When Stacey Abrams first ran for governor in 2018, she became the first-ever Black woman nominee. If she’s elected this time around, Abrams would make history once again, becoming the first Black woman to serve as a governor in the U.S. She’s not alone, either. Six Black women across the country are currently hoping to make history

Abrams, who famously launched the voting rights organization Fair Fight after losing to then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp, tells Capital B Atlanta a major part of her campaign will be ensuring that locals feel motivated and have the tools to vote in November. Last year, the Georgia legislature passed SB202, making changes to mail-in absentee voting, and limiting access to ballot drop boxes. The bill also makes it illegal to pass out food and water to anyone waiting in line to vote. The Brennan Center for Justice recently noted these changes came after the 2020 presidential election when Black voters voted by mail at a rate higher than ever before.

In addition to overcoming voting challenges, Abrams will also have to contend with Republican attacks throughout her campaign. Abrams, who has advocated for tougher COVID-19 restrictions in school, was criticized for tweeting a photo of herself posing maskless with students at Glenwood Elementary in Decatur. Though the tweet was deleted, Abrams’ campaign responded to her opponents, calling their comments, “shameful” and “pitiful.”

On social media, both incumbent Kemp and former U.S. Sen. David Perdue have taken aim at Abrams ahead of the Republican Party primary, with the latter including an endorsement from former President Trump in a recent campaign video.

The gubernatorial hopeful spoke about her plans for Georgia, including Medicaid expansion, addressing crime and criminal justice reform, and issues facing Black voters.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

What’s at stake in the midterms without federal voting rights legislation? I’m specifically thinking about here in Georgia and the ways in which laws such as SB202 could impact Black voter turnout. 

What would be fantastic for Georgia, [and] fantastic for America, is to have federal legislation that unifies us as a nation and says that no matter where you live, your access to the right to vote will not be impeded. Unfortunately, absent that federal legislation, Georgians are going to have to do what we’ve been doing for more than a decade now. And that is circumventing, navigating, and overcoming these barriers to voting. I believe we can do that. I wouldn’t be running if I didn’t think there was a way to win. For those voters who I know are the targets of this voter suppression, my mission is to make certain they know how to cast their ballots, what the barriers are, and how to circumvent them.

Is there something new in terms of organizing voters that needs to happen this year, as opposed to in previous elections, with SB202 in mind? 

We know that SB 202 changes the rules for participating and voting by mail. There are new deadlines for submitting your application. There’s new requirements for information that your application has to include. People need to be aware of that. Our campaign is going to be working on awareness [and] on making sure people know the rules. We know because of election subversion language that counties are being given new powers to shift how and where voting happens. And we’re watching this play out in a number of counties, especially counties where they’ve removed people of color, namely Black people, from their positions on the board of elections.

The most important thing my campaign can do is give people a reason to vote, and then give them the mechanisms, the tools and the information that make voting possible.

Former President Donald Trump has been, and likely will continue to be, a key figure in this race. Can you talk about the impact he might have in this election and what your campaign strategy is for addressing his presence in this midterm?

What I know is that right now we have two candidates who seem to have one purpose and that is pleasing a non-Georgian [and] making him happy about their campaign. My campaign is focused on pleasing Georgians. [It’s] on letting them know what’s possible, recognizing the pain they’re going through, but also creating a sense of hope and promise for what’s next. I’m campaigning for one Georgia. They’re campaigning for one guy. I think if you’re a Georgia voter, you’d prefer someone who’s campaigning to serve your needs, not to serve the needs of someone who can’t even vote here.

Stacey Abrams in 2018
Stacey Abrams addresses supporters at an election watch party on November 6, 2018, in Atlanta. (Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)

There’s been a lot of talk about the rise in crime in metro Atlanta. What do you think should happen to address this issue, especially considering the ongoing conversations we’re having about police reform here. 

One of my missions as governor would be to look at the P.O.S.T. standards, that’s the Peace Officer [Standards and Training ] that guide all police officers and all law enforcement in the state, and make sure that those standards actually reflect the best practices that come with police reform. 

There’s an artificial division that’s been created between public safety and criminal justice. They’re the same connective tissue. We know that when we do the right thing with early intervention, diversion programs, [and] investing in communities, that we diminish the likelihood of crime, and that we ensure that those who may have made mistakes are less likely to make those same mistakes. You also reduce crime when communities have access to food, when they have access to healthcare, when they have access to jobs, and when they have access to a fully funded education. At the same time, we know that crime is here. It has been, it will be, and so we need public safety measures that ensure that those who are called upon to protect us have the resources they need, but also the training that is required to do the right thing. 

Medicaid expansion is a top priority of your campaign. Specifically with Black Georgians in mind, can you talk about what you’re hoping to accomplish?

As the next governor of Georgia, I will make certain [that] Medicaid expansion is my first act.

Medicaid expansion is a way to save lives, jobs and communities. Medicaid expansion would bring billions of dollars, of taxpayer dollars, to Georgia. It’s Georgia money coming home. What Medicaid expansion does at its baseline is that expands access to health insurance to 500,000 more Georgians, many of whom live in the metro Atlanta area. On top of that, Medicaid expansion will create 66,000 new jobs in the state of Georgia, again, many of them in the metro Atlanta area, across the board. Not just doctors and nurses in healthcare, but construction. Folks who are starting small businesses to serve lunch. 

Then, it helps our educational system because it pours tax dollars into our property tax system to help undergird and build our public infrastructure, including our schools. Medicaid expansion is the single largest economic development decision a governor can make. And unfortunately, Georgia is in the minority of states that have decided to be mean, instead of being smart. 

In addition to being a politician, you’re also an author. I’m curious how you believe politicians should be combating anti-critical race theory legislation, as well as the recent increase in book bans that Black and queer authors have been facing. 

I want to lead a state that believes in growing strong children who are resilient, who’ve had an honest and complete education and who’ve had access to literature that helps them contextualize who they are [and] helps them understand and grow into better people.

Stacey Abrams enters the arena to introduce former President Barack Obama at Morehouse College in 2018. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

I grew up the daughter of a librarian. Those books helped me become the person I am. My mom and dad understood that reading not only helps us learn, it also helps us develop a sense of self and a better sense of the people we’re around. This is a diverse state. Diversity grows when we understand stories other than our own. Banning books is counterproductive and does nothing but harm our children in the future.

CRT is not actually being taught in K-12 schools, although it is being positioned as though it is. How do you combat this misinformation when there are people who are willfully misrepresenting it to the American people and to Georgians, specifically?

We can’t take the bait for the debate. I took courses on CRT in law school. I can promise you that’s not being taught. But that’s not the point. The point is, there’s an attempt to change the history of this country, to change the stories we tell about who we are and the mistakes we’ve made. And when we let ourselves get drawn into semantic arguments, we’re ignoring the underlying concerns. Let’s be clear, there are concerns about telling the complex history of how Black and brown people have been treated in this country. But there are also conversations happening about who gets to decide what we learn and when we learn it. Those are the conversations we need to be having. I’m not going to let them distract me with language, I’m going to focus on what they’re actually trying to do. And that is [they’re trying to] hide the truth and not give children a complete education. 

Governor Brian Kemp recently announced support of legislation that seeks to eliminate the need for weapons carry licenses in Georgia. What’s your stance on that?

He is supporting criminal carry. We know that thousands of applications for concealed carry permits were denied because the people applying for them had domestic violence offenses, had criminal offenses, had mental health challenges that should have disqualified them. What he’s saying is that instead of doing the necessary work of ensuring that deadly weapons are not put into the hands of criminals, or those who are otherwise a harm to others, that he is going to once again abdicate responsibility. Criminal carry makes our communities less safe, it undermines everyone’s fight for public safety and, more importantly, it’s an abdication of responsibility. I will not support it. 

Is there anything else you want to say, specifically to Black Atlantans? 

I’m running for governor of all of Georgia. I do so having understood what it means to see the diversity that is Black Atlanta. We have communities that are grown from right here in Atlanta, but that have also come from around the country and around the world. The right leadership respects the local leadership that we have, but also wants us to be part of a larger state and a larger national ethos that’s about success, opportunity, and thriving. That’s my mission.

Jewel Wicker is editor-at-large for Capital B Atlanta. Twitter @jewelwickershow