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11 questions for Georgia U.S. Senate candidate Matt Lieberman

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Matt Lieberman
Matt Lieberman

Photograph courtesy of Matt Lieberman 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 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 Matt Lieberman‘s responses are below. You can read Republican Doug Collins’s responses here, here and you can read Democratic candidate Raphael Warnock’s responses here.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

If you’re elected, what does your first day in office look like?
My first day in office, I will be sworn in. My second day in office, I will come back to Georgia and make sure that progress is being made towards setting up what will be the best constituent service operation that the citizens of Georgia have ever experienced.

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?
Obviously, the fact we have had over 310,000 coronavirus cases and 7,100 deaths in Georgia, and more than 7.6 million cases and over 213,000 deaths in the country, shows that the local and national response to this crisis was inadequate.

Elected officials and institutions were not prepared. And they did not do the best they could. To add insult to injury, even when we knew the best practices to push forward, our elected leaders did not listen to the experts, but instead politicized safety measures like social distancing and masks. Both Republicans and Democrats just stuck to their talking points. So today, as voters and Americans, we face two pandemic crises we need to confront: COVID-19 and a pandemic of political gutlessness that has swept up Washington and state capitols across the country. Until more of our leaders are more afraid of doing a bad job than falling out of favor with the party bosses, our government will fail us.

What has the pandemic taught you about yourself?
It has taught me that as much as I can stand being by myself for long periods of time, I very much need and enjoy and thrive upon interaction with others. It has also taught me that a basically well-functioning human being can endure just about whatever.

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. And we should vote on a stimulus bill right away. Today!

I support the bipartisan “problem solvers” bill, drafted by 50 Democrats and Republicans, which is a compromise solution between the Democratic and Republican leadership bills and [gives] $450 dollars a week in additional unemployment benefits for eight weeks to struggling Americans, replaces up to $600 in lost wages for an additional 5 weeks, and triggers an additional stimulus check in January 2021 that goes out only if we are still in a slow economic recovery.

To use an old analogy, when a neighbor’s house is burning, you do not fight over the length of the hose. Trump walking away from the negotiating table of the second coronavirus relief bill is infuriating and inexcusable, and all Georgians should feel angry about it. It is affecting all our lives and all our livelihoods.

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 government needs to protect all those who are threatened by eviction as a consequence of the pandemic, without infringing on the rights of landlords. The Democrats in the House of Representatives have introduced two separate acts to provide protections and relief to renters and homeowners, but unfortunately these acts have been held up in the Senate (respectively, the Emergency Housing Protections and Relief Act and the HELP Act of 2020).

On a personal level, I believe that apart from providing relief to tenants in-need, we need to come up with a way to ensure that while people are not evicted, landlords are able to collect unpaid rent. One way to do just that would be to provide special government financing to renters that allows them to pay their back rent with zero interest over the course of the following 18 months.

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?
There is an opportunity gap in America. If you are upper middle class and white, it is hard not to make it. However, if you are middle class or lower and Black, or white, or anything else for that matter, it’s hard to succeed. There is no question that certain aspects of our economic, education, health, and justice systems are plagued by structural inequalities. Our government, in some of its worst moments, played a role in creating these structural inequalities. Our government now needs to rise to some of its best moments to fix them.

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?
I believe there is a role for leaders to step in to lower tensions. And I do not believe that we have to choose between law and order and racial justice in America.

Politicians on both the left and the right have failed to unite us and show us a better path. Our leaders stick to talking points preferred by their angry bases rather than helping to bridge our differences. The Trump administration failed to lead after the killing of George Floyd and the protests that event justly triggered; instead, Trump antagonized protesters who were demanding justice. He helped divide us further.

So, no, I would not dispatch federal law enforcement or the military. That is not their role. We need leadership to unite us and show us a better path toward both racial justice and safer communities.

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 that adding a public option to [the Affordable Care Act] and guaranteeing that Medicaid is available to all who would be eligible in any state that had already expanded Medicaid will go a long way toward addressing these problems. And we need to address them.

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?
Ensuring expanded Medicaid for our poorest citizens by offering free coverage through the federal exchange would both end the pernicious correlation between wealth and health, and help ensure the continued solvency of rural hospitals and healthcare providers.

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 do not think term lengths are the problem.

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 would listen to her confirmation hearings before deciding, but based on what is known about her jurisprudence, I would strongly guess that I would oppose her nomination. Among other reasons, she has given ample indication that she would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. Most Georgians, myself included, feel Roe v. Wade should remain the law of the land. Given what Sen. Mitch McConnell has done with thwarting the Merrick Garland nomination [in 2016] and rushing this nomination, I would be open to a new law adding justices to the Supreme Court, but only if we could assure that another Congress couldn’t simply change the number again.

Read all of our 2020 candidate questionnaires

13 questions for Georgia 5th Congressional District candidate Angela Stanton-King

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Angela Stanton-King
Angela Stanton-King

Photograph courtesy of Angela Stanton-King campaign

Two candidates are running for the late John Lewis’s 5th Congressional District seat: Republican Angela Stanton-King and Democrat Nikema Williams. We sent the same 13 questions to both candidates. Stanton-King’s responses are below. As of publication time, Williams 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?
If I’m elected, I want to meet with community leaders the first day in office and start the process of us working together to bring progressive change to Georgia’s 5th District.

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 focus is on moving forward. We need to listen to our experts and make data-driven decisions. I believe we are moving in a positive direction, but I’d like to see us work even harder to practice safety and get our children back in schools and our small businesses back up and running.

What has the pandemic taught you about yourself?
This pandemic has taught me that life is fragile and very short. We need to find a way to focus on love and not hate. We’re all in this together.

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?
I believe an additional stimulus check is needed by many struggling Americans. The amount should be determined by the current budget. The checks should be for those struggling with their expenses and basic needs, etc.

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?
Yes, landlord and tenant laws need to be changed. I would like to see block grants available to states for landlords and tenants to help people get back on their feet. We should do everything in our power to help our fellow citizens rebound from this pandemic that ultimately has affected all of us in some way.

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 do believe systemic racism is real. It’s one of the main reasons I’m running for Congress. I want to help change the laws to protect all people—not just Republicans, not just Democrats, not just Black people, all 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?
Yes, if the local government is not doing what’s necessary to protect the people and businesses. What happened with Secoriea Turner could’ve been avoided if local leadership had acted. People should all come first.

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?
We have a lot of issues with healthcare that we still need to work on. Everyone doesn’t need Medicare. The people who can afford to pay for their healthcare should pay. We need Medicare for those who have a true financial need. We need to have coverage that doesn’t penalize those with pre-existing conditions. That healthcare is needed now more than ever with us facing the impact of COVID. In response to Georgia’s maternal mortality crisis, we need to spread more awareness; education is a preventative measure that we should always use to our benefit.

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?
Again, we need to make sure that we are protecting the vulnerable and those in-need. My priorities are always the children and the elderly when it comes to our healthcare system, as both groups are unable to help themselves.

What role should Congress play in protecting our environment? What measures (regulations, funding, initiatives) should be imposed to help curb the dangerous effects of climate change?
I believe we can be environmentally responsible while not hampering our economic growth. That being said, [the country is] are energy independent for the first time in my lifetime, and we cannot let overregulation take us back to the days of depending on countries that hate us for our fuel.

The City of Atlanta has for years shouldered the dubious title of income inequality capital of the nation. What can be done to bridge the gap between the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor across the entire metro region?
To me, it’s obvious we need a shift in leadership. We need to dismantle the buddy system. We need to pay attention to the ones that have been forgotten. This can’t be Atlanta’s legacy. We know this is a great city with a rich history. The civil rights movement for the betterment of all people was birthed here; we are better than this. Economic empowerment is crucial to the progression of our city.

What role should Congress play in solving the affordable housing crisis the 5th District faces, especially considering the already mounting crisis is exacerbated by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic?
It’s unfortunate that this couldn’t be handled on the local level. It’s necessary to make sure the constituents of 5th District have fair and equal housing by any means necessary.

The late Rep. John Lewis had long been fighting to reinforce voting rights by way of an updated Voting Rights Act. Where do you stand on this proposal, and what can be done to ensure that all eligible voters are afforded the chance to cast a ballot and have it counted?
I am in support of the Voting Rights Act. We have work to do, especially when it comes to voter suppression. I’m against people having to wait five hours to cast a vote. But we must make sure we are protecting our votes, showing up with our IDs so that our votes are protected. I don’t believe mail-in ballots are as secure, but we need a more efficient [system].

Read all of our 2020 candidate questionnaires

12 questions for Georgia 6th Congressional District candidate Lucy McBath

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Lucy McBath
Lucy McBath

Photograph courtesy of Lucy McBath campaign

Incumbent Democratic Representative Lucy McBath is up for re-election this year and has one challenger for her U.S. House seat: Republican Karen Handel. We sent the same 12 questions to both candidates. McBath’s responses are below. As of publication time, Handel has not yet provided responses to our questions.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

If you’re re-elected, what does your first day in office look like?
I am going to continue the work we started in Congress: providing relief to families and small businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, securing healthcare for Americans including those with pre-existing conditions, and, yes, continuing the work we have done on gun safety. I am proud to say I have held the first in-person town halls my district has seen in years—and I plan to win by continuing to be open and accessible to all my constituents. I am accountable to my district, and I will be listening and working for them as I have been since day one.

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?
Months before the pandemic hit the United States, I sponsored legislation to modernize our public health data systems and increase the CDC’s pandemic response preparedness. And when COVID-19 began impacting our country, I hosted numerous virtual town halls so that my constituents—whether they are small business owners, concerned parents, or caregivers—could ask questions directly to health experts, business leaders, and local officials. In Washington, I immediately got to work. I am proud to have voted for legislation to fund vaccine development, free testing to all who need it, expanded protections for those who lost their job, and protections for our seniors. I have also supported legislation which would cut taxes to provide those impacted with financial relief. I believe we must continue to listen to the scientists and health experts.

What has the pandemic taught you about yourself?
I learned that now, more than ever, people in this country need to have a government that works for them. I immediately transitioned from hosting in-person town halls to tele-town halls so that I could hear from my constituents and they could be connected with health professionals and business leaders. I learned that the work never stops. I am proud to represent the people of Georgia’s 6th and will do what I can to provide relief to every family.

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?
I supported legislation which would provide funding for another stimulus check. Americans are hurting right now, more than ever, and we must do more as a country to help those who are most impacted. I am working everyday in the House to provide American families with the relief they need during this pandemic. We must also provide the necessary help to small businesses in a time of crisis. In office, I am fighting for measures to lessen the financial burden our small businesses and families are facing.

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?
I am proud to have voted for legislation which invests in affordable housing by directing funding to create jobs, stimulate the economy, and reduce housing inequality in direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic. I have also voted for legislation which ensures families in our district are not being forcibly removed from their homes, and even worked to cut taxes by thousands for families in our district to ease the financial stress. Lastly, I have co-sponsored legislation to ensure all families living in affordable housing are able to live in a safe environment, while expanding grants to help communities facing hard times.

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 firmly believe and know that systemic racism is a problem in our country. I believe my story is proof that when we stand up and speak out, we can impact our government, change our laws, and make positive changes in our community. In Washington, I have co-led and co-sponsored legislation which would create a commission to study the disparities among African American men and boys in this country. That bill has been passed by the House and the Senate, and is now signed into law.

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?
I have worked hard to bring our communities together. In Washington, I have supported legislation to enhance transparency and data collection across police departments, as well as supporting multiple bills to secure more funding and training. I have several attended unity events to stand with local police, community leaders, and our neighbors.

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?
Medicaid should be expanded in the state of Georgia. As a two-time breast cancer survivor, I know personally the toll that high costs of prescription drugs and healthcare can have on families. In the House, I have co-sponsored and passed legislation to lower the cost of prescription drugs and ensure everyone with pre-existing conditions, like myself, are able to receive quality and affordable healthcare. I promise to continue fighting to make our healthcare more affordable and accessible.

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?
Healthcare is not a privilege but a right. When I was receiving chemotherapy for breast cancer, I was fortunate to have some of the best care in the nation. However, I know many others in this country are denied that access, so I am committed to fighting to expand access to healthcare in this country, regardless of zip code. Our representatives have a duty to protect every American. I am fighting in the House to ensure quality healthcare is accessible.

What role should Congress play in protecting our environment? What measures (regulations, funding, initiatives) should be imposed to help curb the dangerous effects of climate change?
Climate change poses an existential threat to our environment, our economy, and national security, and we must acknowledge this as a nation and follow the science. In Congress, I am proud to have co-sponsored and voted for legislation to ensure the United States stays in the Paris Climate Accords. I have also voted in favor of protecting our nation’s national parks. We must continue to increase our investments in sustainable energy while taking steps to protect our environment.

The City of Atlanta has for years shouldered the dubious title of income inequality capital of the nation. What can be done to bridge the gap between the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor across the entire metro region?
Income inequality has always been an issue for the United States. I know how important an economy that works for everyone is, especially right now. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every single part of our lives, including middle class families’ income. That’s why in Congress, I voted for legislation that ensures that our government and economy works for everyone in our communities. I helped pass the Heroes Act, which provided a stimulus check to working families, in hopes to ease the pressure of the pandemic.

Demographics are shifting in both urban and suburban districts. How do you plan to manage the challenges of density and diversity in your district and ensure your community remains a welcoming place for all?
Inclusivity is very important to me and the families of the 6th District. As a member of Congress, I have focused on bringing people together. Just a few weeks ago, I stood with the Jewish community to speak out against acts of anti-Semitism. I believe discrimination has no place in our nation. I even attended unity events to stand with local police, community leaders, and our neighbors. I am working every day to provide a safe and inclusive environment for everyone. I do not condone divisiveness and believe we must work together to combat all forms of hate in this country.

Read all of our 2020 candidate questionnaires

12 questions for Georgia 7th Congressional District candidate Carolyn Bourdeaux

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Carolyn Bourdeaux
Carolyn Bourdeaux

Photograph courtesy of Carolyn Bourdeaux campaign

Two candidates are running for Georgia’s 7th Congressional District seat: Republican Rich McCormick and Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux. We sent the same 12 questions to both candidates. Bourdeaux’s responses are below. As of publication time, McCormick 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?
Getting our arms around the COVID-19 pandemic and working to get our economy back on its feet is my top priority. I’m a champion for quality, affordable healthcare—it’s why I got into this race—and now we’re seeing that it’s more important than ever.

I’ll also proudly sign on to the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act as one of my first acts when I’m elected to Congress.

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?
We are suffering from a terrible lack of leadership on COVID-19. This pandemic is no one’s fault, but Donald Trump’s failure to protect us from it is [his fault]. Georgians deserve leaders who won’t play politics with their health, who listen to the scientists and think carefully about solutions that make sense. Our economy is not going to recover until we can feel comfortable going to a restaurant or grocery shopping without being afraid we will catch COVID-19—so listening to health experts to defeat this virus is critical to our economic recovery, too. Georgia won’t get through this crisis by following the lead of my opponent, who has repeatedly contradicted the experts and spread misinformation about this deadly disease. We need to make sure we carefully follow scientific guidance around testing, contact tracing, and mask-wearing, and expand healthcare access for uninsured Georgians.

What has the pandemic taught you about yourself?
I’ve gained an ever deeper appreciation for my son’s 3rd grade teacher as we’ve navigated digital learning from home.

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?
The economic collapse due the pandemic has resulted in hundreds of thousands of Georgians out of work and thousands of small businesses—the backbone of our economy—shuttered. Stimulus payments, expanded unemployment insurance, and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) have given Georgians a lifeline, but more relief is sorely needed to keep families afloat and allow small businesses to keep their doors open.

In Congress, I’ll put families and small businesses first by funding existing programs and, if necessary, the creation of new programs to ensure the small business grants and loans are available to all that are in need. I will also ensure that the social safety net has the resources to help families in need support themselves until we can get our economy back on its feet.

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?
Stimulus payments, expanded unemployment insurance, and the Paycheck Protection Program have given Georgians a lifeline, but more relief is sorely needed.

Housing insecurity has been a serious issue in Georgia long before the COVID-19 pandemic. We know that many struggling families live in extended stay facilities in the 7th District because they cannot afford housing. This is ridiculous. At the federal level, we can expand support for affordable housing programs through programs such as the Low Income Housing Tax Credit and the Section 8 program. We can do more to ensure that developers consistently incorporate moderate- and low-income housing if they receive public support for their projects.

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?
Black and brown communities across our country have been negatively affected by generations of racism, discrimination, and unjust public policies. We have a criminal justice system that is simply expensive, unfair, and deeply discriminatory against people of color. This is wrong and has been for a long time.

The deaths of George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks, among so many others, were horrible tragedies and the result of systemic discrimination and racism Black Americans face. I’m committed to building a country where every mother and father, regardless of skin color or background, wakes up in the morning unafraid and excited about the future for their children. Defunding the police isn’t the answer—we need to restore the trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve. In Congress, I will work to pass the Eric Garner Excessive Use of Force Prevention Act, which amends existing law and bans the use of chokeholds, and to establish a National Registry of Police Misconduct so the federal government can track police violence with reliable data.

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 vast majority of these protests are peaceful—we’ve seen thousands of people of all backgrounds in Georgia come together to demand justice. There is no denying that our Black and brown communities disproportionately face unnecessary, violent force at the hands of police. I strongly believe we need to be making moves to restore trust between our law enforcement and the communities they serve.

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?
The coronavirus crisis has proven how deeply everyone’s health is intertwined, but instead of working to give every American the quality, affordable healthcare they deserve—even in our hour of greatest need—Republican politicians like my opponent are backing efforts to destroy the Affordable Care Act in its entirety and end protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

I have long called for Georgia politicians to expand Medicaid and give affordable healthcare access to those who need it. I will fight for the millions of Georgians who are either uninsured, underinsured, or struggle with the costs of insurance and prescription drugs.

We also must confront Georgia’s maternal mortality crisis. In Congress, I will support efforts to increase the number of maternity care health professionals in underserved areas, make pregnancy a qualifying life event allowing people to enroll in the Affordable Care Act marketplace insurance plans outside of open enrollment periods, increase funding for implicit bias training among health professionals, and push for nationwide efforts to examine maternal deaths.

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?
This pandemic has shed a glaring light on the inequities in our healthcare system. In May, Black Georgians made up 80 percent of the hospitalizations for COVID-19 in our state. And I was horrified to watch our rural hospitals shut their doors earlier this year in the moment we needed a strong public health network the most.

In Congress, I will fight to combat disparities in our healthcare system and increase the affordability of health insurance. We can start by strengthening the Affordable Care Act, creating a robust affordable public option health insurance plan for individuals and small businesses, protecting people with preexisting conditions, and ending surprise billing. Additionally, the state should expand Medicaid, which will go a long way to helping rural hospitals get the resources that they need.

What role should Congress play in protecting our environment? What measures (regulations, funding, initiatives) should be imposed to help curb the dangerous effects of climate change?
As the mother of an eight year old, I am deeply worried about the planet we are leaving for future generations. As the devastating wildfires and hurricanes sweeping the West and Southeast demonstrate, climate change is an existential threat to our way of life. The science is clear: it’s time that we pass serious measures to curb the troubling trends of heightened levels of carbon dioxide, warming temperatures, and rising sea levels while we still can. That starts with rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement, but that alone is not enough. We need a Marshall Plan for the environment.

Georgia’s 7th District is positioned to do well by doing good. We already have a significant need for investment in infrastructure such as transit. By investing in clean energy technology, transit, and transportation infrastructure, we can take important steps to curb pollution, tackle our transportation gridlock, and stimulate jobs and economic growth.

The City of Atlanta has for years shouldered the dubious title of income inequality capital of the nation. What can be done to bridge the gap between the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor across the entire metro region?
Many of the heroes during this crisis have been the low-wage workers that stock our grocery shelves and staff the check-out counters, cook and serve at our takeout restaurants, and staff our nursing homes. But too many of the workers we now recognize as essential to all of us do not make a living wage. We also need other support systems for our working families, including affordable healthcare, paid family medical leave, and access to affordable childcare.

My background is in public policy and public finance. One of the reasons I’m running for office is the profound unfairness that is embedded in our tax system and our government. Billionaires have benefited from the toil of working people, from a country that provides infrastructure, that educates their workforce, and creates the courts and law enforcement and social programs that allow this country to function. They can give a little back.

Demographics are shifting in both urban and suburban districts. How do you plan to manage the challenges of density and diversity in your district and ensure your community remains a welcoming place for all?
Georgia’s 7th Congressional District is one of the most diverse, rapidly-changing districts in the country. 25 percent of our district was born outside of the country, and I’m proud that my campaign is powered by a diverse, grassroots coalition that is truly representative of the communities who live here.

We have always benefited from immigrants, attracting the best, the brightest, and the hard-working from around the world. Immigrants come to this country because they fill vital jobs, and we need to match the jobs with our legal immigration structure. In Congress, I will reform our immigration policy so it is grounded in respect for human rights, human dignity, and economic reality. No matter your background, I care about your struggle. I will listen to you and what you need, and I’ll be your advocate in Congress.

Read all of our 2020 candidate questionnaires

The wrecking ball isn’t bound for the Highland Inn—not yet, at least

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Highland Inn
The exterior of the Highland Inn

Photograph courtesy of Highland Inn

The historic Highland Inn isn’t going anywhere. Not any time soon, at least.

Last week, What Now Atlanta published a couple of stories indicating the nearly century-old hotel on Poncey-Highland’s North Highland Avenue seemed all but doomed to be demolished and replaced with a new mixed-use development, sending folks in the city’s historic preservation circles into fits of worry.

But the wrecking ball isn’t actually bound for the Highland Inn. Getting a demo crew to converge on the old site is much easier said than done. And, besides, the owner of the property, who recently filed an application for a demolition permit with the City of Atlanta, is not hell-bent on razing the place, his attorney told Atlanta magazine. Rather, he just wants to weigh his options as the building ages and withers and the coronavirus pandemic wreaks havoc on the hospitality industry.

Highland Inn
The exterior of the Highland Inn

Photograph courtesy of Highland Inn

“Right now, the Highland Inn faces significant challenges due to its aged condition and the continued effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on hotels and the hospitality industry,” said Williams Teusink attorney David Metzger, who represents property owner Thomas Carmichael. “In a challenging situation, it is important to see what options are available. Accordingly, we submitted the application to see if demolition and redevelopment is an option to be considered.”

Metzger added that the property is not under contract “and we are not currently involved with a developer or buyer.” Additionally, officials with the city’s planning department told Atlanta there are no plans on the books for any new development to replace the inn. Plus, even if some real estate giant wanted to plop down the next swanky mixed-use colossus where the historic building now stands, they’d face some serious roadblocks.

In March, as concerns of the public health crisis began to ramp up, Poncey-Highland residents elected to establish the Poncey-Highland Historic District, a designation that would help protect older buildings in the neighborhood, install policies that would provide flexibility when rehabbing dated architecture, and offer some say to neighbors when new developments are proposed. (Highland Inn owner Carmichael lobbied against the adoption of the district, noting it could spike the cost of renovations and, in effect, rent at his other, neighboring properties.)

COVID-19, however, put the finishing touches of the historic district in limbo, Atlanta planning commissioner Tim Keane said in an interview. “This [historic district] would probably be finished, if not for the pandemic,” he said. The proposal still needs to go before the planning department’s Zoning Review Board, and then the Atlanta City Council, and then Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.

The Zoning Review Board is slated to address the matter on August 13, according to Doug Young, the city’s assistant director of historic preservation and executive director of its Urban Design Commission. But officials can’t move forward with Carmichael’s demolition application until the Urban Design Commission weighs in on the issue.

And the kicker: The demo permit is subject to the protective regulations of the proposed historic district during what Young and Keane call the “interim control process,” meaning, while the district is under consideration by city officials, its terms are essentially in full effect.

Highland Inn
Inside Highland Inn

Photograph courtesy of Highland Inn

For historic preservationists, the passage of this new historic district is crucial to protecting places like the Highland Inn. “This designation is the only tool we have to save this building,” Keane said. So, if the historic district proposal is somehow stunted by the Zoning Review Board, the council, or the mayor, and the planning department’s Urban Design Commission signs off on leveling the inn, the effort to preserve it could falter. But that’s all unlikely.

The Highland Inn, of course, is far from the only historic Atlanta property whose life hinges on protections from pro-preservation officials and measures at City Hall. And planning department leaders say they’ll fight to keep as many old, important structures as possible. “These buildings themselves are really vehicles to understanding the city’s history,” Young said. “These neighborhoods and [architecture] are the DNA and the essence of our communities’ fabric.”

David Mitchell, director of operations for the Atlanta Preservation Center, said his organization is “very excited about the [Highland Inn] going through a renaissance and reactivation,” adding, “You have to be dynamic and creative and be more thoughtful about adaptive reuse in a way that can both preserve the space and promote economic growth. We want preservation to provide occupation.”

And Young and Keane aren’t just dead-set on preservation for the sake of preservation; they know that a diversity of design provides for lasting affordability, vibrancy, and accessibility in Atlanta’s fast-evolving landscape. “The Highland Inn is just the latest discussion of preservations that’s been instrumental to that effort,” Keane said. “We still have a lot of old buildings to save.”

House Envy: This Cabbagetown condo offers an iconic piece of Atlanta’s history and unrivaled views of the city—if you build up into its 71-foot tower

Stacks lofts tower Atlanta
Inside the Stacks tower loft

Photograph by Zachary Toth Photography

It might seem overly ambitious to list a Cabbagetown loft with a galley kitchen and a single bedroom at $785,000—more than any other condo in the neighborhood has ever landed. But hear owner Brandon Sutton out.

Stacks lofts tower AtlantaStacks lofts tower AtlantaStacks lofts tower AtlantaThe unit, in the historic Stacks lofts, includes the building’s 71-foot tower, which has become a symbol of the neighborhood and has been a fixture on the city’s skyline since it was built as the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mills in the 1880s. “It’s certainly unique in Atlanta,” Sutton says, “and I bet you’d be hard-pressed to find anything like it elsewhere.” Having lived in the so-called “tower loft” for 14 years, Sutton knows he’s got something one-of a-kind that oozes the history of Cabbagetown, a turn-of-the-twentieth-century mill village built alongside Oakland Cemetery. As well as witnessing decades of prosperous manufacturing, labor strikes, and post-World War II decline of the industry, the roughly 140-year-old red-brick walls survived a massive fire in 1999 and a tornado that slammed into the building in 2008.

Stacks lofts tower AtlantaStacks lofts tower AtlantaStacks lofts tower AtlantaStacks lofts tower AtlantaThose red-brick walls are still there, exposed on every side of Sutton’s unit in the Stacks’s H Building. There, the entry opens up to the sleek galley kitchen, designed by Joel Kelly with maple cabinets, travertine countertops, and Miele appliances. The lone bedroom, with four original brick walls, offers passage to the lone bathroom, spa-like with a soaking tub, and more travertine and brick. But the living room delivers the real appeal to would-be buyers. Windows on three sides boast views south, toward Cabbagetown’s community of dollhouses; east, overlooking the rail depot at Hulsey Yard; and north, up toward Old Fourth Ward and parts of the downtown and Midtown skylines.

And then there’s the view upward from the living room, into the cavernous 71-foot tower. Two levels of thick, crisscrossed timber beams (once home to massive water tanks) crawl up the brick, still somewhat charred from the fire two decades ago, forming mammoth Tic-Tac-Toe boards. This is what Sutton has really put on the market: Not the tower itself, but its potential.Stacks lofts tower Atlanta

Stacks lofts tower AtlantaStacks lofts tower AtlantaStacks lofts tower AtlantaSutton says a savvy buyer will see the promise in building up, which could boost the unit’s footprint by about 1,200 square feet and turn this single-floor, one-bedroom unit into a three-story dwelling outfitted with, perhaps, another bedroom and bathroom and a penthouse-level observatory. After all, at the top, the city is visible for a full 360 degrees, through enormous arched windows on all sides.

This isn’t the first time Sutton has put his place up for sale. In 2010, four years after he scored the condo for a cool $300,000 and some change, Sutton offered it for $589,000. “I put it on the market in the middle of the Great Recession, and I had plans to move out West and buy a sailboat and sail off into the sunset,” he says. “I knew it was outrageous, but I just put it out there.”

Stacks lofts tower AtlantaStacks lofts tower AtlantaStacks lofts tower AtlantaStacks lofts tower AtlantaThat effort didn’t pan out, and Sutton eventually started renting the space out to, among others, Hollywood professionals in town for movie and TV shoots. (He says actress Eiza González, who played a bank robber in Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver, was a delightful tenant.)

Just a few months ago, Sutton teased the idea of selling his condo yet again, publishing a post on Zillow’s “Make Me Move” platform that said he’d hand over the keys for $750,000. His phone began ringing almost immediately. He turned down two offers below his asking price.

Sutton officially listed the condo in April. He says he appreciates that putting the place on the market in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic guarantees a fickle process. “But I’ve lived here longer than anywhere else in my life,” he says. “It’s time to move on—to make a bold move.” stacksloftstower.com

Georgia has been open for a month—but returning to work is still complicated

Re-opening businesses Georgia complicated
For many, the decision to re-open hasn’t been easy, nor has the decision to return to work.

Photograph by adamkaz/Getty Images

As artist Barbara Kruger noted in a terse and sobering opinion piece for the New York Times: “A Corpse is Not a Customer.” (That’s all it says, literally.) To Kruger’s point, there has been no shortage of criticism of Governor Brian Kemp’s decision in late April to allow businesses to reopen before Georgia has shown a clear downward trend of new COVID-19 cases.

Earlier this month—almost two weeks after announcing his plan to ease statewide restrictions that shut down nonessential businesses for weeks—Kemp said Georgia is waging “two wars”: one a fight for Georgians’ health, the other for the health of its economy. Reopening aside, there are two primary weapons in the latter fight: unemployment benefits for out-of-work individuals and Paycheck Protection Program loans for businesses. Some critics say Kemp’s decision to reopen quickly has blunted both weapons.

In Georgia, the surge of unemployment claims was particularly severe. Nearly a third of the state’s workforce filed for unemployment between mid-March and early May, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. That’s a much higher rate than the national average of 21 percent. “Probably the best explanation is just because we’re processing claims faster than other states,” Department of Labor Commissioner Mark Butler told Atlanta magazine in a recent interview.

With businesses allowed to reopen statewide, many Georgia workers were asked to return to work—and could be at risk of losing those benefits if they feel unsafe and prefer to stay home. Rachel Berlin Benjamin, an employment attorney with Buckley Beal, says her law firm has been “very busy” helping people navigate dilemmas like this amid the pandemic.

In Georgia, eligible unemployed workers can receive up to $365 per week from the state. Additionally, anyone eligible for state benefits also gets $600 weekly through the end of July from the federal government, thanks to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by Congress in response to the outbreak.

Employees of workplaces that are reopening, Berlin Benjamin says, are able to refuse to return and continue to claim unemployment benefits if they—or anyone they might live with or care for—have contracted, are experiencing symptoms of, or might have been exposed to COVID-19, or if they’re immunocompromised or have a pre-existing condition such as asthma that puts them at higher risk of becoming severely ill from the virus. Employees who have to take care of children as the result of daycare or school closures would also still be eligible, she adds.

Additionally, employees could be eligible to collect benefits if their place of business is creating an unsafe work environment by shirking the safety recommendations from public health officials. “If you’re fearing for your life or the life of someone who resides with you, it really depends on what goes on in your workplace,” she says. But if a worker is simply fearful of getting sick by, say, waiting on a customer who might be carrying the disease, they’re likely out of luck.

In some cases, those who do go back to work can still claim unemployment benefits, assuming they can show their hours have been cut or their income is diminished. Some employers, Berlin Benjamin says, have been intentionally scheduling workers for fewer hours so they can still collect unemployment: “If you’ve been laid off, you can still earn $300 per week in a part-time job and receive full unemployment benefits.”

Alec Owen, a server at an Italian restaurant in Old Fourth Ward, told Atlanta he headed back to work this week, after weeks of receiving unemployment checks. The restaurant, which he asked not to name in the story so not to single out his employer, emailed its staff to notify them that management “is no longer filing unemployment insurance claims on behalf of us,” he says. “So, if someone does decline [to come back], they will have to refile for unemployment and see if they still qualify, which will be unlikely to happen for most people.”

Deciding whether to clock back in wasn’t easy, Owen says; he’s concerned about catching the virus. “But I do look forward to getting back to work and trying to safely return to some sort of normalcy.”

It’s not just workers who feel conflicted about returning to their jobs. Some business owners feel that they’re being forced to bring people back to work prematurely. That’s because the federal Paycheck Protection Program requires that, for the loans it hands out to be forgiven, a business must retain or hire back the vast majority of its workers—a particular challenge for shops, bars, and restaurants. “[The PPP] really wasn’t very well written for restaurants, because in order to get [forgiveness] you have to spend 75 percent of [the loan] on your payroll,” says Karen Bremer, executive director of the Georgia Restaurant Association. “In the restaurant industry, typically you spend about 30 percent on payroll, so the numbers don’t really make sense. It’s really one of the strangest processes I’ve ever seen.”

Some restaurants, Bremer says, have decided to return the money to avoid the red tape and bureaucratic confusion. When the PPP was launched, for instance, businesses that don’t qualify for loan forgiveness were supposed to be able to pay back the loans over a decade. Recently, though, that timeline has been reduced to just two years, according to Bremer.

Plenty of businesses have been soldiered on without PPP assistance. Little’s Food Store in Cabbagetown, for instance, quickly enacted safety precautions—employees wear masks and enforce social distancing measures—and kept slinging burgers and hotdogs. Owner Brad Cunard says he “didn’t feel comfortable” taking the loan, “even though it would have helped with uncertainty.”

“If it had been a simpler process,” he says, “we would have gone for it.”

What to know about casting an absentee ballot in Georgia

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How to register to vote in Georgia
Voting looks a little different this year.

Photograph by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

Nearly 7 million Georgia voters should have received applications for absentee ballots via snail mail recently—a move by the secretary of state’s office that was prompted by the coronavirus pandemic that’s forced us indoors. In an additional effort to reduce the number of people congregating at the polls come Election Day, officials also bumped the date of Georgia’s upcoming primary vote from May 19 to June 9.

The situation is certainly unique and unprecedented, but casting an absentee ballot—or voting by mail—has long been a method utilized by people who might have recently moved or who work far from their place of residence, such as members of the military overseas, along with those who have disabilities and the elderly. People also vote by absentee ballot to avoid the lines at polling places—lines which, this election season, could stretch on longer than usual, due to public health officials’ guidelines regarding social distancing.

In theory, voting by mail is simple. So how does it work? We break it down below.

I received my absentee ballot application in the mail. Now what?
Just like with any government paperwork, you need to tell them who you are and where you live. Then, select what type of ballot you’d like to receive—Republican, Democrat, or non-partisan, which means candidates that are part of a political party won’t appear.

Next, you need to send the application to your respective county’s elections division. That can be accomplished by mail (you will need a stamp) or you can scan or take a picture of your application and email it to your local elections office (elections.voterregistration@fultoncountyga.gov for Fulton County voters). Assuming your registration is up-to-date, your absentee ballot should be headed your way soon after.

My absentee ballot is here, but the postage isn’t paid. Do I have to buy a stamp to vote?
Although the ballot appears to demand a stamp—an activist group has filed a lawsuit saying the cost of postage is an unconstitutional poll tax—postal service workers should send your ballot sans charge. But including a stamp won’t hurt. You can also drop off ballots at your county’s election office, and some counties may set up drop boxes for ballots. (Gwinnett County, for example, has approved drop boxes.) Check with your county election office for more information.

Do I have to use an absentee ballot to vote?
No. If you’re comfortable braving the lines at your respective polling station, you’re still welcome to vote in person on June 9. There will also be three weeks of in-person early voting, beginning on May 18. Remember: To be eligible to vote in the June 9 election, you must be registered to vote by May 11. Here’s how to do that.

What if I voted early for the presidential primary in March? Can I still cast an absentee ballot or head to the polls on June 9 for the races that weren’t on that ballot?
If you voted in the presidential primary early, you can still vote for the other races in the upcoming election, Richard Barron, Fulton County’s director of registration and elections told Atlanta magazine. “They will receive a ballot without [presidential candidates] on it, and their earlier vote will be tabulated in June,” he said.

What are the big-ticket items on the primary ballot?
Aside from the presidential race, there are a handful of major contests that could determine who leads state and local governments for years to come. In Fulton County, for instance, you can vote on who’s to be sheriff, tax commissioner, and superior court judge, among other posts. The June ballot will also offer a chance to vote on who gets—or keeps—the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican David Perdue or the 5th Congressional District seat held by John Lewis, among others.

What in the world is a jungle primary, and what’s in store for Georgia’s?

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Georgia jungle primary senate
(L-R) Doug Collins, Kelly Loeffler, Raphael Warnock, and Ed Traver

Collins: Alex Edelman -Pool/Getty Images; Loeffler: Alex Wong/Getty Images; Warnock: Jessica McGowan/Getty Images; Tarver: courtesy of Ed Tarver

Amid the elections on the ballot this November, Georgia voters will be faced with one peculiar contest. Called a “jungle primary” or a “nonpartisan blanket primary,” the election would determine who gets to claim—or keep—the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Republican Johnny Isakson at the end of 2019.

Essentially, a jungle primary is an election sans primary—something of a battle royale. The unorthodox model—only Louisiana has fully embraced it, although other states have used it, too—allows any candidate who pays their filing fees to duke it out in a race for elected office. In Georgia’s case, there are four major candidates: two Republicans and two Democrats.

Today, the Senate seat in question is held by Republican Kelly Loeffler, a businesswoman and political newcomer perhaps best known as a co-owner of Atlanta’s WNBA team, the Dream, and the former CEO of Bakkt, a subsidiary of the Intercontinental Exchange, a company founded and run by her husband Jeffrey Sprecher.

In December, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp tapped Loeffler to succeed Isakson, who left office due to health problems, including worsening Parkinson’s disease. Some staunch supporters of President Donald Trump were outraged by Kemp’s pick; the president had called for the governor to give the seat to Georgia Congressman Doug Collins, the current representative of the state’s Ninth District and a devoted Trump defender.

Loeffler, another avowed Trump supporter, is pitted against Collins in a bid to keep her new job. Collins, who announced his candidacy in late January and shot down the prospect of claiming a national intelligence gig in Trump’s administration, is vying for the gig as his Congressional term comes to an end. University of Georgia political scientist Charles Bullock tells Atlanta magazine that the congressman—like just about any other House representative—is eyeing the Senate spot to boost his political influence.

“There are only 100 senators and 435 House members. As a senator, you run every six years; as a House member, you run every two years,” Bullock notes. “You have more influence as one of 100. You get involved with a wider range of policies as a senator than as a representative. If you asked [most House members] if they’d rather stay where they are or move to the Senate, probably every hand would go up to move to the Senate.”

Loeffler and Collins, both white, are competing against two prominent black Democrats. In late January, the Rev. Raphael Warnock, senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, became the first Democrat to enter the race. Warnock has no political experience but boasts name recognition due to his religious influence in metro Atlanta and beyond—he led the prayer service at former President Barack Obama’s second inauguration—and was mentioned as a potential opponent in 2016, when Isakson last ran for office. Warnock claimed the support of Stacey Abrams almost immediately.

And on February 20, Ed Tarver declared his candidacy. A former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia under Obama and an ex-state senator representing Augusta in the 2000s, Tarver brings with him political experience, but perhaps not the same popularity as Warnock, Bullock says. Outside of the Augusta area and politically involved circles, Tarver might be considered an unknown.

Also on the ballot: expect businessman Matt Liebermann and UGA professor Richard Winfield, both Democrats, as well as former Office of Federal Student Aid chief operating officer Wayne Johnson, a Republican. Businessman and Vietnam-era Air Force veteran Al Bartell is the only person in the race running as an Independent.

The November election might be a battle royale, but it’s unlikely to be winner-take-all. To win a jungle primary, a candidate has to secure the majority, not a plurality, of votes. With so many credible candidates, a runoff is likely between the two top candidates next January. Bullock assumes those two would likely be a Democrat and a Republican.

With a galvanizing and polarizing presidential race at the top of the ticket in November, the election could bring the highest voter turnout the state has seen to date since the 2016 election, when some 4.1 million Georgians pulled the lever.

Bullock anticipates Warnock and Tarver will split the black vote at the polls, and Loeffler and Collins will fight over Trump supporters. The voter bloc everyone should be gunning for, he says, are white suburban women. On that front, Bullock says, Loeffler certainly has the edge, thanks to “descriptive representation”—an innate itch to elect someone who looks like you.

In fact, the Democrats should be wary of the prospect of Loeffler scoring votes from left-leaning women. Some might say, “We need more women in the senate,” Bullock says. After all, save for Loeffler, there isn’t a single woman who holds statewide office in Georgia today. On the other hand, Warnock’s Christian background could woo some of the state’s conservative voters who are turned off by Trump.

But, as Bullock puts it, this is an “all-comers primary,” so the seat is up for anyone to take.

Meet the young Republican challenging one of the most powerful politicians in Georgia

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Rep. David Clark Georgia
Rep. David Clark

Photograph courtesy of Rep. David Clark

Georgia state Rep. David Clark asked God for guidance before deciding to call foul on alleged abuses of power by House Speaker David Ralston. After all, Clark tells Atlanta magazine, it’s “definitely intimidating” to challenge a man some consider the state’s most powerful—and certainly popular—politician.

A year ago, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation found that the speaker, the Republican representative for Blue Ridge and an attorney, had allegedly leveraged his legislative leave privileges to delay court cases—sometimes for years—for legal clients accused of acts such as child molestation, domestic abuse, and rape. Just days after the charges against Ralston made headlines, Clark introduced a House resolution calling for the speaker’s resignation. “The Speaker has demonstrated unacceptable abuse of power and professional judgment,” the legislation says. Almost a year later, Ralston has stayed put.

Clark, a U.S. Army veteran and the Republican representing Buford, felt he had no choice but to take on Ralston, one of Georgia’s most powerful figures. The crusade has been no small undertaking. “You don’t challenge a king unless you’re prepared to take his head clean off,” Clark says he was told by peers. But bringing down the state House’s top dog, even with the help of a handful of other conservative Republicans, is easier said than done. In fact, Georgia tea party leaders Debbie Dooley and Julianne Thompson, among others, attempted to unseat the speaker years ago, but to no avail.

University of Georgia political scientist Charles Bullock says that unless the 2020 elections seat a wide new slate of Democrats in the Republican-strong House, Ralston is safe in the speaker’s chair, which he’s held for a decade. “Republicans are still very pleased with David Ralston,” he tells Atlanta. No doubt, though, Clark—a somewhat quiet politico, perhaps best known for the American flag suit he wears during the last day of each legislative session—has become popular for pushing the resolution calling for Ralston’s ouster and another that, if passed by a majority during this legislative session, would enact term limits of eight years for speakers of the House. Even if they falter—there hasn’t been much movement on either proposal of late—those efforts could pay dividends for Clark, Bullock says. “Gwinnett County, as a whole, is becoming more Democratic by the day. Maybe, as his constituency becomes more Democratic, being critical of the speaker could be an advantage.”

Plus, Clark says he’s not done drafting legislation aiming to hold Ralston—and others accused of corruption—to account. He says he’s currently working on legislation “that will close some of the loopholes that . . . have allowed victims rights to be ignored in the judicial process.” The proposal won’t have the speaker’s name on it, Clark says, but anyone privy to his fight for justice will know who’s in the crosshairs.

Clark says he’s not trying to unseat Ralston to further his political aspirations—he claims he’s not gunning for the speaker’s seat, but might make a stab at it, should the opportunity arise—but rather to break the establishment mold. “Regardless of party, people can get so comfortable with the establishment on both sides that they’ll just fall in line,” Clark says. “My parents raised me to challenge the status quo and stand against those who abuse power. Whether it’s your family or your party, you have to stand for what’s right, regardless of the repercussions.” And repercussions have come, Clark believes. Ralston stripped Clark of his chairmanship of the Interstate Cooperation Committee this fall, and the young representative considers that retaliation.

But Ralston, in an interview with GPB, said, “There was no punishment. People like to, I guess, play victim sometimes on these kinds of things.” He later added, “The speaker’s job is not to be popular; the speaker’s job is to manage the House in such a way that we can do the business that people sent us to do. At the core of that job is putting the best team together, and I think I have put together the best team.” (Ralston’s office forwarded Atlanta a transcript of the GPB interview in response to our inquiries.)

Clark feels his once-cordial relationship with Ralston is tarnished, but that’s part of the sacrifice of being a public servant. He says he afforded the speaker the opportunity to explain himself after the AJC story broke, and that, during a meeting last year, “[Ralston] didn’t give me any evidence to show he wasn’t lying and was not abusing his power . . . he never even looked me in the eye.”

A few months before the 2020 legislative session kicked off, Clark admitted he’s “definitely consumed with the whole Ralston thing.” Still, he finds it a worthwhile crusade. Nodding to his time in military combat, he says, “When you’re in a place of sacrifice where you’re not there to gain power for yourself, and you’re there to serve your country for a higher purpose, it changes you forever. Once you start living for power, you lose some of who you are as a human being.”

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