Stacey Abrams has policy plans that she says can erase a “100-year gap in economic parity” between Black and white people in Georgia.
The Democratic nominee for governor is taking on GOP Gov. Brian Kemp for a second time this fall after losing to him by fewer than 55,000 votes during their first matchup in 2018.
During a live Q&A with Capital B Atlanta on Friday, Abrams said her policy proposals would provide more opportunities for Black-owned small businesses, expand financial assistance for first-time homebuyers and tackle wage theft.
“I want to be the governor who helps us address the issues of making sure that we all can make a good living, make a good life, that we have access to health care, access to education, access to housing,” Abrams said. “We can’t guarantee anyone success, but the governor’s responsibility is to make certain that everyone has access, and that’s my mission.”
You can watch the entire interview here. Below is a full transcript of the conversation.
Hello, everyone. And welcome to our Q&A with Stacey Abrams, Georgia’s Democratic nominee for governor. Thank you so much for joining us, Ms. Abrams.
It is my pleasure. Thanks for having me.
I’m Chauncey Alcorn, political reporter for Capital B Atlanta, a newsroom dedicated to civic journalism by and four Black people in metro Atlanta. Capital B Atlanta is part of Capital B, a nonprofit, local and national news organization reporting for Black audiences. This is the first in the Capital B election 2022 event series interviewing major Black political candidates across the country. I have spent the last few months talking to Black voters across the state about the issues that matter most to them in this election cycle, and we wanted to center this conversation on those Black voters’ concerns.
So, I’ll be asking questions based on my own reporting, as well as some of that of my colleagues, Sydney Sims and Ann Hill-Bond, that they have sourced directly from voters in the last few days. So, let’s dive in. First up, housing costs have been skyrocketing across the state. Some Atlanta neighborhoods have seen rents jump 30% or more in recent years, and Black folks across metro Atlanta and the state are being evicted disproportionately. Our first question is from William, a 37-year-old Atlanta voter who submitted this to Capital B, “Georgia law, prevented cities from instituting any type of rent control. Once a lease is up, the rents can be raised with no cap on the increase. Ms. Abrams, how do you plan on addressing this issue and the problem of rising rents, in general?”
So, let’s just start with what the problem is in Georgia. So we have four issues. We have an inventory issue — not enough actual affordable housing. We have an affordability issue — if you have access to the housing, it doesn’t stay affordable for very long. We have an issue with habitability within that housing, meaning that you may have housing, but it doesn’t mean that you can actually physically stay there — it maybe unsafe, it may be unsanitary. The ability to enforce housing rules is actually very lax in Georgia, and we have a gentrification issue. You live in a community where you’ve anchored that community, you’ve built your life there, and then new things come in and you’re forced out. So, all of those three issues then lead to the fourth issue with just homelessness, which is also on the rise in Georgia. The current governor has refused to take action to tackle any of those issues. He’s currently sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars designed to prevent the very evictions that are skyrocketing in the state of Georgia.
He has refused to take action on legislation that would solve the problem that William raised, which is that in the state of Georgia, it is illegal for local communities, for city council’s, county commissions, to use their imprimatur to change the laws for inclusionary zoning, for rent control, you can’t even have the conversation as a legal matter. Number three, they don’t have the authority to enforce housing code. So, you can have a landlord who makes you sign a predatory lease because it’s the only housing available. The water gets cut off because they’re not keeping the pipes up, you’ve got mold or mildew, and when you report it, they can use that as a predicate for evicting you. If you call the city of Atlanta, if you call Henry County, they cannot do code enforcement, because under Georgia law, what they can do is cite, but they can’t enforce. These are all challenges that the governor can solve by demanding legislation. But let’s also remember that the current governor has made hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In fact, he made $3 million during his tenure as governor, and a lot of that money has come from real estate. So, we do not have a governor who actually prioritizes keeping people in their homes. The other challenge we have is that we have a lot of out-of-state corporations — namely out of Silicon Valley and New York City, hedge funds — coming in and buying up property, jacking up rents, reducing the quality of housing. Then because in Georgia, if you miss a single payment, you don’t have the right to cure. If you’re late by an hour, their landlord now has the right to evict you, and we have some of the speediest eviction rules in the country. We are the eighth-largest state, but we have the third-highest rate of eviction filings and the fourth-highest rate of evictions. We need to change the laws to make certain that leases can’t be predatory; we also need to change the law to make certain that you have the right to cure.
If your paycheck is a couple of days late, you should not be evicted from your apartment or foreclosed on in your house. Unfortunately, under the current administration and the current legislature, I worked for years to try to get those things changed, and we could not get those changes made. So, as governor, I will make it my priority to address all of the facets of affordable housing, because if we only tackle one issue, we are going to leave behind too many Georgians. Chauncey, as you pointed out, this is a statewide issue in Valdosta, in Albany, in Savannah. No matter where you live, housing prices are skyrocketing, accessibility is declining, and the governor is doing nothing. I intend to take part of our $6.6 billion surplus, money we have left over after we paid every bill, and use those dollars to actually invest in affordable housing in metro Atlanta and across the state. Particularly, to look at the issues that we have with gentrification and with accessibility in terms of not only the number of units, but the pricing points of those units.
Violent crime is an issue that disproportionately impacts Black communities across the state, residents want something to be done about it. You’ve talked, Ms. Abrams, about your plan to give police raises. How do you tackle Black folks’ need for safer communities with the push to reform how police interact with our communities? In other words, how do you balance the two in terms of giving police raises and making sure police are held accountable when they don’t do the right thing?
Okay, so let’s begin with the fact that when somebody is breaking into your car, breaking into your house, threatening your life, you want to call for help and you want someone to answer that call, that’s law enforcement. … We cannot ignore the racist history of policing in the United States, and especially in Georgia. We know that it’s real, we know it’s true, and we know it has created some distrust, but we also know that people need protection. Where I want to begin is, what can we do immediately to ensure access to safety and access to accountability at the exact same time? My opponent in this race pretends that you have to pick one or the other.
But I don’t have that luxury; most Black people don’t have that luxury. I’ve got a brother who’s actually committed crimes, and when he victimizes someone else, they should be able to call the police and get the help they need. Those police officers — if they work for the state, if they work for the city, if they are doing their jobs — they should be paid a living wage, because I don’t believe that you should provide labor and not be paid a living wage in the state of Georgia, especially when you are putting your life at risk to protect mine. So, I believe in a living wage, and that’s why I proposed making sure we increase the wages for correctional officers and community supervision officers, because we tend to think of law enforcement only in the arrest side. But just because my brother’s committed a crime, doesn’t mean he should lose his humanity when he’s incarcerated.
That’s why we need correctional officers who are able to protect him inside the system, and when he gets out, he deserves to have access to a parole or probation officer who helps them stay on the road to redemption, not the road to recidivism, and we currently do not pay either of those posts a living wage. So, that’s part of my pay increase piece, but it’s also about making sure we’re investing and making sure that law enforcement can protect us, not arrest people because they’re sick. We know that a number of Black people in particular get arrested for mental illness. They get arrested not because they’re dangerous, but because they’re sick. If we do not increase the resources to allow law enforcement to focus on safety, and instead, we have public responders who can address mental health challenges, we’re going to continue to see people incarcerated at alarming rates for mental health issues. So, that’s one side, but the other side is accountability.
I told you I have a brother who’s committed crimes. I also have a brother who was a social worker, but he can tell me a thousand stories about being pulled over for driving while Black, being investigated. He’s got a concealed carry weapon. Now, without a concealed carry permit, the presumption will be that he’s doing something wrong if someone ever finds his gun. I want accountability to be a necessary part of how we talk about law enforcement.
Our nation is grounded in the notion of accountability. That’s why we have law enforcement, to hold us accountable. That same standard has to be applied to those in law enforcement. It’s not just training. It’s making sure that our P.O.S.T. standards say that when you commit a crime, if you are in law enforcement and you do something wrong, if it is bad enough that you are terminated, you shouldn’t be able to get rehired without absolute notice to the public of what’s happened.
Right now, there is not a great deal of transparency in our P.O.S.T. system. That’s the standard and training that basically tells us that’s how we regulate and how we monitor who’s in law enforcement. My mission is to have both safety and accountability.
It is disingenuous to say we can have one without the other, and it is problematic to pretend we don’t need both. My mission is to do both. That’s what I did as a legislator. It’s what I intend to do as governor. It is why I believe that I’m the best person for this job, because I know that we don’t get to live one-dimensional lives, that we have to think about multiple facets to who we are and to the communities we live in, especially communities that have been underresourced and underrepresented over the last 20 years.
Georgia has some of the largest racial disparities in the country, which you’ve talked about quite a bit, for health issues like HIV/AIDS, maternal health, monkeypox, COVID-19, and others. You called Medicaid expansion your top priority as governor. Beyond that, a registered voter in Castleberry Hill wanted to ask you, what are your top three priorities for improving Black Georgian health outcomes?
I know they sort of said, other than Medicaid, but we have to understand that Medicaid expansion is the answer because it’s a financing mechanism. We hear Medicaid, and we hear “poor people insurance.” In Georgia, you get Medicaid if you make $6,600 or less, but you also have to be either disabled, a senior citizen, or you have to be a parent with a dependent child. If you’re anyone else, even if you make $6,600, you’re considered too wealthy for health insurance. That disproportionately affects the Black community because we have 1.4 million people in the state without health insurance and without that health insurance, they can’t get help unless there’s a crisis.
Medicaid expansion will give access to half a million Georgians. Here are the three component pieces to that. Number one, it’s the physical health care that people need. When you have to go and see a doctor, instead of getting Metformin, too many of our folks are being put on dialysis or having their foot or hand amputated, because they never got treatment for their diabetes.
Instead of getting amlodipine, they’re getting a stint put in their heart. They’re having vascular surgery because they never got treated for heart disease. That is disproportionately killing our people. If we had access to Medicaid expansion, they could go and get preventative care. They could see primary care, they could pay for their medications day after day instead of having to hoard their money to pay for a big dose of insulin, they would actually be able to get the long-term support they need. Medicaid expansion is how we tackle the social determinants of health in the state of Georgia, especially for Black people.
Number two, it’s a mental health crisis. Georgia just passed a law saying that we’re going to give equal opportunity for mental health care if you have insurance, but because our communities disproportionately don’t have that insurance, that law is meaningless to most of us. We are the most likely to be incarcerated for mental illness. Law enforcement is the number one provider of mental health care in the state of Georgia. If we do not expand Medicaid, we do not get access to those dollars that we’ve already paid for that can make sure more of our family members and friends, instead of being sent to jail, they get the mental health they need before it’s a crisis.
Number three, when we think about issues like COVID, monkeypox, HIV/AIDS, we have a governor who has stripped money out of our communities rather than pour money into our communities. This is going to be so much more acute when AMC closes. When the Atlanta Medical Center shuts down, Grady Hospital becomes the only source of medical care for most folks in the metro Atlanta area — especially in the Atlanta area — because we know that folks aren’t going to be able to hike over to Decatur to go to Emory or up to Brookhaven to go to another hospital. They’re going to go to the closest hospital they can get to, that people can take them to, and that’s Grady.
That’s going to raise everyone’s taxes. Grady’s $130 million Band-Aid from this governor was what they needed five years ago, to just right size the hospital for what they currently deal with. They need more money, and they’ve been asking for it for years. Now with this closure of AMC, every Georgian who lives in the state is going to be saddled with this debt. Every Atlantan who lives in Fulton or DeKalb County will see our taxes go up because Grady Hospital is funded by our tax dollars in part.
I want to make certain that we are actually saving our hospitals. When we lose AMC, we are losing not only a medical facility, hundreds of people are going to lose their jobs. Thousands of people are going to watch their lives change dramatically, because they don’t have anywhere else to go to get help except for Grady, and Grady is already over capacity and cannot accept them.
For me, those are the three bigs, making sure we’re addressing ongoing preventative care, that we’re addressing the absolute necessity of mental health care, and that we are saving our medical facilities, and recruiting more doctors and nurses so that we all get the health care support that we need, especially in the black community.
Excellent. Some f the recent polls show that you haven’t as of yet … shored up the same level of support from Black Georgians that you received in the 2018 election cycle, with a huge chunk of Black voters still undecided. When we talked to residents of southern Georgia recently, many were vaguely familiar with you and other candidates. Your vision for One Georgia is one that you’ve articulated well. I want you to speak directly to Black Georgians today and tell them why should this same Black Georgians support you the way they did during the previous election cycle?
Let’s start with where the numbers really are. The most recent polling, the AJC poll, was disproportionately Republican and actually undercounted Black voters. When you look at my polling at this exact same point four years ago, I’m actually doing — I’m where I was. If you look at most of the public polls, I was around between 80 and 86%, not because I had low support from Black voters, but because Black voters hadn’t decided that they were going to vote or not. In midterm elections, this is not a case of Stacy versus anyone else. It’s a case of voters. Voters, especially Black voters, do not participate in midterm elections at the same rate as other voters, but when we do participate, we have an outsized effect on the result, because Black voters are the single largest voting block of Democrats in the state. I’m running not just to win Democratic votes, I’m running to win Georgia votes.
That is why I’ve spent more time in rural Georgia than any candidate has. I’ve been to every county at least once, most counties more than once. I’ve assiduously invested in communities across the state. I’ve done so because I believe that we deserve more. We have a $6.6 billion surplus, and we have foundational, fundamental issues in the state, in education, in housing, in health care, and just the ability to make a good living, whether you work for someone else or work for yourself. The current governor has done nothing to tackle these issues. He’s going to tell, well, I reopened the state. Well, yes, but we also saw 38,000 people die from COVID in the state of Georgia. We saw that Black people were disproportionately harmed under his administration.
When people applied for unemployment benefits, 53% of those denied those benefits were Black; only 24% were white. When people needed access to PPE, communities of color, Black people, were the least likely to get access to those resources. Under this governor, less than 1% of contracts go to Black businesses. If you look at just Black business writ large, we are 32% of the population, we are 2.2% of the business revenue. Meaning that Black-owned businesses are disproportionately X-ed out of most opportunities. The governor’s response is he’s going to study it. We don’t need to study. He can cheat off my paper. We’ve already done the studies. The studies have been done multiple times. That’s why we know there’s a 100-year gap in economic parity. If we continue the way that Brian Kemp has been taking us, it will take 100 years before Black people have the same economic parity in business as white people in the state of Georgia.
That is untenable to me, but it’s also solvable. As governor, I intend to create cluster contracts that we can break up these massive contracts like the $700 million contract that Brian Kemp gave to one of his donors, and make sure that three or four smaller companies all get a bite at the apple. I want to make sure that we create a small-business investment fund, because when you apply for a bank loan in the state of Georgia and you are a Black-owned business, you are less likely to get that loan because we have fewer banks, and Black-owned businesses are less likely to be banked by or to receive those loans. We can solve that problem by using existing mechanisms to put money into those small businesses. I want to make sure that we have contracting responsibilities so that the state, when purchasing services, actually purchases from Black-owned businesses.
But, we also have to address wage theft. We have a lot of folks who are working, and when they get that check, that check is short, and they have no mechanism to get the rest of their money. We know that misclassification happens disproportionately in the Black community, where we are treated as contractors versus as employees. Because of that, we’re denied access to benefits and access to wages. All of those are issues the governor should and can tackle. I will.
Number one, you know I’ll tackle it because I talk about it. Number two, because I’ve introduced legislation to try to solve it, but I could never get the legislation through because the governors of Georgia were unwilling to solve the problem. I won’t have that issue if I am the governor of the great state of Georgia. My shorthand is this: I want to be the governor who helps us address the issues of making sure that we all can make a good living, make a good life, that we have access to health care, access to education, access to housing. We can’t guarantee anyone success, but the governor’s responsibility is to make certain that everyone has access, and that’s my mission.
Excellent. I’m told we got time for one more question, so I’m going to jump to question seven here on our list. According to the 2020 census, around 48% of Black Atlantans own homes, compared to around 75% of white Atlantans. A 36-year-old in East Atlanta Village wanted us to ask you what solutions you have for working-class people who want to buy their first homes but are completely priced out of the current housing market. Put differently, what would you do as governor to shrink the racial homeownership gap between white and Black Atlantans?
We have to acknowledge that part of what I was talking about earlier with affordability and inclusion also applies to starter homes. Being able to actually afford the housing that you need in the communities where you are, and not being forced to move out of the metro Atlanta area in order to find affordable housing, especially to buy your first home. We also know that homeownership is foundational to raising wealth, and that Black wealth is grounded in whether or not we own our homes or not. That is absolutely true, and it has been exacerbated by the centuries of laws that either denied us homeownership or undermined that homeownership. Our current challenge is the value of the homes that we do own get undervalued because we are Black owners of those houses.
My responsibility first is to expand the Georgia Dream program, which allows the state of Georgia to help with homeownership and home purchasing.Making sure we help you with your down payment, with your financial literacy about homeownership — which is different than general financial literacy — making sure that we are doing our best to ensure building better housing and more starter homes in the state of Georgia by using LIHTC [Low-Income Housing Tax Credit], which, basically, it’s a tax incentive program that we can use to encourage more affordable housing. I want more of those affordable housing units to not only be apartment units, but to be homeownership opportunities.
The state should be a partner in expanding access to homeownership, and the state can be a partner in making sure that we incentivize developers to build more of those starter homes. Georgia is losing starter homes at an extraordinary rate because of out-of-state builders and out-of-state developers who are buying up those houses and jacking up the prices. Going back to the very first question that William asked, if we do our jobs of making sure that local governments have more control over inclusionary zoning, we can make certain that more of those starter homes are actually created, available, and then through the governor’s office we can make certain that your ability to use the pay that you’re earning that makes you eligible for homeownership, we can close the gap to make sure more Black families can not only buy their homes, but grow their wealth and grow their opportunity.
Excellent. Ms. Abrams, I could keep going. How are you on time?
I can go a few more minutes.
Okay, excellent. Since the pandemic began, there’s been a major surge in Black gun owners. We talked a little bit about gun violence or crime in general. Many are concerned about crime, many Black gun owners are concerned about crime, including white supremacist violence. Rosalind, age 50 of Decatur, wants to know what your policy proposals are on the right to carry.
I believe in the right to carry. I know how to shoot. I’ve gone — I mean, I know how to shoot. I used to go and spend time in the Shenandoah Valley shooting different weapons, and I have a brother who has a concealed carry permit. My father is a gun owner. I don’t oppose gun ownership. What I oppose is weakening gun laws — especially this governor, who weakened gun laws in order to win an election — and the weakening that happened under his predecessor, which made it more expansive where you can carry weapons. We should not have people with concealed carry weapons on our college campuses. We should not have weapons on our college campuses. But, today in Georgia, you can carry a gun to an elementary school, to a middle school, to a high school. You can carry a weapon into a restaurant. You can have a shootout in a parking lot because Georgia has weakened gun laws, but we’ve also weakened the ability of law enforcement to actually protect us from those who are carrying those weapons.
We do not have to strip people of their right to carry in order to protect the people who either choose not to carry or do not know that they’re in danger. I want to strengthen our gun laws by strengthening gun responsibility. I’m going to quote Ronald Reagan. He said, “Trust, but verify.” That’s what background checks do. Under this governor, we have weakened background checks. When we got rid of the concealed carry permit, we got rid of a background check that was very useful in stopping dangerous people from having weapons. This isn’t hyperbole, this is what law enforcement said. We know, and if you watch TV, if you read Capital B, you know that gun violence is going up at a dramatic rate. For Black communities, this is even more dangerous, because the number one likely victim is a Black man.
We know that in our state, guns are the number one killer of our children, and that means it’s killing Black children at a higher rate. That is untenable and it is solvable. My first responsibility is to repeal criminal carry, to repeal the guns everywhere law, and to put in place more background checks. It is not to say that you shouldn’t be able to have a weapon, but dangerous people should have to go through more hoops.
Let’s zoom out a little bit. The young man — and I say young because of just how tragic this is — the young man who murdered six Asian women was able to get his gun and commit his crime in less than two hours. In the state of Georgia, it should be harder to buy a weapon and commit mass murder, and it is not. And so I want to make certain that we are putting in place red flag laws, that we are requiring the kind of background checks and the kind of supports that help make us safe. That doesn’t impugn your right to carry, but it does enforce your right to live, and that should be the responsibility of the governor.
Earlier you talked a little bit about southern Georgia. The availability of quality jobs is a recurring issue. I’ve heard from folks in southern Georgia communities, like Cordele and Buena Vista. Residents there are tired of driving long distances to work in other places. How would you bring those jobs closer to home for people in those communities?
So I encourage everyone to go to my rural revitalization plan that’s on my website. It’s very comprehensive. But here’s the shorthand. Let’s start with Medicaid. So I know people are like, “Wait, how’s Medicaid expansion going to do this?”
One of the challenges in south Georgia is that they’ve lost more hospitals than any other region of the state. They’re the least likely to have doctors. Well, can you imagine setting up a business or setting up a factory when if someone gets hurt, you’ve got to go two hours to get to help. No one’s going to bring a company there, no one’s going to locate there.
We know that if we expand Medicaid, Medicaid expansion, those millions of dollars, billions, it’s $3.5 billion. When the money comes to the state, it goes to where the uninsured are. And so if you’re in Cordele, if you’re in Buena Vista, if you’re in McIntyre, if you’re in Screven County, the money comes to where the people are because that’s where the doctors need to be. That’s where the health care needs to go.
And where there’s a doctor, where there’s a nurse; where there’s a hospital, there’s going to be a cafeteria. There’s going to be a caterer, there’s going to be a pharmacist, there’s going to be construction. So all of these jobs will follow. And in Georgia, that’s 64,000 jobs.
And this is absolutely true. When the state of New Jersey under Republican [leadership] expanded Medicaid, they created more than 50,000 jobs. When Indiana under Republican expanded Medicaid, they created more than 30,000 jobs. Because of the size of George and because of, sadly, how many people are uninsured, by expanding Medicaid we will actually draw down the resources to create more than 64,000 jobs. And these aren’t just health care jobs, these are jobs across industries.
On top of that, I want to make certain that we are helping invest in family farms. We know that if you are a big farm, you can get all the help you need from the USDA. But for small farms, navigating the USDA might as well be like going to Mars. I want to create a $5 million family farm fund which allows small farms to actually grow, and that means more people can stay where they are and grow opportunities there.
I want to create an entrepreneurs’ learners permit so we have more people in south Georgia who can start their own businesses. But that also means we have to expand access to the internet, and that’s not just about laying broadband, it’s also about making sure the internet is affordable. We have so many small businesses in south Georgia that can’t sell into metro Atlanta because they can’t get on the internet reliably.
This governor has had years to tackle this issue, and he refused to do so until Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, our two U.S. senators, sent billions of dollars into the state, hundreds of millions of which were able to be used for broadband expansion. But we know that right now that broadband expansion is not being equitably placed in Black communities. And so I want more transparency, I want more equity, and I want to make certain that our small businesses can actually access those opportunities.
And the last one is advanced energy. We know that climate change is real and that Georgia has the opportunity to take advantage of between 25,000 and 40,000 new jobs that are going to pay well and can be located in South Georgia. Because we have wind, solar, we have opportunities for hype for biomass, we have hydro, and so we need to locate many of those jobs in South Georgia.
I have a plan to do so and we will have the resources because Georgia has the $6.6 billion surplus, which means we can make a balloon payment on investing in so much of our communities without increasing our taxes at all. All we have to do is have a governor who believes that we should be investing in the Black and brown communities, and we should be investing in south Georgia the way we’ve invested in the places that he likes. I want to invest in all of Georgia. That’s why One Georgia is my mission.
I’m being told we have to wrap. That’s all the time we have for the day, folks. Ms. Abrams, thank you so much for joining us. Please visit us at atlanta.capitalbnews.org and capitalbnews.org for more info and for more reporting on the midterms. Thank you again, Ms. Abrams, for joining us and good luck on the campaign trail.
Thank you. And can I do one thing very quickly?
I just want to encourage everyone to go to my website. It’s staceyabrams.com. Please make a plan to vote early. Please make a plan to vote, and please read my website. We can do all of the things we need to do for Georgia, but we have to believe that we deserve the right for better. And that’s why I’m running for this office.
I appreciate the time. I apologize for talking fast. And I know there were a lot of questions, and so I wanted to get as much information in as possible. But if you go to my website, you can read my information at your leisure. Thank you so much, Chauncey, and thank you for having me.
Thank you, Stacey. Have a good one.