Democrats in Georgia have a chance to make history this week if, as some political experts predict, they elect the woman who could become the nation’s first black woman governor.
Democratic and Republican voters in primary balloting in the state head to the polls Tuesday to elect their respective party’s nominee for governor.
For Democrats, the race is a showdown between Stacey Abrams, former Minority Leader of the Georgia General Assembly and fellow state lawmaker Stacey Evans.
I am running on my record because I am PROUD of my record – and I welcome your questions about it.
We must hold our leaders to a higher standard, and voters deserve honest, face-to-face conversations about important issues – issues like the #HOPE scholarship. 1/ #GAGov #gapol pic.twitter.com/SuOmBl1ryH
— Stacey Abrams (@staceyabrams) May 20, 2018
Abrams, a romance novelist and an alumna of Spelman College with a law degree from Yale, has been considered a trailblazer in Georgia Democratic politics. She broke ground in 2007 by becoming the first black woman Minority Leader in the House of the Georgia General Assembly, a position she held until last year. During her career as Minority Leader, she became well known for her political savvy forging alliances across the aisle to get legislation passed.
A platform that’s personal
Among Abrams’ main issues is criminal justice reform, a cause inspired by her own family story. Her younger brother Walter suffers from mental illness that contributed to his slide into a life of drugs and crime. She said seeing his struggles, including his experiences while incarcerated, has opened her eyes to the way inmates are sometimes mistreated.
“My brother’s not in a private prison, but he is in a state prison. And prison labor is often dramatically cheaper than the open market. And private prisons benefit from that labor,” Abrams said in an interview with Marietta Daily Journal.
“People who are in prison have committed crimes and should be held accountable. But that accountability does not diminish their humanity, and private prisons allows us to diminish their humanity by treating them as commodities instead of treating them as people,” Abrams said.
While Minority Leader, she served on a raft of committees focusing on criminal justice issue, including the Special Joint Committee on Criminal Justice Reform, the Sentencing Subcommittee, Probation Reform Task Force, and the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform for Georgians.
She helped pass legislation that reduced sentences for non-violent offenders, eased Georgia’s policies on private probation, improved the parole system, and adopted a new juvenile justice code. Her other main causes are jobs, the economy, education and LGBTQ rights.
My parents taught me that voting is the only way to guarantee that your voice will be heard. When I learned that 800k Georgians of color were not registered to vote, I set out to change that. Now, I am running for #GAGov to build a GA that listens to every community. #BHM #gapol pic.twitter.com/dNqtQ3Qp04
— Stacey Abrams (@staceyabrams) February 2, 2018
Abrams talks a great deal about how she grew up below the poverty line, one of six children in a devout Christian household. On her campaign website, she credits school and the local library with essentially saving her life, so it’s little wonder why children, education, and child care are among the issues she champions. She is also active on health care issues in Georgia, which has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the country.
A legislator, and woman of letters
One of the more remarkable aspects of Abrams’ candidacy is that she is not just a politician, but also a noted novelist. She explained to Jeffrey Toobin on a recent New Yorker podcast that the world of fiction informed her understanding of how to succeed in the world of politics.
“I was able to navigate differences of ideology, differences of region, differences of economics, and one of the ways I did so was by not diminishing what they believed and why they believed it. That insight is a powerful tool we can use especially in our politics,” Abrams said.
With a respectable showing in most polls and major endorsements from civil rights leaders like Rep. John Lewis, celebrities such as Tracee Ellis Ross, Uzo Aduba and Rashida Jones, and from organizations like Emily’s List, it would seem that Abrams has a real shot at victory on Tuesday.
Her opponent in the race is another Stacey, Stacey Evans, a progressive lawmaker representing a district on the outskirts of Atlanta. According to Ballotpedia, 35% percent of voters polled earlier this month said they were leaning towards Abrams, while 18.67% were leaning towards Evans. But a majority of voters polled at that time said they were still undecided, making the race difficult to handicap.
The race has become increasingly bitter and racially polarized in the days before balloting, referred to in some circles as the battle between “black Stacey and white Stacey.”
If Abrams were to go on to become the Georgia’a governor she could turn out be be part of the predicted “blue wave” expected to wash over red states in November, as liberal voter mobilize in reaction to President Trump.
She said a victory would be sweet redemption, following the travails Democrats have faced in Georgia over the past decade.
“When I became Minority Leader in 2007 it was at the nadir for Democrats in Georgia. We lost every statewide office, we lost members of the house the day I became leader. So I came into leadership at the worst possible moment for democrats in the South and especially in Georgia,” Abrams told the New Yorker.
And in an interview published in March in Marie Claire, she said the key to Democrats reclaiming the majority in the state is broadening participation and reaching out the even the most marginalized voters.
“It’s critical to have a leader who understands what it’s like to be told, ‘No, you can’t come in’,” she told the magazine.
“My mission is to make certain every Georgian knows we all belong. It would be deeply gratifying and humbling to be able to open those gates wide for everyone and say, ‘Come on in’,” Abrams said.
Let’s see if Georgia agrees.