Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams implored voters to show up at an “urgent time” for Columbus and Georgia, vowing to expand Medicaid and veto any anti-LGBTQ legislation if elected.
Abrams spoke for about 19 minutes Friday morning at downtown restaurant Jarfly before taking questions from members of the public and reporters for about half an hour. His visit capped a busy week in Columbus politics that saw incumbent Governor Brian Kemp, Republican gubernatorial candidate David Perdue and Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker make stops in the Columbus area.
Abrams, the only Democrat in the 2022 gubernatorial race, is seeking revenge for a narrow 2018 loss to Kemp. Voters, she said, must “overwhelm the system” to fight recent election law changes and ballot bills proposed in the state legislature.
“We’re going to use the 2022 primary to test the system to figure out what that means,” she said. “It’s going to exacerbate the big lie, and it’s going to make it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain election workers in what will likely be the highest midterm turnout in Georgia history.”
Access to the ballot
Abrams’ visit came days after the Georgia House passed an election bill that would allow the GBI to pursue allegations of voter fraud, allow public inspection of ballots and further limit funding non-profit elections. He awaits his passage to the Senate.
The bill builds on last year’s 98-page omnibus Georgia Election Integrity Act to change state elections.
The law, among other things, imposed restrictions on the use of ballot boxes that emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic. Georgians must also request and return absentee ballots earlier, although early voting hours have been extended in most counties across the state. A driver’s license or state identification number is required for the mail-in ballot process.
Abrams, along with Democratic organizers as well as election experts from the Brennan Center for Justice, argue the legislation makes it harder to vote.
“We know this is designed to undermine the ability of Georgians to vote,” she said of the bill.
She rejected arguments by opponents who argue that Georgia’s high turnout means there can’t be voter suppression.
“We have high turnouts because we try to overwhelm the system with our presence,” she said. “Just because there are more people in the water doesn’t mean there are fewer sharks.”
In addition, Abrams said the bill’s ballot inspection language “seems benign” but compromises the safety of election workers.
“You’ve all seen the public when they’re upset,” she said. “We have election workers who worry about life and worry about their safety.”
Abrams said his campaign will work hard to ensure voters have the necessary resources and that grassroots organizations meet the challenges posed by changes to election law. But voters will have to do their part.
“I need us to treat May like a dress rehearsal,” she said. “In May we have to test these systems so we can show them what they broke. And in November we have to overwhelm the system and show them what they’re going to do next.
“I need Muscogee County to stand up,” she added. “I need Southwest Georgia to rise up. I need rural Georgia to rise up. I need Georgia to rise. …We win.”
Abrams spent much of Friday’s event discussing health care and the full expansion of Medicaid in Georgia. Medcaid’s expansion is a key part of its 2022 platform.
Georgia is one of 12 states that has not expanded Medicaid, a program that helps low-income residents get health coverage. An offer from Kemp for a more limited expansion that includes a work requirement was rejected by the Biden administration. Kemp sued the federal government in an effort to overturn the decision.
A full expansion would provide about half a million Georgians with access to health coverage, including about 10,000 people in Muscogee County, she said. Abrams also blamed the closing of a hospital in the rural town of Cuthbert on Kemp because he “was too mean to expand Medicaid in the state of Georgia.”
“Some states have been generous with their support,” Abrams said of Medicaid. “Georgia was stingy. We live in a state where if you are an adult with no children, no matter how much you work and how much you earn, we will not help you. It’s a parody at best. In the midst of a pandemic, it’s an abomination.
Abrams also commented on a bill introduced before the end of the Georgia General Assembly session that would deter teachers from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity in some private school classrooms. LGBTQ advocacy groups called it the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, comparing it to similar legislation passed in Florida.
The bill, sponsored by 10 Republican senators, including Randy Robertson of the Columbus area, alleges that “a growing number of private and nonpublic schools in Georgia have adopted curricula and programs based on critical theory” that caused these schools to “separate students, staff, and parents according to ethnicity, color, race, and national origin.
The bill also alleges that teachers and staff at some private schools have “inappropriately discussed gender identity with children who have not yet reached the age of discretion.”
The bill did not come out of the Senate on the day of the crossover, which means it will not be considered during this session. However, the Georgia Senate passed a bill that would effectively ban schools from allowing transgender girls to participate in sports that match their gender identity. He is awaiting a vote at the State House.
Abrams highlighted her past support for same-sex marriage in the early 2000s and her efforts to defeat anti-LGBTQ bills as a state legislator.
“I’m not just going to defeat him as governor. I will veto it,” she said. “I will protect the right to be who you are in the state of Georgia because we will be a Georgia that stands up together.”
This story was originally published March 18, 2022 2:26 p.m.