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Kasim Reed launches comeback campaign for Atlanta mayor

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Kasim Reed launches comeback campaign for Atlanta mayor
Kasim Reed speaks at an event at the High Museum of Art during his mayoral term in 2015.

Photograph by Paras Griffin/Getty Images

Four years ago, Kasim Reed said goodbye to the job he’d wanted since he was 13 years old: being the mayor of Atlanta. This November, the cutthroat politician who used raw power and the bully pulpit to lead the city out of the Great Recession and into its most recent boom, will try to win his dream job back.

On Monday Reed filed paperwork to launch his bid for a third term as Atlanta mayor and intends to officially announce his decision during his 52nd birthday party on Thursday, according to two sources with direct knowledge of his campaign plans. By doing so, Reed immediately becomes a formidable candidate in a packed race to lead the city.

On Saturday, prominent Democrats, local business leaders, and other allies started receiving invitations to Reed’s party. The event’s address would be provided upon RSVP, the invite said, and though it did not explicitly bill the event—which is “PAID FOR BY KASIM REED FOR ATLANTA, INC.”—as a campaign kick-off, the details were quite clear: Guests would have to pay at least $1,000 to attend and contributions can’t exceed $4,300, the statutory limit for municipal campaigns. [Editor’s note 6/11/21: Reed did indeed announce his mayoral bid during this party, which was held at actor Tyrese Gibson’s mansion in Buckhead.]

Reed (who declined to comment for this story) joins a ballot that includes: Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore and Councilman Andre Dickens, both of whom served during Reed’s mayoral terms; Antonio Brown, the first-term city councilman who says Reed encouraged his bid; and Sharon Gay, a Dentons attorney with strong ties to the city’s legal and business community and onetime deputy chief of staff to former mayor Bill Campbell. Qualifying ends in August, and other people are said to be considering runs, including Tharon Johnson, a veteran Democratic strategist and businessman.

On the agenda between now and November are questions about how Atlanta will recover from the pandemic, chip away at systemic and sharp income inequality, and, like many other cities, turn around a sharp increase in crime. In addition, the next mayor will have to thwart ongoing efforts by state lawmakers to take over Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and address anger over public safety in Buckhead, which is threatening to secede and take nearly half of the city’s tax revenue with it. On top of that is the complex business of running a growing city with a roughly $700 million budget and thousands of employees.

Reed will be quick to point to his on-the-job experience, including in public safety; Reed won the 2009 election with a campaign promise of beefing up the Atlanta Police Department’s ranks to 2,000 officers and overhauling the force’s top brass. However, he will also open himself to questions about his two terms as mayor, from whether he did enough to offset displacement caused by the city’s development boom to how he missed a City Hall bribery scandal that erupted in 2015 and ensnared his former procurement chief, a top adviser, and city contractors. Reed, who is the first Atlanta mayor to seek a third term since Maynard Jackson successfully ran in 1991, has not been accused of any wrongdoing.

In an interview with WSB-TV last month, Reed apologized for the corruption scandal and said history would not repeat itself if he became mayor again. Federal prosecutors working under then President Barack Obama and his successor, Donald Trump, “looked into every aspect of my life for more than three years and took no action.”

After Trump’s victory in 2016, Reed’s potential path to a White House cabinet position under Hillary Clinton vanished, and in the years since leaving City Hall, he’s worked in venture capital, backing startups like Jetdoc and serving as an adviser to popular restaurant companies including Slutty Vegan. When Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Reed’s hand-picked candidate in 2017, stunned allies and political observers and announced she would not seek a second term, speculation that Reed would jump into the contest became more credible.

A charismatic and combative figure, Reed’s time in office focused on shoring up the city’s finances by reforming the employee pension system, selling off public land, and positioning the city to capitalize on a return to intown living. A boxing fan, Reed along the way often sparred with local journalists, politicians, and others who dared cross him.

Overcoming the perception of being asleep at the wheel during a corruption scandal could be too much of a political mountain for Reed to climb, says William Perry of Georgia Ethics Watchdogs, who jousted with Reed about public funding to help build Mercedes-Benz Stadium and the airport’s lucrative contracting system. That perception, Perry says, could make fundraising more difficult and discourage some political, civic, and business leaders from publicly backing him.

Name recognition is quite an advantage, however, and Reed—a former state representative, state senator, and mayor—has more than anyone else in the race, says Andra Gillespie, an Emory University political science associate professor. In addition, she says, Reed can point to his record on reducing crime at a time when many Atlantans are “clamoring for increased public safety”—as well as his past success at putting Atlanta on a bigger stage by boosting tech, music, and film industries, and drawing large events like the Super Bowl. Also working in his favor: Reed’s focus on improving the relationship between the city and state, which under his predecessor Shirley Franklin had dwindled to nonexistent.

Times are different. Reed brokered a peace deal with then Governor Nathan Deal, says Harvey Newman, a professor emeritus of the Andrew Young School for Policy Studies at Georgia State University; politics weren’t nearly as polarized, divisive, and caustic as they are today. Governor Brian Kemp and Mayor Bottoms have quarreled over Black Lives Matter protests, street racing, and even Covid-19 mask ordinances. The approaches to improving public safety in the early 2010s won’t necessarily apply during an era when police-citizen relations have been fractured by the high-profile police shootings of Black Americans, including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Rayshard Brooks. “Just because you did it 12 years ago when you got elected doesn’t mean you can do it now,” Newman says.

Ultimately, Gillespie says, “This race is a test of Kasim Reed’s staying power and his potential for a comeback.”

60 Voices: 8 of Atlanta’s essential workers on what the past year taught them about the city

Atlanta essential workers Whitney Beauford-Morris
Whitney Beauford-Morris

Photograph by Audra Melton

The sanitation crew member

Whitney Beauford-Morris | solid waste equipment operator II senior, City of Atlanta

The biggest change during the pandemic has been the workload. With a lot of people working from home, and with their children being at home, a lot of people are buying their food in bulk. So, with boxes and such, overall, the weight of what we pick up has been substantially heavier. I’m much more tired at the end of the day. This is a physical job, and I definitely feel it. It has been a tiresome year, so, as soon as they allowed Massage Envy to open back up, I started going back. I also have a chiropractor. I’ll occasionally take a long bath, too.

As for the precautions, not too much has changed. Just the nature of this job, whether there’s a pandemic or not, we’re dumping other people’s discarded items, so we’ve always been very conscientious about hygiene. People throw away a lot of things, and we have no idea what it is when we’re out here working. There was maybe an uptick in the fear, but I kind of understood that came with the job before the pandemic.

Even before all this, I would change out my shoes after work. My shoes never came home. Once the pandemic hit, I would make sure my clothing never came in the house either, because I have three young children. When this first started, it was an adjustment, but like most people, I didn’t think we’d be in this a year later. We at the sanitation department are part of the continuity of Atlanta. We’re that little bit of normalcy in a time where nothing is normal.


The mail carrier

Jamesa Rainey-Euler | mail carrier, United States Postal Service, Marine veteran

Georgia was unique for letter carriers because we had that election going on through January, which added a lot of pressure to the job, with the political mail—including ballots—mixed in with all the holiday mail. I was working seven days a week for about two months. We were out there in the dark, doing everything we could with a smile on our face, completely terrified that we could be infected. I just had to tell myself that I was making a difference. That’s all you can do.

It takes a toll on your family life. I’m married and a mother of five. My youngest is 13, and when I was getting home around 10 or 11 at night, after working on multiple routes, I didn’t even really get a chance to have a conversation with her. I would peek in her room, and she would already be asleep. And the next day, you turn around and do it again.

If it weren’t for my customers and the positivity I received from them, I don’t know that I would be able to do it. They’re my motivation. It’s the little things that really make a difference in a stressful situation. It’s how you make someone feel valued—stuff like just knowing my name and saying hello.

It turns out I’m stronger than I knew, and I don’t think that has anything to do with me being a Marine Corps captain. It might have everything to do with me being a breast cancer survivor and the mother of five nearly 10-pound babies. I’m honestly surprised I survived the holidays and the election. And now that I’ve got the vaccine, sometimes, when I’m out here walking my route, it just makes me giggle.


The farmer

Jon Jackson | founder, Comfort Farms, Army veteran

At the beginning, we created a real online presence for the farm, where people could shop on the web and pull up in their vehicles. We were running Chick-fil-A–style food lines. People were coming in, beeping the horn, ready to pop the trunk and go. We kept that going for a few months—and we’re still doing digital orders—but people also want to get out of their vehicles and look at the farm, be part of the farm. We see a lot of people gravitating toward being out in the open air.

We had made the decision to open a farmers market on the farm in 2016. But with the pandemic, instead of doing things like a regular farmers market, with people all crowded around each other trying to look at vegetables, we had people walking around looking at our crops as they’re growing. People still pick up their weekly boxes, but they can also walk around, and they tell us what vegetables they want, and we pick it fresh for them right there. That turned out to be an unbelievable experience where folks were actually shopping on the farm. It’s very therapeutic.

We also have a lot of veterans at the farm. The pandemic brought a lot of chaos and unknowns, which, if you have chronic PTSD, can really get a vet going. But it also forced a lot of us to be more mission-focused. In the pandemic, we understand what our mission is: Our community needs to be fed. A lot of vets who were sitting down, feeling sorry for themselves, now feel more accomplished because they can do something they were born to do, which is to serve the community again. One of the things we believe at Comfort Farms is that nothing grows in the comfort zone. The more uncomfortable you are, the more you grow.


The restaurateur

Brad Cunard Little's Food Store
Brad Cunard

Photograph by Audra Melton

Brad Cunard | owner, Little’s Food Store

We’ll serve 1,200, 1,500 people a week, and there’s times when I feel like I’ve been at war for a year without any relief. But this pandemic taught me what I’ve always suspected: I’m tough as nails. I’ve had to be. But having to face down the fear wasn’t easy.

At the beginning, I reached out to a retired military colonel friend of mine and said, I need your help and guidance. He talked to me like I was in a real combat situation. He said, Establish your perimeter. Figure out how you want to keep the crew safe. And that’s just what we did. The goal is to keep you guys over there and us over here, as separate as possible.

I don’t play mask police as much as I did at the beginning. It was crazy. But it’s not over. The other day, I had a guy who absolutely would not put one on, and I kept saying, I need you to put a mask on, and he’d say, Well, I just need a light or some matches. There comes a point where it would be easier to just go ahead and serve them instead of kicking them out. But he’s telling me, Well, Lyft just threatened to suspend me because I won’t wear a mask, so maybe I gotta get in this habit. That’s not the kind of guy that I want in my store without a mask on.

It ain’t been easy, and I’m looking forward to not having to slap this thing on my face anymore, but I’m thrilled that this hasn’t turned into a Stephen King situation where I helped infect half of the fuckin’ state of Georgia because we slacked off.


The paramedic

Reggie McDaniel
Reggie McDaniel

Photograph by Audra Melton

Reggie McDaniel

When you pull someone into the ambulance, and you have reason to believe they have Covid, it’s like bungee-jumping. It’s like climbing up that hill and knowing you’re in for a crazy drop, and you don’t know how you’re going to feel on the way down. The pandemic is like going up that hill—the suspense. Just imagine that feeling all day long. Being in the back of the truck, it’s scary, thinking, Man, I gotta go back home to my wife and my newborn son.

I’m not in the truck anymore; I’m at the hospital now, and I feel a little more at ease. It’s stressful being in the ambulance. You never know what you’re gonna deal with. It could be an accident; it could be a gunshot wound; it could be somebody having a stroke; it could be someone having an asthma attack. And any of them could have Covid.

This has absolutely been a test—for everybody. But being a paramedic, your job is to be the most level-headed one in the room. If I freak out, how am I gonna help you? In my head, I might be thinking, Oh, my God! Oh, my God! Oh, my God! But at the same time, I gotta be like, It’s okay, even if I know it might not be. You just do what you’re trained to do: Keep it cool.


The teacher

Fazal Khan | associate professor of law, University of Georgia

My background is healthcare law and policy. Traditionally, I don’t try to teach a current events course, but since Covid is such a unique and historical event, I’ve tried to weave it into the curriculum when it’s germane.

We started offering hybrid instruction at the beginning, with half the class live, wearing masks and socially distant, and you as an instructor behind a plexiglass shield, also wearing a mask. The rest of the class would be on a video screen.

I personally found that to be a very challenging mode of teaching. If you’re there wearing a mask and can’t see the expression on people’s faces, especially if you’re lecturing and trying to gauge their comprehension, it makes it really difficult. The silver lining of Zoom—even though it was very difficult transitioning to the virtual environment—is that, now, you can see people’s faces. It was revelatory, realizing how much communication goes on nonverbally. You hear that from experts, but when you witness it this way, it really is dramatic.

I also learned something about myself during the pandemic: I moved to Atlanta from Athens a couple years ago, but it wasn’t really until Covid that I got to know my neighbors. After logging off, I’d just walk outside, go down the block, or go to the park because nothing was open, and I met my neighbors that way. It really made me realize the importance of community. For me, that’s another silver lining of Covid, getting to confirm the values that you learned as a child, knowing your neighbors, spending time outdoors with them. Those are basic things that don’t cost money but are life-affirming and make you appreciate everything you have. The little things.


The plumber

Phillip Hurley | Mr. Plumber

I hope to get the vaccine soon because we are messing with people’s waste, and Covid lives there. If you flush a toilet, and there’s something in the bowl and the person is infected, that turns it airborne.

Your sewer drain connects to another sewer drain, which connects to the whole neighborhood, and once you pull out a toilet or something, you’ve eliminated the trap; you’re getting nothing but sewer gases back there. The [SARS virus] got transferred in a high-rise, through the plumbing.

So, we have had to take extra precautions to protect ourselves and our customers. I don’t want to go into someone’s house, get sewage on me, then go to someone else’s house and track it in there. If I pick up any sewage, I’m definitely changing my uniform. I have a daughter who’s asthmatic, so I don’t want to take any of that home. We also use fresh gloves every time, fresh shoe covers, fresh masks, stuff like that. And if I’m working with something that is effluent waste, I’m putting on an N95 respirator.

At first, people wouldn’t even stay in their houses when I came in. They’d go and sit in the garage or something. That was stressful because I’m a one-on-one type of person; it can be hard to explain or diagnose a problem if you can’t talk to someone. But it seems like the stress and the anxiety are starting to tone down, which is good. Your mind is your most powerful weapon; it can either help you or hurt you.


The chef

Elodie Westover
Elodie Westover

Photograph by Audra Melton

Elodie Westover | executive chef, Full Commission

I feel appreciated by the community. I feel less appreciated by the government. It’s really disheartening listening to people talk about how much or how little my staff deserves the stimulus money or the vaccines. It’s very clear that what’s keeping our economy running are the people whom they say don’t even deserve $15 an hour. Seeing everybody who works in grocery stores, or my dishwasher, people who are taking trash out in the middle of all this, chefs, people who are cutting hair—I think our community has done really good about showing their appreciation. So, I’m very thankful, but I think the system as a whole could really care less. They aren’t willing to admit how important people in the service industry are.

The crisis has been really anxiety-inducing. I definitely feel that restaurant people have proven with this pandemic that we’re essential because life never stopped for us. It’s kind of scary for us, and we’ve been criticized by everyone. There are people who are saying we should stay home and that we’re being unsafe. But we still have bills to pay, and I have staff that have children. We’re very thankful that we’re a neighborhood spot, and we have regulars who have been supergrateful and supercompliant with the safety protocols.

I think it really occurs to me now that I am a good leader. I’ve always struggled with the imposter syndrome that is inherent when you are a woman or queer or nonbinary and so many things—just being used to having to work so much harder than the men around me to get noticed. It’s been better at my restaurant anyway because it’s majority female on my staff. But this year, I just realized that I am very capable at leading and guiding people, and that people are very willing to put their trust in me, and that they feel supported. It’s really inspiring to see my staff be grateful and hardworking and reciprocate the good will that we have. It feels like we’re a family and have each other’s backs.

This article appears in our May 2021 issue.

Developers buy Atlanta’s historic Highland Inn, plan its revival

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Highland Inn
The exterior of the Highland Inn

Photograph courtesy of Highland Inn

The Highland Inn has new owners who promise they won’t raze the historic structure, but big changes are on the way.

Last summer, the rumor mill swirled with the prospect of demolition, as then-owner Thomas Carmichael appeared to be shopping the idea of sending a wrecking ball into the century-old hotel. He had applied for a demolition permit with the City of Atlanta, his attorney said, to weigh his options as the building slowly withered with age and the coronavirus pandemic pained the hospitality industry.

On Friday, a young Atlanta development firm, Canvas Companies, inked a check for the structure, as well as the small businesses flanking it—including a barber, antique shop, and cosmetics store—with intentions to breathe new life into the property.

In an interview with Atlanta, the developer’s managing partners, Benjamin McLoughlin and Michael Garber, kept the price tag a secret (though that information will become public record soon) but divulged some about their plans for preserving of one of the city’s most historically and architecturally significant landmarks.

Before closing, Garber said, “We’ll probably take the first few months [of ownership] to figure out what the neighborhood needs.” McLoughlin said observers of their venture can probably expect serious renovations and what he calls “flexible housing” options. (Imagine something between a hotel and an apartment complex, with short-term rentals available.) It’s “debatable” whether a traditional hotel component will ultimately remain, McLoughlin said.

The inn shuttered late last month, with the sale pending. Now, the development duo anticipates the North Highland Avenue building will be upgraded in phases, meaning they might be able to reopen—at least temporarily “before we start heavy renovations,” McLoughlin said—some of the hotel operation while crews inspect and renovate parts of the buildings.

McLoughlin said it’s crucial to “maintain the soul and the charm of the building” as they make repairs. Garber added, “If you buy a vintage ’60s Mustang, you’re going to modernize some components to make it safe—put in new seatbelts and stuff like that. But, at its core, it will still be that original Mustang.”

The name could change, Garber said, but thanks in part to the newly established Poncey-Highland Historic District regulations, much else will have to remain—at least to the naked eye—very much the same. McLoughlin said they’ll be referring to photographs from the 1920s and ’30s to help them keep the original aesthetic.

“We generally don’t alter the exterior footprints,” McLoughlin said, nodding to their previous projects. “We don’t expect to this time.”

The courtyard dissecting the hotel, however, could undergo a major overhaul, he said. “We want it to be a true public space,” McLoughlin said. “It could be a cool pocket park like you have in New York.” Future patrons can also look forward to a new cafe, he said.

The existing businesses nestled next to the inn will likely stay, the duo says. Don’t expect some swanky or mainstream operation rooting in the old site. “If you have a cool old building and you put a Starbucks in there, it’s still a Starbucks,” McLoughlin said. “You lose what’s cool and interesting at that property.” In all likelihood, “rent will not go up substantially; [but] it will go up somewhat.”

Garber and McLoughlin said the revamp of the historic property will likely take two years and some change to complete.

Gabriel Sterling on death threats, the Dark Side, and America’s redemptive potential

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Gabriel Sterling
Gabriel Sterling

photograph by eley photo

Gabriel Sterling, the breakout star of Georgia’s contentious election season, grew up watching Star Wars. He credits the battle between intergalactic warlord Darth Vader and Jedi Luke Skywalker with helping mold his personal and political philosophies. The sci-fi opera, he says, somewhat prepared him to navigate the fractured political world that’s brought him fame and infamy, praise and death threats.

You don’t expect someone with a title like “voting system implementation manager” to end up on 60 Minutes. But Sterling, now 50—though still “boyish and bespectacled,” friends tell him—was jolted into the national spotlight after disputing the deluge of misinformation regarding election integrity. “The straw that broke the camel’s back,” Sterling said in an explosive and widely viewed December press conference from the Georgia capitol steps, was when someone threatened the life of a young elections worker in Gwinnett County who was wrongly accused of vote tampering. “Someone is going to get hurt; someone is going to get shot; someone is going to get killed,” Sterling said, fuming. He was right, it turns out. He wishes he hadn’t been.

The son of a now divorced artist mother and businessman father, with liberal and conservative leanings, respectively, Sterling got interested in politics and adopted Republican ideals early on. “I was nine years old and wanted Reagan to beat Carter,” says Sterling, who was born in Decatur, raised across intown Atlanta, and moved to Sandy Springs in high school. “He got elected when I was 10. I went to high school in ’84, at the height of Reaganism, and that defined a lot of what I saw as good stuff: freedom, justice, the American Way.” Decades later, Sterling’s resume includes experience as a congressional staffer, political consultant, marketing pro, Sandy Springs city councilman, and several jobs within Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office—as chief operating and financial officer and, during the election, as the voting system implementation manager, a $200,000-a-year contract position.

At the University of Georgia, he joined the College Republicans and soon took on campaign gigs—from Bart Ladd’s state House bid, to George H. W. Bush’s presidential campaign, to Charlie Norwood’s run for U.S. Congress. He ascended the ranks of conservative circles and even, at 24, turned down an offer to be Norwood’s chief of staff after spearheading a successful campaign to make him the representative of Georgia’s 10th District. “I said, Charlie, I can run a campaign all day long, but I don’t know squat about running a Washington office,” Sterling says. “But I’m going to find you the best person I can.” His pick, John Walker, served Norwood until the congressman passed away in 2007.

Lately, though, Sterling’s knack for fact-checking—he regularly bullet-pointed holes in election-fraud claims during press briefings—has spurred death threats. To cope with stress, he gardens, watches Georgia football—“It’s a huge part of my life”—and smokes meat. “I’ve got a barrel smoker, an electric box smoker, a Primo ceramic smoker, a Big Green Egg smoker, and a Weber gas grill.” His dream of launching a dry-rub barbecue company has been shoved to the back burner, though, thanks to the Covid-19 crisis and recent political turmoil. He contends that, if only people could still safely congregate to chomp barbecue and talk shop, the country’s ideological divisiveness might not be so severe. “It’s harder to dehumanize someone if you’re able to look them in the eye,” Sterling says.

Gabriel Sterling
Frustrated over threats to election workers, Sterling condemned then President Donald Trump’s rhetoric, earning him social-media fame.

Photograph by Jessica McGowan / Getty Images

A Christian, Sterling also says he finds solace in prayer. In fact, he got baptized just two weeks before the November election. “My minister told me that evil tries to chase you four days before and four days after [baptism],” he says. “I later told the election staff, Thankfully, we’re outside the four-day window. But my elections director [Chris Harvey] said, Yes, but with the governor’s health order, that’s been extended.”

Indeed, Sterling has taken flak from all points on the political spectrum, fielding feverish accusations on social media, entertaining middle fingers when he walks down the street, and even enlisting police to protect his home from conspiracy theorists. The barbs come from his own party because he’s decried Trump’s election-fraud claims as nonsense, and from Democrats because, despite his criticism of the president, he still voted for him, as well as for defeated Republican ex-Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, who both called for Sterling’s boss, Raffensperger, to resign because of how he handled the election.

Sterling still thinks impeaching Trump wasn’t the way to manifest the unity America aches for, and he declined to support efforts to remove the president before Joe Biden’s inauguration, comparing the situation to “striking a match over an open gas can.” Taking another lesson from the Jedi, Sterling believes hate is wasted energy. “[Star Wars] also taught me something about redemption,” he says. “Even Darth Vader, at the end, was redeemed by his son, Luke.”

Sterling hopes to play a role in America’s redemptive arc. He plans to stick around the secretary of state’s office at least until the end of Raffensperger’s term in two years. What comes after that remains to be seen, although, armed with his newfound fame, Sterling says he wants “to help right the ship” of the Republican party. To do that, he says, some of the party needs to admit they were wrong about election fraud. “We have two different sets of reality for two different sets of Americans,” Sterling says. “Like water over a stone,” he says, “eventually the truth will smooth things over.”

This article appears in our March 2021 issue.

Loeffler and Warnock trade barbs in echo chamber of Senate runoff debate

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Kelly Loeffler Raphael Warnock debate
Kelly Loeffler and Raphael Warnock during Sunday night’s debate.

Screenshot via GPB/Atlanta Press Club/YouTube

Reverend Raphael Warnock defended his devotion to Christianity while voicing openness to reproductive choice; Senator Kelly Loeffler dismissed allegations that she’d worked her political post to make money in the stock market; Jon Ossoff demanded more financial assistance for Americans afflicted by the Covid-19 pandemic; and Senator David Perdue played hooky.

On Sunday evening, three of the four candidates vying for a pair of U.S. Senate seats went toe-to-toe—or, in Ossoff’s case, toe-to-vacant podium—on all things related to Covid-19 response, elections integrity, racial justice, and more. Now, just a month separates Georgians from a runoff election that will determine control of the U.S. Senate, which has been majority Republican since 2015.

For about a half hour, Ossoff—a Democrat, documentary filmmaker, and one-time Congressional candidate—blasted the Republican incumbent, Perdue, for refusing to show up to the final debate before the election. (The Atlanta Press Club, the debate host, said in a statement it was “disappointed” that the senator opted not to participate, but “according to our rules,” he would be represented by an empty podium.) Ossoff said Perdue, who’s been under fire for his stock market moves while in office, was “afraid he could incriminate himself” if he showed up. Flanked by the empty dais, Ossoff was essentially afforded a lengthy—and free—campaign ad ahead of the election, in which he touted plans to increase the minimum wage, fight climate change, and reform restrictive immigration policies.

The real debate, though, saw Republican Loeffler, a wealthy businesswoman-turned-senator, and Democrat Warnock, the senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, spar over policy goals, but mostly over politics. The discourse checked all the usual boxes. Loeffler repeatedly slurred Warnock, calling him a “radical liberal” hell-bent on hiking taxes, seizing guns, and defunding the police. And Warnock repeatedly jabbed at Loeffler for allegedly enriching herself amid the pandemic at the expense of the American people. The Georgia Public Broadcast studio where the debate was held served as a sort of echo chamber for their digs at one another.

Loeffler wagged a finger at Warnock for referring to law enforcement as “gangsters, thugs, and bullies” when he was preaching. Warnock volleyed, noting he wouldn’t “defund” police: “I just think you can affirm what law enforcement officers do and hold them accountable, too.”

Warnock, as well as debate moderators, pressed Loeffler to concede that President Donald Trump had, in fact, lost the election in Georgia and nationwide. She wouldn’t. “The president has every right to pursue every legal recourse available,” she said, repeatedly.

Loeffler interrogated Warnock about a 2002 arrest for obstructing an investigation into allegations of child abuse at a church-run camp. Warnock said he was just trying to ensure kids weren’t questioned by law enforcement without a lawyer, or at least a parent, present. (The charges were ultimately dropped, and law enforcement chalked up the arrest to a miscommunication, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.)

They also traded barbs about the need to provide Americans more pandemic relief. Warnock accused Loeffler of not doing enough to get citizens more help amid the economic fallout. Loeffler said she was instrumental in getting Georgians the assistance they’ve already received. She also claimed the “Russia hoax” had distracted officials from focusing on the virus and said Democrats were to blame for stunted relief packages.

Warnock claimed Loeffler’s vast wealth—her net worth is reportedly hundreds of millions of dollars—has clouded her understanding of how the average American lives. Loeffler countered that she’d achieved the “American dream” only after years of working on a farm and waiting tables. “I started filling out a timecard when I was 11,” she said, adding that she knows what it’s like to live paycheck-to-paycheck. (She was recently lambasted on social media for a campaign ad claiming she understands the plight of low-wage workers.)

A devout Christian, Loeffler chided Warnock for his support of expanding women’s access to reproductive healthcare. “I don’t need a lecture from someone who has used the Bible to justify abortion,” she said. Warnock parried. “I have a profound reverence for life and an abiding respect for choice,” he said. “The question is: Whose decision is it? A patient’s room is too small a place for a woman, her doctor, and the U.S. government.”

It went on like this for nearly an hour, with both candidates interpreting the moderators’ pointed questions as tacit invitations to ramble on about the shortcomings of their opponent. It was clear they were both preaching to entirely different groups of Georgians, and, odds are, few, if any, voter minds were changed on Sunday evening. But, as Warnock insinuated at the tail of the face-off, this tired contest is almost over. “It’s dawn,” he said. “It’s dark right now, but morning is on the way.”

Watch the full debate below:

After construction mishap, fate of former Sound Table building is up in the air

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Sound Table wall collapses
The damage at the building formally known as Sound Table, which also destroyed the “Black Futures Matter” mural that was painted this past summer.

Photograph by Sean Keenan

Grant Henry and Eric Goldstein saw it coming. Co-owners of a retail and office space at 489 Edgewood Avenue, in Old Fourth Ward, the two men watched on Tuesday as decades-old bricks began to shift at the building’s corner unit, which, until October, had housed the iconic Sound Table music venue. Heavy machinery at construction sites next door, at the intersection of Edgewood Avenue and Boulevard, seemed to be shaking loose the side of the former concert hall. Then, on Wednesday afternoon, the western wall at the circa-1909 building collapsed.

“I would have thought a bus had gone by. That’s what it sounded like,” says Goldstein, who was working in a design studio at their spot when the unit down the block began to crumble. “But we knew because we had been watching the building. We knew how volatile that corner was.”

Sound Table wall collapses
Another view of the damage

Photograph by Sean Keenan

Now, the fate of the unit best known for Sound Table is uncertain, according to Tim Keane, the City of Atlanta’s planning department chief. A construction crew had just begun site work for a four-story mixed-use complex that promised restaurants, retail, and residences that would replace the former parking where Edgewood meets Boulevard. But as soon as Keane got the call about an aging building that appeared to be on the cusp of cracking open, his office issued a stop-work order for the corner site, as well as the plot to the south where larger mixed-use project Waldo’s Old Fourth Ward is coming together.

It’s not entirely clear who’s at fault for the collapse. The crew working for Charlotte-based developer the Whitaker Group was chewing up the corner parcel with a backhoe, and the team working on Waldo’s, Henry says, was hammering away at their site with some sort of heavy drill. But Keane says the Whitaker Group’s contractor leapt to remedy the issue, and is working on a plan to secure the building that could be ready as soon as Thursday. “We are compelling the contractor to as quickly as humanly possible get us a plan to make this situation safe,” he says.

In fact, Keane adds, the crew working at the corner site was well-underway with a plan to shore up the building soon after the wall began to crack and shift. The collapse forced them to change course. Now, Keane says, it’s “too soon to say” if the old Sound Table building will remain standing or need to be razed, although his department hopes it can be saved. As for who might have to pay for repairs, Keane says, “Who’s on the hook for it is between [the building owner and the contractor].”

Henry, who also owns Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room and Ping-Pong Emporium, catty-corner to the carnage, said much of the Edgewood Avenue bar strip’s success is owed to Sound Table, which opened in 2010, when the nightlife was far from what it is today.

Henry was bartending at the Local, he says, when a friend told him that he should open up a bar near Sound Table. “The kids want to be on Edgewood; they don’t want to be on Ponce [de Leon] anymore,” the friend told him. Now, the street is dotted with nightlife attractions.

Sound Table wall collapses
Edgewood Avenue was closed to traffic near the site of the collapse.

Photograph by Sean Keenan

The construction mishap isn’t just a blow to the community’s nightlife legacy; it also sets back the plans for the opening of a new bar and restaurant called Edgewood Dynasty, which was slated to debut in the old Sound Table location this week, Eater Atlanta reported.

Some other neighboring businesses, such as Edgewood Pizza and the new Slutty Vegan, have been forced to shutter while crews work to remedy the issue, and city officials expect to have a clearer picture of when Edgewood Avenue could be back to normal later this week.

11 questions for Georgia U.S. Senate candidate Doug Collins

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Doug Collins
Doug Collins

Photograph by Greg Nash-Pool/Getty Images

When Republican Senator Johnny Isakson announced he would leave his U.S. Senate seat at the end of 2019 due to health concerns, Governor Brian Kemp appointed Republican Kelly Loeffler, who has served for all of 2020. This race is unusual in that it is a “jungle primary”—meaning a primary election was not held earlier this year to narrow down the field of candidates. As such, there are 21 candidates on the ballot.

Loeffler is running to keep her seat, and as of publication time, has not yet provided responses to our questions. Republican candidate Doug Collins‘s responses are below. You can read Democratic candidate Raphael Warnock’s responses here, and you can read Democratic candidate Matt Lieberman’s responses here.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

If you’re elected, what does your first day in office look like?
I have always said I have three reasons for running for U.S. Senate: Jordan, Copelan, and Cameron. Those are my three children, and to me, they resemble exactly what I’m fighting for every day: a better future for the next generation of Georgians. On my first day in office, I will begin my fight in the U.S. Senate to preserve conservative values, to defend the President, and to create opportunities for every American to achieve the American dream. I will continue building off my success in the U.S. House of Representatives by always standing up for the U.S. Constitution and the God-given rights it protects, including fighting for the unborn, our Second Amendment rights, and our religious liberty. I plan to advance economic policies that lift every Georgian by fighting burdensome regulations and keeping taxes low. Ensuring opportunity for all means giving Georgians access to the tools they need to succeed, which is why I will continue working to expand access to broadband [internet]. Georgia is home to a thriving agriculture industry and hardworking farmers, growers, ranchers, and processors, and it’s a priority of mine to advance strong trade deals and fight unfair foreign trade practices to ensure we put Georgia farmers first. Putting America first means securing our border, building the wall, and holding bad actors like the Chinese Communist Party accountable for the decades of harm they have inflicted on the United States. Most of all, I look forward to partnering with President Trump to further his America First agenda, which will ensure that we always put Georgians—and Americans—first.

How would you rate the local and national response to the COVID-19 crisis? What should public officials have done differently, what have they done well, and what responses do you want to see in the future?
Over the last several months, I have worked hand-in-hand with President Trump to provide much-needed relief to American families, small businesses, healthcare professionals, and states and localities. While the global pandemic called for unprecedented relief, our national debt is growing rapidly, and we should be mindful of that as we consider future packages. That’s why I support a scaled-down proposal consisting of meaningful, targeted relief. I also believe it’s critical that Congress does not extend the $600-per-week federal increase to unemployment insurance. I’ve heard from businesses all across Georgia who were struggling to get their employees back to work because their employees were making more staying home. I strongly believe we need to incentivize Georgians who are able to safely return to work to go back to work.

What has the pandemic taught you about yourself?
Throughout this pandemic, I have been reminded to stop and reflect on what’s most important in life: faith and family. As we’ve watched many Americans lose their jobs, businesses, and most importantly, loved ones, I have continued to find hope in the fact that God remains sovereign. In times like these, we must lean on our faith, and we must remember to hold our loved ones close.

Before a vaccine becomes widely available, should Americans be afforded another stimulus check? If so, for how much and who should be eligible to receive it?
President Trump and his administration have been steadfast in negotiating the best possible relief package for the American people, and I hope that Speaker Pelosi will come to the table and negotiate in good faith so that American workers, families, and businesses can receive the relief they’ve needed. I agree with the President that an additional round of stimulus checks not to exceed $1,200 per person should be included a future relief package, but we must remain mindful of how a future coronavirus relief bill impacts our already ballooning national debt. Congress must ensure these payments are targeted to those who truly need them.

Hundreds of thousands of Georgians could face eviction due to the economic hardships spurred by the pandemic, and many of those residents are relying on government-imposed eviction moratoriums to keep them at home for now. But once those protections expire, people will still owe rent. What recourse do they have? And what protections should landlords have for cases of delinquent renters? Should landlord and tenant laws be changed to adapt to the COVID-19 era?
The Trump administration has taken important actions to ensure individuals facing financial hardship tied to the pandemic are not at risk for eviction. Future policies must be mindful of the impact this pandemic has had on both tenants and landlords, who are both experiencing disruptions at the hands of coronavirus. Options currently on the table in ongoing relief negotiations look at providing relief for both renters and landlords, and I look forward to assessing those measures that will provide the most equitable remedy to both renters and landlords.

Do you think America and Georgia still struggle with systemic racism? What safeguards, if any, should be enacted to ensure people of color are not disproportionately afflicted by law enforcement, the criminal justice system, income inequality, and other factors?
Racism does exist in our country, and I will always denounce hatred in any form. But I reject the notion that our law-enforcement officers are systemically racist. In fact, I am appalled by the “Defund the Police” and “Black Lives Matter” movements that seek to [vilify] our officers who put their lives on the line for us every day. We witnessed firsthand the devastating effects of these attacks on our officers earlier this year when District Attorney Paul Howard pursued a political prosecution of Officer Rolfe after the death of Rayshard Brooks. The district attorney, the mayor, and other local leaders turned their backs on our officers, which led to unprecedented violence, shootings, and even murder—including the murder of an 8-year-old girl. Now more than ever, we must stand up for our law enforcement officers, and as the son of a Georgia State Trooper, I will always have their backs.

That said, recent events have highlighted the need for bringing our communities and our law-enforcement officers together to strengthen relations and restore public trust. Last Congress, we were able to achieve historic criminal justice reform through my bill, the First Step Act, by doing just that. It is my hope that, moving forward, Congress can continue working hand-in-hand with President Trump to implement similar strategies and achieve real, bipartisan solutions.

As public protests have broken out in Georgia and around the nation—especially over conflicts between police and people of color—do you believe the federal government should play a role in quelling local tensions? If so, when do you believe it is appropriate to dispatch federal law enforcement or military personnel, and why?
The hateful and violent attacks on our police officers over the last several months have been sick, dangerous, and downright abhorrent. I have consistently called out those perpetuating calls to “defund the police” and stood up against those who have attacked—both verbally and physically—our law-enforcement officers. I fully support the use of federal law enforcement and/or the National Guard to restore law and order and keep our communities safe. In fact, I have praised President Trump, Attorney General Barr, and the Trump administration for launching Operation Legend: a sustained, systematic, and coordinated law-enforcement initiative in which federal law-enforcement agencies have worked in conjunction with state and local law-enforcement officials to fight violent crime. These extra steps are necessary to keeping our communities safe and giving our local law-enforcement officers the support they need in these tumultuous times.

What are the most pressing issues facing the state/nation on the healthcare front? Should Medicaid be expanded? What are your thoughts on the push for Medicare for All? What steps should be taken to help Georgia’s maternal mortality crisis?
I believe the rising cost of prescription drugs is one of the most pressing issues facing our nation on the health care front. Throughout my time in Congress, I have worked to lower the cost of prescription drugs by addressing pharmacy benefit managers—the middlemen that drive up prescription drug prices. For far too long, pharmacy benefit managers have put profits over patients by manipulating drug prices to line their pockets. I have introduced countless bills, like the Phair Pricing Act and the Prescription Drug Price Transparency Act, to lower the cost of prescription medications by increasing transparency and accountability in drug pricing. By reducing the role of pharmacy benefit managers, we can safeguard community pharmacies, protect access to lower-cost medications, and most importantly, ensure patients have access to the medications they need.

Medicaid was created to cover children, people with disabilities, the elderly, and low-income individuals with dependents. Expanding beyond these parameters would weaken the program for everyone and make preserving this crucial healthcare aid for future generations difficult. Any expansions of Medicaid should be carefully scrutinized to ensure the program is able to be preserved for those who truly need it.

The Medicare Board of Trustees has called into question the solvency of Medicare should it continue operating as it is currently. Calls to expand Medicare to every American are dangerous and rooted in a brand of economics that is simply illogical. Medicare for All would result in the purely socialized healthcare we witness in other countries, reducing quality, increasing wait times, and drastically increasing taxes for Americans. I oppose the effort to create Medicare for All.

As the pro-life candidate, I want to protect life at all stages, and that includes protecting our mothers as they carry and give birth to their children. I have been encouraged by the Georgia legislature’s focus on this problem and have been proud to support measures at the Federal level aimed at keeping expectant mothers safe and healthy. Last Congress, I was proud to vote in favor of the Preventing Maternal Deaths Act which established and supported state programs to review and address pregnancy-related deaths. More recently, I supported the Maternal Health Quality Improvement Act in the House which is specifically aimed at addressing maternal health and morbidity in rural areas.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed many weaknesses in Georgia’s healthcare system, particularly in rural Georgia. What can be done to fix the problems?
Rural Georgians need access to quality healthcare and, while the pandemic has created obstacles, it has also shined a light on the benefits of telemedicine [for] rural Americans. Telehealth appointments allow those most vulnerable to coronavirus or those living far away from their doctor’s offices to visit and speak with their doctors from their own homes. I believe the strides our system has made in adapting to the coronavirus through telemedicine will be beneficial to our healthcare system moving forward. To ensure the vitality of telemedicine, however, we have to address the broadband issues plaguing our rural areas in Georgia, and I have been proud to introduce legislation like the Gigabit Opportunity Act and the CAF Accountability Act to do just that.

There’s been fierce debate, especially since the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, regarding term limits in the Supreme Court. Are lifelong term limits sustainable for a high-functioning justice system? Are reforms needed? Why or why not?
I strongly oppose any effort to implement term limits for Supreme Court justices. Once again, when Democrats don’t get their way, they try to change the rules, and that’s exactly what they are doing now. Democrats will do anything they can to stop President Trump from confirming yet another Supreme Court justice, which is why they are working overtime to prevent Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination or to reduce her term. I strongly believe lifelong term limits are necessary to protecting the integrity of our nation’s highest court and ensuring the impartiality of those who serve, and I will continue to oppose any Democrat attempt to change this historic precedent.

Where do you stand on the president’s nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court? What should the confirmation process look like in this and/or future nominations, and what are your thoughts on expanding—or “packing”—the court?
I fully support Judge Amy Coney Barrett, and I firmly believe she should be confirmed before the November election. Judge Barrett is a strong conservative and an outstanding jurist who will protect unborn children, stand up for the Second Amendment, uphold religious liberty, and strictly adhere to the Constitution. President Trump is fulfilling his constitutional duty by nominating her, and now the Senate needs to do their constitutional duty to provide advice and consent.

I strongly oppose expanding or packing the court. I believe Democrats’ latest threat to pack the Supreme Court throws our nation’s history to the wayside in pursuit of political gain and threatens the very foundation of our democracy. Since 1869, the Supreme Court has held exactly nine seats. To make a change during such a tumultuous time in our history diminishes the integrity of our nation’s highest court and sets an extremely dangerous precedent. That’s why I have introduced a Constitutional Amendment to prohibit any changes to the number of justices until 10 years after any such legislation is signed into law. By passing this amendment, we can protect our nation’s highest court from becoming a political football.

Read all of our 2020 candidate questionnaires

11 questions for Georgia U.S. Senate candidate Jon Ossoff

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Jon Ossoff
Jon Ossoff

Photograph courtesy of Jon Ossoff campaign

Incumbent Republican Senator David Perdue is up for re-election this year and has two challengers for his U.S. Senate seat: Democrat Jon Ossoff and Libertarian Shane Hazel. We sent the same 11 questions to all three candidates. Ossoff’s responses are below. You can read Hazel’s responses here. As of publication time, Perdue has not yet provided responses to our questions.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

If you’re elected, what does your first day in office look like?
Day one is working with the new administration to ensure that it has all authority necessary to empower public health and medical experts to lead on pandemic response, immediately pushing for direct relief for working families and small businesses who are in financial distress due to the ongoing economic crisis resulting from this pandemic. Beginning work with my colleagues on a historic infrastructure and clean energy bill to invest in transit and transportation, research and development, rural broadband, clean energy, and public health clinics, and get tens of thousands of Georgians back to work. And co-sponsoring a constitutional amendment to overturn the corrupt Citizens United decision, which allows secret unlimited corporate spending in politics. I run a business that investigates corruption, organized crime, and war crimes for news organizations all over the world. We’ve exposed bribery on multiple continents, corporate abuses, and judicial corruption, and corruption in American politics right now is out of control. It’s why the government serves powerful interests with legions of lobbyists instead of serving the people.

How would you rate the local and national response to the COVID-19 crisis? What should public officials have done differently, what have they done well, and what responses do you want to see in the future?
My wife, Alicia, is an OB-GYN doctor here in Georgia and she and the other heroes in our hospitals [have] done their jobs to keep the public safe and healthy, putting themselves at risk in service to Georgia and to America during this crisis. It’s the politicians who haven’t done their jobs. The Trump administration deserves an F grade for its response to this pandemic. Senator Perdue and President Trump were both getting private briefings in Washington on the true scope of the threat posed by this virus. They deliberately downplayed, lied, and misled us. Senator Perdue compared COVID-19 to the common flu and told us the risk to our health was low. He told us the impact on our economic growth would be little, all the while adjusting his own stock portfolio to profit.

We need leaders who empower public health and medical experts during a pandemic, instead of politicizing their response. We need leaders who will level with us about threats to our health and our prosperity, and who will promote economic relief that puts working families and small businesses ahead of special interests and huge corporations.

What has the pandemic taught you about yourself?
When Alicia was infected in July, really, the campaign, politics, all other concerns fell away. My sole focus was her health and her recovery. And I think this pandemic has reminded so many American families that our family’s health is everything. I hope that we will emerge from this pandemic with a renewed sense of urgency, about making sure that every Georgian has great health insurance and that every Georgian can afford healthcare and medicine that they need. We need to break the link between health and wealth and stop letting insurance and drug companies dictate health policy. Senator Perdue, even in the middle of this pandemic, is supporting efforts to allow insurance companies to deny us health coverage because we have a pre-existing condition. That’s the depth of corruption in Washington. Senator Perdue works for the insurance companies, because that’s who butters his bread. We need public servants who put the public first.

Before a vaccine becomes widely available, should Americans be afforded another stimulus check? If so, for how much and who should be eligible to receive it?
Yes, the most efficient and urgent relief is direct relief for ordinary people. The federal government has extended literally trillions of dollars in cash and loans to investment banks and major corporate borrowers to keep them afloat during this crisis. But even now—when it’s been many months since the first and only round of stimulus checks, when the PPP small business lending program has been expired since August, when the extended unemployment insurance has been expired since August—Congress, Senator Perdue, and President Trump have abandoned the economic relief effort. I support additional direct relief for working families and small businesses. And I would note that while Senator Perdue was happy to rubber-stamp massive financial relief for corporate America, he was one of a handful of senators who went out of their way to express opposition even to a single round of $1,200 stimulus checks for working Americans.

Hundreds of thousands of Georgians could face eviction due to the economic hardships spurred by the pandemic, and many of those residents are relying on government-imposed eviction moratoriums to keep them at home for now. But once those protections expire, people will still owe rent. What recourse do they have? And what protections should landlords have for cases of delinquent renters? Should landlord and tenant laws be changed to adapt to the COVID-19 era?
First of all, the eviction moratorium should have been reauthorized in August. This is another example of Washington and Senator Perdue not caring about ordinary people. If Goldman Sachs stock evaluation started to plummet overnight, the Senate would be working relentlessly and instantly on financial relief for Wall Street. When it’s ordinary people, working families, and small businesses facing eviction or foreclosure or insolvency, the Senate’s doing nothing. No one should go homeless because of a pandemic, particularly when this pandemic has been allowed to spiral out of control by our own incompetent government. And it is important that property owners not face devastating losses while we take extraordinary measures to keep people in their homes. It’s the role of Congress to consider the financial sustainability of property owners while ensuring that no one loses their home due to this pandemic.

Do you think America and Georgia still struggle with systemic racism? What safeguards, if any, should be enacted to ensure people of color are not disproportionately afflicted by law enforcement, the criminal justice system, income inequality, and other factors?
Race and class bias are systemically embedded in laws and institutions, and especially in our criminal justice system. Racial profiling, brutality, disparate and inequitable outcomes for people based on race and wealth are daily occurrences in America. These are not “isolated incidents,” as Senator Perdue insists. It’s a systemic problem, and we need a new Civil Rights Act that will empower the Department of Justice, civil rights division, to hold officers, departments, prosecutors, and judges accountable where there’s profiling, brutality, or systemic race or class bias. We need to rebuild trust between communities and law enforcement with a demilitarization of policing. Instead, [we need to invest] in community policing. We need national standards for the use of force. We need to reform America’s drug laws so that we understand addiction and drug abuse as public health problems, not criminal justice issues. We need to ban private prisons. I think it is shameful to profit from incarceration, and we need to raise the standards within American prisons to humane standards with prison reform.

As public protests have broken out in Georgia and around the nation—especially over conflicts between police and people of color—do you believe the federal government should play a role in quelling local tensions? If so, when do you believe it is appropriate to dispatch federal law enforcement or military personnel, and why?
The most important thing the federal government can do to rebuild trust between communities and law enforcement is to pass the new Civil Rights Act and national standards for the use of force so that we end brutality and profiling and inequitable treatment of American citizens on the basis of race or class. The 14th amendment in the U.S. Constitution guarantees equal protection under the law. But when a young black man is shot dead in the street in broad daylight in Glenn County, Georgia, and his name was Ahmaud Arbery, and local policing prosecutors look the other way, that makes a mockery of equal protection under the law. And that’s exactly why we need reform and a new Civil Rights Act. Of course, it is the obligation of local authorities and governors to maintain law and order. And the way that we will ensure domestic tranquility and rebuild trust between communities and law enforcement is with meaningful criminal justice reform.

What are the most pressing issues facing the state/nation on the healthcare front? Should Medicaid be expanded? What are your thoughts on the push for Medicare for All? What steps should be taken to help Georgia’s maternal mortality crisis?
Maternal mortality in Georgia is a travesty. Among the highest maternal mortality rates in the country [is the mortality rate] for Black women in Georgia, on par with maternal mortality in Iraq. I mentioned my wife is an OB-GYN. She works mostly in labor and delivery, and she sees every day how our state’s neglect of maternal health puts mothers and newborn babies at risk. We must expand Medicaid to ensure that every Georgian gets health insurance and to sustain rural hospitals. We need to invest in new public health clinics to ensure underserved and rural communities have access to healthcare. We need to end price-gouging by insurance and drug companies who have bought off Congress.

The power of the health insurance industry is extreme. That’s why Senator Perdue is still pushing to end protections for pre-existing conditions, even in the middle of a pandemic, because of the political power of the insurance industry. I don’t support Bernie Sanders’s “Medicare for all” proposal because I think we can, and should, get to 100 percent insurance coverage via a public option that is affordable for all. And I will defend every Georgian’s rights to choose between private or public insurance. Finally, in order to address our maternal mortality crisis, we have to attract more women’s healthcare professionals and OB-GYNs to practice in Georgia. Extremist abortion bans, such as those supported by Senator Perdue, will only worsen the crisis.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed many weaknesses in Georgia’s healthcare system, particularly in rural Georgia. What can be done to fix the problems?
Improving health and access to healthcare in rural Georgia will be one of my top priorities in the Senate. Nine rural hospitals have closed in the last 10 years in Georgia, and yet Senator Perdue still opposes Medicaid expansion, which would deliver vital support to strengthen rural hospitals in Georgia. I will deliver resources for our rural hospitals, and I’ll deliver resources to build new public health clinics, so that no Georgian lacks access to primary care, preventative care, urgent care, emergency care, or mental health care services. And I think we should strongly consider building these new public health clinics near public schools so that families have easy and convenient access to the healthcare they need.

There’s been fierce debate, especially since the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, regarding term limits in the Supreme Court. Are lifelong term limits sustainable for a high-functioning justice system? Are reforms needed? Why or why not?
I am open to term limits for federal judges. Any judicial reforms should be contemplated only in order to ensure the federal judiciary is impartially upholding the rule of law and defending the public interest. I’m interested in debate that will be healthy and open about the merits of term limits for federal judges.

Where do you stand on the president’s nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court? What should the confirmation process look like in this and/or future nominations, and what are your thoughts on expanding—or “packing”—the court?
The Senate should do its due diligence before Senators endorse judicial nominees for the Supreme Court. First, let me note Senator Perdue’s astounding hypocrisy. In 2016, he was adamant in floor speech after floor speech in the U.S. Senate that no Supreme court confirmation should proceed in a presidential election year. Now, he’s thrown those so-called principles out the window because he wants to rush through the confirmation of a justice who will overturn the Affordable Care Act and Roe v. Wade. He endorsed Judge Barrett for the Supreme Court before she’d even testified under oath. My obligation as a U.S. Senator will be to diligently, full,y and impartially interrogate the judicial philosophy, qualifications, and track record of any judge nominated by any administration, regardless of that judge’s [political] party.

With just days until this presidential election, I think the U.S. Senate should not rush. The U.S. Senate should wait, take their time to go through this process properly, rather than rush in before the election to confirm a justice. I don’t believe that expanding the court simply because we don’t like the policy positions of a potential new justice is a prudent exercise of the authority that Congress has to undertake judicial reform.

Read all of our 2020 candidate questionnaires

11 questions for Georgia U.S. Senate candidate Shane Hazel

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Shane Hazel
Shane Hazel

Photograph courtesy of Shane Hazel campaign

Incumbent Republican Senator David Perdue is up for re-election this year and has two challengers for his U.S. Senate seat: Libertarian Shane Hazel and Democrat Jon Ossoff. We sent the same 11 questions to all three candidates. Hazel’s responses are below. You can read Ossoff’s responses here. As of publication time, Perdue has not yet provided responses to our questions.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

If you’re elected, what does your first day in office look like?
Per Article 6, Section 3 of the Constitution, I am sworn in by oath to uphold the Constitution. Then I collect co-sponsors from all parties in the wars and bring our troops home immediately.

How would you rate the local and national response to the COVID-19 crisis? What should public officials have done differently, what have they done well, and what responses do you want to see in the future?
I would rate the government response to COVID-19 as abysmal. Officials, bureaucrats, and politicians all forgot their oath to uphold the Constitution. Per the Ninth Amendment, people of the United States have the right to conduct business, travel, trade, and be left alone. Per the First Amendment, we have the right to assemble to redress the government to practice our faith. All levels of government across this country decided they knew better and betrayed their oath. They decided our rights were only government permissions, and they pulled off the largest power grab and wealth transfer from the middle class to the elite the world has ever seen.

What has the pandemic taught you about yourself?
If the pandemic has taught me anything, it has shown me some holes in my own emergency preparation.

Before a vaccine becomes widely available, should Americans be afforded another stimulus check? If so, for how much and who should be eligible to receive it?
For the Constitution, there is absolutely zero power for the federal government to stimulate the economy through the issue of debt and Fiat currency.

Hundreds of thousands of Georgians could face eviction due to the economic hardships spurred by the pandemic, and many of those residents are relying on government-imposed eviction moratoriums to keep them at home for now. But once those protections expire, people will still owe rent. What recourse do they have? And what protections should landlords have for cases of delinquent renters? Should landlord and tenant laws be changed to adapt to the COVID-19 era?
Economic hardships were not spurred by the pandemic. Economic hardships were spurred by unconstitutional government lockdowns. Because the government took unconstitutional and illegal action by interfering in the economy, they have placed Americans on new ground. They bailed out the banks and the corporations with our money. Then they destroy the economy and our livelihoods. Now the banks in the state, via the sheriffs and the cops, will forcibly remove people from their homes all because the government declared them nonessential. This is not America. As a senator, this is one that I would make the banks and the government eat.

Do you think America and Georgia still struggle with systemic racism? What safeguards, if any, should be enacted to ensure people of color are not disproportionately afflicted by law enforcement, the criminal justice system, income inequality, and other factors?
Here is how we fix the broken criminal justice system:

  • End the war on drugs
  • End qualified immunity
  • End police militarization
  • End civil asset forfeiture
  • Release all nonviolent criminals
  • Define “crime” as murder, rape, assault, kidnapping, coercion, theft, robbery, vandalism, and fraud
  • Harbor police officers at the precinct where they respond to those violent crimes listed above, as firefighters do for fires
  • Lastly, we stop making criminals out of peaceful people

As public protests have broken out in Georgia and around the nation—especially over conflicts between police and people of color—do you believe the federal government should play a role in quelling local tensions? If so, when do you believe it is appropriate to dispatch federal law enforcement or military personnel, and why?
The violent protest within the states, per the 10th Amendment, are the states to deal with. Per Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, the federal government is only allowed to respond during times of insurrection and invasion, of which this is neither. These protests are a response to a post-Constitutional, lawless, and chaotic government that has forgotten its place in our society.

What are the most pressing issues facing the state/nation on the healthcare front? Should Medicaid be expanded? What are your thoughts on the push for Medicare for All? What steps should be taken to help Georgia’s maternal mortality crisis?
For the Constitution, there is zero delegated authority for the federal government in matters of healthcare. Per the 10th Amendment and the Ninth Amendment, those powers and rights do you want to the people. Furthermore, as a marine combat vet, I can tell you that the VA system is single-payer system [that] can’t take care of less than 1 percent of the population.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed many weaknesses in Georgia’s healthcare system, particularly in rural Georgia. What can be done to fix the problems?
First of all, get all the federal bureaucracy out of the way. Next, Georgians will have to demand the state removes themselves from the healthcare market. Then, we allow the free market and free people to work on these problems without force and coercion. We are bureaucrats and politicians [and] pick the winners and losers where the stakes are life and death. Lastly, we promote charity. So the needy receive care through the consent of the giving.

There’s been fierce debate, especially since the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, regarding term limits in the Supreme Court. Are lifelong term limits sustainable for a high-functioning justice system? Are reforms needed? Why or why not?
Per Article 3, there are no lifetime appointments to the Supreme Court. Justices, per Article 3 of the Constitution, sit on good behavior. We don’t need reform; we need to practice the Constitution and remove those justices for bad behavior.

Where do you stand on the president’s nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court? What should the confirmation process look like in this and/or future nominations, and what are your thoughts on expanding—or “packing”—the court?
[The] president has the delegated authority to nominate a justice to the Supreme Court so that the Senate [may] accept or reject that nomination. I would think it extremely unwise to add any more would-be oligarchs in black robes legislating from the bench to the Supreme Court.

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11 questions for Georgia U.S. Senate candidate Raphael Warnock

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Raphael Warnock
Raphael Warnock

Photograph courtesy of Raphael Warnock campaign

When Republican Senator Johnny Isakson announced he would leave his U.S. Senate seat at the end of 2019 due to health concerns, Governor Brian Kemp appointed Republican Kelly Loeffler, who has served for all of 2020. This race is unusual in that it is a “jungle primary”—meaning a primary election was not held earlier this year to narrow down the field of candidates. As such, there are 21 candidates on the ballot.

Loeffler is running to keep her seat, and as of publication time, has not yet provided responses to our questions. Democratic candidate Raphael Warnock‘s responses are below. You can read Republican Doug Collins’s responses here, and you can read Democratic candidate Matt Lieberman’s responses here.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

If you’re elected, what does your first day in office look like?
On day one in the U.S. Senate, I would work to expand access to quality, affordable healthcare—especially considering our current public health crisis—including improving the Affordable Care Act and ensuring protections for people with pre-existing conditions. I’d also look forward to working across the aisle to lower the cost of prescription drugs through price negotiations, including pushing for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid to be empowered to negotiate lower drug pricing (as was advocated for in the ACA) and advocate for more ability to work with our partner countries, like Canada, to bring in prescriptions to market at lower cost but the same level of quality and safety. At the federal level, we can push for Congress to roll back the power of special interests, like big pharmaceutical companies, by imposing caps on the maximum price that can be charged for life-saving drugs like insulin, and limiting the excessive use of patents to encourage market competition.

We also need to protect coverage for reproductive healthcare and defend it against partisan attacks; address the high maternal and infant mortality rates, especially among Black and Native American women; and make it easier for states to expand Medicaid and create a public option for those that want it, as well as give people with employer-based coverage the choice to participate. I believe healthcare is a right, not a privilege, and no one should go bankrupt trying to afford coverage.

How would you rate the local and national response to the COVID-19 crisis? What should public officials have done differently, what have they done well, and what responses do you want to see in the future?
I do not agree with the handling of the coronavirus pandemic by our leaders in Washington, including President Trump and politicians like Senator Loeffler and Congressman Collins. The United States has more confirmed deaths from COVID-19 than any other country in the world. The Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic has only served to exacerbate our slow recovery, the most critical failure being his refusal to listen to the medical experts and follow the science. Republican officials have turned life-saving preventative measures, such as wearing masks and social distancing, into partisan issues and failed American families. Rather than protecting the health of the American people, he has taken efforts to repeal ACA protections and stalled relief aid at a time when people desperately need these protections as a matter of life and death.

As I have stated before, Congress’s most recent COVID-19 relief package did not meet the moment and left millions of Americans out. Georgia’s workers are facing higher rates of unemployment, potential loss of healthcare as a result of unemployment, and evictions during a severe loss of income. I also believe that forcing Georgians to choose between their health and safety, their right to vote, and the economy is a dangerous, false choice. The people are the economy, and if we want to have a healthy economy, the people must be safe and healthy.

Lastly, we should be following the advice of medical experts and scientists, who are best qualified to advise on how to proceed with a safe reopening.

What has the pandemic taught you about yourself?
I’ve committed my whole life to service and helping people, and this pandemic and period of unrest in our country has brought into sharp relief the need for moral leadership, clarity, and servant leaders. I believe that now more than ever.

Millions of people, like the ones I’ve counseled at my church and those like them all across the state, are wondering why no one is looking out for them and why those in power aren’t being held accountable for their misdeeds. That’s a sense people have especially in the times we’re facing now. A kid growing up in the projects today, or struggling families across Georgia, have more to overcome than I did, and unless we make real changes, it will only get worse.

I’m running because we believe there are more Georgians looking for a U.S. Senator whose priority is going to be their needs and concerns. I believe there are places all across our state—from underserved communities of color in South Georgia and disaffected rural North Georgia towns suffering for decades as access to healthcare, hospitals, and jobs has diminished, to cities like Atlanta, Columbus, and Savannah—that are looking for someone to fight for them.

Before a vaccine becomes widely available, should Americans be afforded another stimulus check? If so, for how much and who should be eligible to receive it?
First, I believe we must support our workers by passing more COVID-19 relief to help people get back on their feet. We should pass a more robust stimulus package that addresses the needs of workers and doesn’t incorporate loopholes that allowed big corporations to receive aid that small businesses needed.

Like all Americans, I look forward to the day when there is a safe vaccine available. And that we should trust the medical experts and scientists who are best qualified to make the decisions on how to proceed with a safe reopening.

Hundreds of thousands of Georgians could face eviction due to the economic hardships spurred by the pandemic, and many of those residents are relying on government-imposed eviction moratoriums to keep them at home for now. But once those protections expire, people will still owe rent. What recourse do they have? And what protections should landlords have for cases of delinquent renters? Should landlord and tenant laws be changed to adapt to the COVID-19 era?
Washington politicians have failed Georgia families and all Americans during the pandemic [by] failing to provide enough relief for workers facing unemployment as the coronavirus rages on. Unlike my opponents, I’ve called for extending benefits and other protections, like freezing evictions, until the pandemic is manageable.

I believe Congress needs to extend protections that keep people in their homes, and also gets more aid into the hands of people and their landlords until we have weathered this pandemic. In the midst of this pandemic, the economic livelihoods of millions have been threatened through no fault of their own. People want to get back on their feet, and our leaders must help them do so during this crisis.

Do you think America and Georgia still struggle with systemic racism? What safeguards, if any, should be enacted to ensure people of color are not disproportionately afflicted by law enforcement, the criminal justice system, income inequality, and other factors?
I believe that people of color in this country have been struggling under systemic racism in healthcare, education, criminal justice, and employment for too long, but this moment has presented an opportunity for change and meaningful reform as Americans of all backgrounds have come together.

I do not support defunding the police. At the federal level, I believe we should address inequality by reforming our criminal justice system and providing restorative justice to communities devastated by the enforcement of discriminatory laws. That means decriminalizing marjiuana, reducing the prison population by enacting true sentencing reform, eliminating qualified immunity for law enforcement, demilitarizing our law enforcement departments, enacting uniform standards for use of force among law enforcement, and getting rid of for-profit prisons.

We should also look at ensuring more resources are being [put] into schools and that we’re providing opportunities for employment and training for workers of color, [as well as] addressing bias in our healthcare systems that affect Black and Native American women disproportionately.

As public protests have broken out in Georgia and around the nation—especially over conflicts between police and people of color—do you believe the federal government should play a role in quelling local tensions? If so, when do you believe it is appropriate to dispatch federal law enforcement or military personnel, and why?
At the federal level, I believe we should address inequality by reforming our criminal justice system, including demilitarizing our law enforcement departments. But we also need to invest in resources for other services like better police training and mental health treatment, and first responders for interventions that don’t rely on police interactions. The bipartisan Justice and Policing Act, passed [in the House] after George Floyd’s death, is a good start to address the systemic challenges and disparities we see in the policing of African American communities and non-communities of color that have led to the tensions we see today.

What are the most pressing issues facing the state/nation on the healthcare front? Should Medicaid be expanded? What are your thoughts on the push for Medicare for All? What steps should be taken to help Georgia’s maternal mortality crisis?
In the midst of a pandemic, when Americans are being forced to choose between their health and their constitutional right to vote, we are seeing that access to quality, affordable healthcare is a crisis. We should be improving the Affordable Care Act and defending protections for people with pre-existing conditions. I’m committed to working across the aisle to lower the cost of prescription drugs through price negotiations, including pushing for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid to be empowered to negotiate lower drug pricing and advocate for more ability to work with our partner countries to bring in prescriptions to market at lower cost but the same level of quality and safety. We can push for Congress to roll back the power of special interests by imposing caps on the maximum price that can be charged for life-saving drugs and limiting the excessive use of patents to encourage market competition.

We also need to protect coverage for reproductive healthcare, defend it against partisan attacks, and address the high maternal and infant mortality rates—especially among Black and Native American women—by tackling bias in our healthcare system and medical professional training. [We need to] make it easier for states to expand Medicaid and create a public option for those that want it, as well as give people with employer-based coverage the choice to participate.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed many weaknesses in Georgia’s healthcare system, particularly in rural Georgia. What can be done to fix the problems?
Washington politicians have failed Georgia families and all Americans during the pandemic, failing to provide enough relief, and many rural hospitals are being forced to shut down as the coronavirus rages on. Unlike my opponents, I’ve called for extending benefits and other protections until the pandemic is manageable. And I believe local politicians’ failure to expand Medicaid has stressed our healthcare systems, and that efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act would threaten the well-being and financial livelihood of countless Georgians, including the more than 1.8 million with pre-existing conditions.

By expanding Medicaid and improving upon the Affordable Care Act, we can ensure Georgians across the state are able to access the care they need and financially support our hospitals, who are often major employers in the areas they serve.

There’s been fierce debate, especially since the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, regarding term limits in the Supreme Court. Are lifelong term limits sustainable for a high-functioning justice system? Are reforms needed? Why or why not?
[No response provided.]

Where do you stand on the president’s nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court? What should the confirmation process look like in this and/or future nominations, and what are your thoughts on expanding—or “packing”—the court?
I believe we should follow the standard Senator Mitch McConnell set in 2016, and that means allowing Americans to vote for the president of their choosing to fill the seat after the general election. While Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination is being rushed through the U.S. Senate less than 20 days before Election Day, this same body has slow-walked providing additional relief to millions of people in the midst of a pandemic. And Republican Senators, including in our home state of Georgia, have supported getting rid of the Affordable Care Act. The stakes of this vacancy concerning the future of pre-existing protections for the 1.8 million Georgians covered by the Affordable Care Act are too important to rush. Only after that confirmation of faith should the elected president appoint a nominee. There should be no confirmation before the inauguration.

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