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

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