11 Questions for Georgia’s Candidates for Governor

Stacey Abrams (D)

Stacey Abrams Candidate Georgia Governor Election 2018
Stacey Abrams

Photograph courtesy of Stacey Abrams Campaign

Democrat Stacey Abrams spent about 10 years in the Georgia House of Representatives, where she was voted minority leader for several years. She’s an attorney, a business owner, and founder of the New Georgia Project, a nonprofit that works to register voters.

1. The state has only recently started investing in transit, and at negligible amounts relative to spending on roads. What types of transit projects—bus, rail, commuter rail—does Georgia need and how much would the state contribute to building them?

For economic prosperity across the state, we must maintain and invest in our infrastructure, including roads and bridges, but also transit, water and sewer systems, ports, broadband, and energy infrastructure. We must make traditional investments, but also look ahead to the demographic, industrial, and technological changes that will demand different and new investments for Georgia.

During my public and private sector careers, I spearheaded efforts in the development, investment and consulting for complex infrastructure projects, including transportation, energy, facilities, and water, and will bring that first-hand experience to the governor’s mansion. For transit, we need a statewide approach ushered in by a statewide leader—the governor. Georgia has left transit to local communities, while other states have recognized the need for a statewide approach. I have proven commitment to and leadership on transit and will continue that leadership as governor.

In 2015, I led the Democratic Caucus to work with Republican leaders to pass landmark investment in transportation. I secured the first state commitment to transit funding as part of those negotiations. As governor, my focus on transit will be two-fold. First, the state must play a strong role in funding metro Atlanta transit solutions and ensure a true regional approach rather than the current county opt-in or out patchwork.

Second, we must recognize that transit is a statewide issue. We have a growing senior population, paratransit needs, and connectivity challenges in every part of the state. We need thoughtful, forward-looking transit investment and governance processes in the metro area, but also across our regions in Middle, South, and North Georgia.>

My Jobs for Georgia plan also prioritizes our state’s ports and expanding broadband access in our rural communities. These initiatives will create jobs throughout our state and help our workers succeed.

Finally, water issues challenge our metro areas and our farmlands, and the on-going water wars with our neighbors consistently threaten our ability to do long-term planning. Viable solutions involve water infrastructure, such as reservoirs and local water/sewer systems, but also conservation and efficiency efforts, and increased agritech innovation led by Georgia’s brightest minds. As governor, I will provide the leadership necessary to understand and solve the permitting challenges of our farmers and the drinking water challenges of our communities.

I will leverage our premier AAA bond rating to invest in capital projects across the state. I will encourage public-private partnerships for infrastructure, where appropriate, to create jobs, speed investments, and solve critical challenges, while protecting public assets for all residents.

2. Healthcare advocates have called Medicaid expansion a smart strategy to improve healthcare for Georgians living on low incomes, keep rural hospitals open, and create jobs. Would you expand Medicaid? And if not, what specifically would you do to address the coverage gap and crisis facing many rural hospitals?

As governor, expanding Medicaid will be my top priority. The expansion of Medicaid would provide healthcare coverage to almost 500,000 Georgians, create 56,000 jobs across the state, and prevent the closure of even more rural healthcare facilities. In rural areas, uninsured rates will drastically improve after expansion—Medicaid expansion will allow rural Georgians access to quality healthcare.

Our rural areas are also the target of opioid and substance abuse crises. With the expansion of Medicaid, our state can increase access to the medication, counseling, and other mental health services that allow Georgians to recover.

And currently, [64] Georgia counties do not have a an OB-GYN provider, [79] counties do not have a pediatrician, and our state’s maternal mortality rate continues to climb. Women’s health in rural communities has long been neglected; Medicaid expansion is the first crucial step in providing care to all women, regardless of zip code.

3. When Governor Nathan Deal leaves office, arguably the most impactful part of his legacy will be a package of policies that starting overhauling Georgia’s criminal justice system. As governor, would you continue these efforts, and if so, what would you focus on?

Georgia has started on the path to a smarter approach, and I’m proud that Governor Deal has trusted me to sit at the table and work toward common sense solutions for our criminal justice system. Together, we passed comprehensive criminal justice reform in Georgia relating to juvenile justice, parole, and more. And while that’s an excellent start, I know we have much more work to do. That means decriminalizing poverty by eliminating cash bail, expanding re-entry and transition programs to help individuals readjust to society, and enhancing community policing to improve safety and security for all Georgians.

This issue is personal to me. My younger brother Walter is brilliant, dynamic, and one of the kindest people I’ve ever known, but he suffers from mental health issues that went undiagnosed and untreated because my family lacked health insurance and access to services. Instead of getting help, Walter self-medicated, made bad choices to support his drug habit, and is now serving time in prison. Too many Georgians know Walter’s story all too well. And as governor, I aim to ensure that the Walters in our state can be redeemed and have the opportunity to thrive just like any other Georgian.

4. Businesses, including the lucrative film industry, have threatened to boycott or leave Georgia if religious liberty legislation passes the General Assembly and is signed by the governor. Critics of such legislation have claimed it would essentially allow discrimination. How do you balance someone’s beliefs with another person’s right to live free of discrimination, plus the economic well-being of the state?

I will veto any “religious freedom” legislation. This campaign brings together a broad coalition of voters, celebrating diversity, and inclusion. My priority as governor is to support quality public schools, increase access to affordable healthcare, and create good jobs in every part of the state. But oftentimes, discrimination cripples this vision. As a woman of faith, I am anchored by the values of public service, but my faith has also taught me that rights and privileges are not to be handed out to only those who believe the same faith that I do. I was taught to serve others, regardless of religion, sexual orientation, or race.

Creating a state free of discrimination improves the strength of our economy. Job-killing, discriminatory legislation will keep the film industry and other corporate headquarters out of Georgia. We also threaten the growth of small businesses across the state that live in fear of the chilling effects of divisive legislation. As governor, I will continue to oppose discrimination, just as I did as Democratic Leader in the Georgia General Assembly. I will push for comprehensive civil rights legislation that addresses employment, housing, and public accommodations and includes protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

5. Following the 2020 census, Georgia will conduct the decennial redistricting process to determine new political districts. Advocates for redistricting reform have urged lawmakers to give control of the highly political process to an independent commission to prevent gerrymandering. Do you support the current process or favor reform? If it’s the latter, what do you propose?

I have been a vocal opponent of gerrymandered maps throughout my time in the legislature. As House Democratic Leader, I urged my caucus to vote against gerrymandered maps, and promised to recruit primary opponents against those who did so. To make sure every vote in Georgia counts, I will support the creation of a nonpartisan redistricting commission and veto gerrymandered maps.

6. Georgia has made baby steps in allowing patients to use medical marijuana, yet it’s stopped short of in-state cultivation. What are your views on medical marijuana in Georgia and should the state allow regulated and taxed recreational marijuana? If not, why?

I believe that Georgia should decriminalize and regulate access to marijuana. We also must [legalize] medical marijuana and allow for in-state cultivation for that purpose. Doing so will allow individuals who need medical marijuana to receive it and prevent over-incarceration, which disproportionately hurts communities of color.

7. Study after study projects sea levels along Georgia’s coast will rise over the coming decades. What would your administration do to reduce the effects of climate change and prepare residents across Georgia for what researchers predict will be a hotter future?

The next governor must be committed to protecting our treasured natural resources and expanding the mix of energy powering our communities, and accomplishing this requires a constant engagement on the issue of climate change and environmental hazards. I have a strong record of environmental stewardship, from internships with the EPA to legislative successes that earned me awards from the Georgia Conservation Voters. As House Minority Leader, I championed more oversight. As governor, I will oppose expansion of off-shore drilling, continue to support bipartisan efforts to limit pipelines and fracking, and protect and conserve our greenspaces. Georgia deserves a leader who sees thoughtful engagement on our environmental issues as a stable source of economic development, a public health necessity, and an environmental justice imperative.

8. For the past several years, the gaming industry has pushed state lawmakers to allow casinos in Georgia. Should Georgia have casinos, and, if so, what form should they take? How would their placement be decided, what kind of revenues would the state collect, and how would those revenues be spent?

I have long held that Georgia should only bring casinos to our state if significant proceeds go toward need-based aid for higher education. Georgia is one of the few states that lacks any state-funded need-based aid program, and while the HOPE scholarship has helped many Georgia students, we must ensure those who struggle to make the grades necessary for HOPE can still afford a higher education. As House Democratic Leader, I refused to support casino legislation that did not include those provisions, and as governor, I will commit to only bringing casinos to our state if they will support need-based aid.

9. What’s the best way to reduce gun violence in Georgia schools, homes, and communities? What can the state do and when can it do it?

Every Georgian deserves to feel safe—at home, at work, and in the classroom. We need common-sense gun policies that enable responsible ownership, but also keep firearms away from those who would us them to harm others or themselves. As governor, I am committed to fighting for common-sense gun reforms, including universal background checks, repeal of campus carry, and extreme-risk protection orders. We must also keep guns out of the wrong hands to protect victims of domestic violence and expand mental health services to ensure that people get the help they need. You can respect the Second Amendment without disrespecting the lives of others, and as governor, I will take the necessary steps to reduce the prevalence of gun violence in our state to ensure the safety of all Georgians.

10. The General Assembly last year, for the first time since 2002, fully funded public education in Georgia. However, education advocates have called the funding formula outdated. How would you approach this problem?

As Governor, I will re-evaluate the funding formula and bring educators to the table to discuss how to best improve our public school system. As Governor, I will continue full funding of the current education funding formula, but will adopt a more comprehensive education [formula]. The new formula, with counsel from current educators, will directly address the correlation between poverty and educational outcomes, invest in student transportation, increase access to technology for all classrooms and support educators so they may best serve their students. We must fully recognize our state commitment to funding public schools, so that zip codes do not determine education outcomes.

11. When the next recession hits, what do you cut? Do you raise revenues, and if so, how? Or do you lean on the reserves?

I am dedicated to maintaining stability in Georgia’s tax code for this reason, and as a member of the Ways and Means and Appropriations committees as Democratic Leader, I [was] actively involved in striking the proper balance between necessary cuts and important investments that are essential for recovery from economic downturns.

If a recession were to hit, I would first utilize our reserves—made for this purpose and currently covering more operating days than any of our neighboring states. Depending on the severity of the recession, I would look into other tools to keep our state working well.