Stacey Abrams, the former Democratic leader in the Georgia House of Representatives, has a chance to become the first black woman elected governor in the United States. The 44-year-old has an uncompromisingly progressive platform that energized Democrats in the state to overwhelmingly support her over the establishment-backed centrist Democrat Stacey Evans, who served with Abrams in the state legislature. The only question is whether there is enough enthusiasm for Abrams’ liberal platform in the purplish state to get her over the finish line against Republican Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who won his last statewide re-election by 15 percentage points.
Abrams’ positions reflect those of an increasingly young, diverse, and economically progressive Democratic base, much like Democratic Socialist upstart Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York and Maryland Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous, a former NAACP president. Her platform touts education initiatives to improve public education in the state, expand Medicaid to 500,000 Georgians, and backs strong civil rights protections. Her platform is a stark contrast to Kemp’s, who is a staunch conservative and a supporter of President Donald Trump.
Georgia has not elected a Democrat in a statewide election since Sen. Zell Miller in 2000. Miller was a conservative Democrat, the likes of which no longer seem to exist, who went on to back George W. Bush, John McCain, and Mitt Romney in their presidential bids. An Abrams win in Georgia would not only put the state on a wildly different track, but it would also go a long way toward allaying Democratic fears that the party has moved too far left.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Education Is at the Heart of Stacey Abrams’ Campaign Platform
A key part of Abrams’ campaign platform is expanding public education in the state while cutting $100 million in tax credits for students that attend private schools and overhauling the way the state funds school districts, she told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Abrams called for the state to raise teacher pay to the national average and implement regular cost-of-living increases. Kemp has proposed a 5 percent pay raise for teachers, which would cost around $600 million. Abrams dismissed the proposed 5 percent increase as “insufficient” and an “election-year gimmick.”
Abrams said she would pay for her education overhaul and a $300 million expansion of early childhood education with a variety of revenue streams like the elimination of the private school tax credit and improved tax collection. It’s unclear if these moves would be enough to pay for her plan. She did not provide cost estimates beyond the $300 million early childhood education plan in the interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which noted that previous governors have tried to overhaul the system but the costs proved too great.
Abrams also wants to expand the state’s HOPE program, which provides financial assistance to eligible students at the state’s higher education institutions. Abrams also backs tuition-free technical college.
Kemp wants to expand school choice by doubling private school tax credits and charter school funding. He also wants local school boards to have more control over education regulations. He has called for preserving HOPE as it is, but wants to ban undocumented immigrants from receiving aid.
2. Workplace Protections & Criminal Justice Reform Are The Pillars of Stacey Abrams’ Campaign
Abrams backs stronger protections for minorities and LGBTQ workers, along with expanded anti-harassment laws. As House minority leader, Abrams fought against “religious freedom” legislation which would have allowed discrimination against LGBTQ Georgians, before it was vetoed by Republican Governor Nathan Deal, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Abrams has also vocally supported tearing down Confederate statues in the state. “We must never celebrate those who defended slavery and tried to destroy the Union. Confederate monuments belong in museums where we can study and reflect on that terrible history, not in places of honor across our state,” she said in a statement in August, calling for the removal of a Confederate memorial from Stone Mountain.
Criminal justice reform is also at the core of Abrams’ campaign, and the issue is a personal one. Her brother, Walter, is serving a prison sentence as a result of his mental health issues and drug addiction. Abrams has called for the elimination of money bail, the expansion of programs that help ex-convicts re-enter society, raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to 18 so that 16-year-olds are not sentenced to adult prison, and improving community policing based on data and training.
Abrams also backs legislation to implement automatic voter registration and same-day voter registration. She called for the fair allocation of polling sites and the replacement of outdated voting machines and vowed to veto gerrymandered districts and protect early voting.
Kemp is a tough-on-crime conservative who has called gang violence a “crisis” in the state and vowed to create a new unit in the state attorney general’s office to fight gang crimes. He also supports “religious freedom” laws, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. Kemp has come under fire during the campaign after his office reportedly purged more than 300,000 voters from the state’s rolls using a controversial program that has been labeled discriminatory, Salon reported. Abrams accused Kemp of “voter suppression” in an interview with CNN in October.
3. Stacey Abrams Wants to Improve Access to Healthcare & Abortion
Abrams has vowed to expand Medicaid in the state, which her campaign says “would cover nearly 500,000 more Georgians, save rural hospitals, and generate 56,000 new jobs across the state.” She has also called for the creation of a Georgia Premium Stability Program in order to control health care premiums for those with private insurance.
Abrams also backs expanded access to OB/GYNs and abortions. Abrams said she would “leverage state and federal programs to incentivize more doctors and medical personnel to locate in under-served areas” and “work with practitioners to reduce our maternal and infant mortality rates and increase access to care.” As a state lawmaker, she voted against a Republican bill that banned health plans offered in the state under Obamacare from funding abortions.
Kemp has vowed to sign the country’s toughest anti-abortion law, which would ban most abortions after 15 weeks. He also opposes Medicaid expansion, though he does back tax credits for rural hospitals and federal waivers to help stabilize health care premiums in the state, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.
4. Stacey Abrams Wants to Protect The Environment While Creating Jobs
Abrams touts her environmental record regularly, reminding voters that she “co-sponsored numerous laws to clean up solid waste and hazardous waste, offer a tax credit for hybrid and low-emission vehicles, promote clean energy, protect state parks, and require public notice of landfill leaks.”
Abrams says she will strengthen environmental protections and released an Advanced Energy Jobs Plan. The plan, she says, would create 45,000 high-wage jobs in the alternative energy sector while reducing the consumption of fossil fuels. She also opposes off-shore drilling and backs the expansion of public transit.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Kemp does not have any plans to deal with climate change and has called for local communities to set their own environmental standards.
5. Stacey Abrams Backs Tighter Gun Laws, Looser Marijuana Laws
Abrams supports universal background checks for gun purchases, the repeal of the state’s campus carry law, and the creation of extreme-risk protection orders that would allow authorities to temporarily take guns away from people who are considered a violent threat. She has been endorsed by the gun control groups Moms Demand Action and Giffords: Courage to Fight Gun Violence.
Kemp opposes all new gun regulations and backs “constitutional carry,” which would allow all gun owners to carry a concealed firearm without a permit. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that he also proposed a “tax holiday” for guns and ammunition and called for the end of some “gun-free” zones. Kemp was endorsed by the National Rifle Association.
Abrams has called for toughening laws on opioids while loosening laws on marijuana. Abrams voted to criminalize fentanyl and backs steps toward the decriminalization of marijuana. She has called for the elimination of criminal penalties for marijuana users and the legalization of marijuana cultivation for medical use.
Kemp has said he supports the state’s current medical marijuana law but said he opposes allowing residents to grow their own plants for medicinal purposes. He says on his campaign website that he is not “in the camp of being pro-recreational marijuana.” On opioids, Kemp wrote an op-ed calling for the expansion of medication-assisted treatment, which uses drugs to help opioid addicts relieve withdrawal symptoms while trying to break the habit.
Abrams and Kemp are dead-even in the polls. There will be a run-off election if neither candidate garners more than 50 percent of the vote.