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

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