree here, let’s make something good happen here.’
“That’s not going to happen if we continue to send people to D.C. who are going to continue to vote straight down a party line.”