Here’s the thing about former Georgia House minority leader Stacey Abrams: She’s about action, not only words. When she lost the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial race to Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, she worked with the New Georgia Project nonprofit to register an estimated 800,000 new voters, mostly people of color and young people often overlooked in the state. She formed Fair Fight Action days after her 2018 loss and launched a federal lawsuit seeking an overhaul of Georgia's voting system.
She also found time to fervently fight against Kemp’s “heartbeat” legislation prohibiting abortions after a “fetal heartbeat” can be detected. Abrams has already proven action is her thing. Along those lines, I wouldn’t care if she ever participated in a debate because it is the action I happen to care about. Luckily for Georgians, we don’t have to choose. Every time Abrams steps on a debate stage, she proves she can do both: pursue the change that will only make Georgia a stronger state, and explain clearly and directly how she can deliver that change. Sunday, in the Democrat’s final debate against Kemp, was no exception.
RELATED STORY: Stacey Abrams made mincemeat of Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, and it was a thing of beauty
She offered a clear and concise message of what her priorities would be in office—addressing affordable housing, expanding Medicaid in the state, and making the kind of investment in education that also serves as an answer to crime prevention by addressing the equity issues that often lead to crime.
These are all issues Kemp has refused to address, causing Georgia to miss out on $3.5 billion in federal funding for health care alone because he refuses to expand Medicaid. "It has worked in 38 other states, and it will work here in the state of Georgia," Abrams said.
Instead of addressing the point, Kemp instead chose to blame President Joe Biden for rising costs and inflation. To do so, the governor conveniently ignored the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, worsened by GOP denial of the virus and former President Donald Trump's shiftless approach to leadership during the pandemic.
"Americans are hurting right now because of a disastrous policy agenda by Joe Biden and the Democrats that have complete control of Washington, D.C.," Kemp alleged. "Thankfully, in Georgia, because we were open even when Ms. Abrams didn't want us to be, our economy has been incredibly resilient."
Kemp boasted the largest tax cut in Georgia's history. What he failed to mention was that it was Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, of Georgia, who secured the tax cut and helped vote the child tax credit into law.
What Kemp and other Republicans managed to accomplish with the anti-abortion heartbeat law, new restrictions on voting, and a 2014 gun law dubbed the "guns everywhere bill" was a loss of $150 million in investment in the state.
Music Midtown, an Atlanta music festival that has been an income-booster for the city since 1994, canceled its 2022 festival and cost the state $50 million after having to, for the first time since the pandemic, deal with ramifications of the 2014 gun law that allows licensed Georgia gun owners and those from 28 other states to carry guns in bars, government buildings, and other public spaces.
RELATED STORY: GOP's commitment to gun activists reportedly costs Georgia $50 million when music festival canceled
Kemp followed the “guns everywhere bill” by signing into law in April the Georgia Constitutional Carry Act, permitting legal gun owners to carry their weapons concealed without a permit or training and allowing those licensed in other states to enjoy the same protections in Georgia.
He also signed into law nearly 100 pages of new voting changes weakening the voting rights of people of color and triggering Major League Baseball to move its 2021 All-Star Game out of Atlanta due to the new restrictions.
RELATED STORY: Georgia GOP 'hijacked' bill with nearly 100 pages of voting restrictions, and now it's law
Entertainment studios threatened to boycott the state when the U.S. Supreme Court decision stripped abortion rights, and an appeals court decision allowed for Georgia’s heartbeat law to take effect immediately.
During the debate with Abrams, Kemp refused to say whether he would keep supporting dangerous policies and sign additional abortion restrictions into law. "It's not my desire to go move the needle any further on this issue," Kemp said.
He added that he doesn’t see a need to go back on past General Assembly decisions, but that if new legislation surfaces, “we’ll look at those when the time comes.”
He then tried to move the conversation back to what he dubbed “Joe Biden inflation.” Abrams wouldn't stand for the deflection.
She underscored the governor’s praise of the Texas bounty system that allows neighbors to profit off of reporting women seeking abortion services.
“We know that, under the law he signed, women can be investigated for miscarriages and other pregnancy losses and that 52 counties have said that they indeed will pursue those investigations because they don’t think they have a choice,” Abrams said of Kemp. “We know that under this governor, women are in danger. Georgia’s already number one for maternal mortality, and it is only going to get worse when women are forced to carry pregnancies.”
Abrams said one in five women didn’t have health insurance before pregnancy, and despite improvements in Medicaid to provide care for women during pregnancy, on the first birthday of any child born in the state, that health care goes away.
“Brian Kemp does not have a plan for the lives of the women who are being forced to carry pregnancies to term that are unwanted pregnancies,” Abrams said. “But more importantly, he refuses to protect us. He refuses to defend us, and yet he defended Herschel Walker, saying that he didn’t want to be involved in the personal life of his running mate, but he doesn’t mind being involved in the personal lives and the personal medical choices of women in Georgia.”
Walker, who is running to occupy Warnock’s Senate seat, supports a full abortion ban but faces accusations from two women who say Walker encouraged them to get abortions.
Of course, GOP hypocrisy wasn’t one of Kemp’s talking points, but you can believe defunding the police was. He claimed Abrams supports defunding police while he has since 2018 run on a promise to address gang activity in Georgia. "We've also been in the fight with locals when we had civil unrest, when we had unruly people that were literally trying to burn our capital city down," Kemp said.
What Kemp didn't address was the very reason those protesters felt like they had to take to the streets. George Floyd, a Black father, was murdered on camera in daylight by a Minneapolis police officer who kneeled on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes. It was a moment that demonstrated the power and audacity police operate with because politicians like Kemp have allowed cops to brutalize Black and brown communities with no accountability. For Kemp, the issue of criminal justice reform seems to be simple—protect gun rights to get reelected, continue to jail people of color at disproportionate rates, and do nothing to actually prevent crime.
For Abrams, this issue is anything but simple. She said during the debate that she has a brother who has broken the law and one who is a social worker trying to prevent crime. He still has to deal with police officers racially profiling him.
"As I've pointed out before, I am not a member of the good ol' boys club, so no, I don't have (the endorsements of) 107 sheriffs who want to be able to take Black people off the streets, who want to be able to go without accountability," Abrams said. "I don't believe every sheriff wants that, but I do know we need a governor who believes in defending law enforcement but also defending the people of Georgia.”
Republicans have accelerated their attacks on our democracy in advance of the 2022 election. Help defend democracy by chipping in $5 to progressive grassroots orgs in battleground states.
So much is on the line this election, and we need to make sure every eligible voter is able to cast their ballots. Sign up to volunteer for Election Protection to fight voter suppression and rampant disinformation. From fieldwork to remote work you can do at home, there is something for every volunteer with Election Protection.
The 2022 midterms are just around the corner, and you sent us a ton of fantastic questions for this week’s episode of The Downballot.
Among the many topics we cover: which states are likely to report results slowly—and how will those results change over time; the House districts that look like key bellwethers for how the night might go, and which might offer surprises; why and how Democrats make the hard decisions on which races to triage; the top legislative chambers to keep an eye on; and plenty more!
RELATED STORY: Want to flip a state blue? Stacey Abrams drops major key, and she would know