Interview: Stacey Abrams, Candidate for Governor, Talks to Khabar
In our exclusive interview with this Georgia gubernatorial candidate who is creating national waves, Ms. Abrams articulated her positions on issues like H1-B visas, illegal immigrants, tax cuts, small business development, deregulation, Medicaid Expansion, promoting trade between Georgia and India, and more.
You were recruited as a speechwriter for a congressional
campaign at the young age of 17. You have
worked in Mayor Maynard Jackson’s office. You have a
Master’s in Public Affairs, and a law degree from Yale.
You have been a house minority leader since 2011.
Despite these stellar credentials, how do you feel
when the larger narrative in this race centers around
the seemingly impossible odds of an African-American
women becoming a Governor in the deep-red
state of Georgia?
I see it in the same vein as I see every challenge. I acknowledge the concerns, but I go to work. And I think my record of achievement demonstrates that I do not allow long odds to dissuade me. But I will also say that what we have seen in this campaign, both in the primary and now in the general, is that the odds aren’t long. There’s an enthusiasm across the state that is reflected in the number of volunteers for our campaign, and our 76% victory in the primary, but more importantly in the diversity of communities who are standing up with us. We are building a people-powered campaign, and that means bringing together communities from across the state including the Indian-American community. And what we’re seeing is that we have volunteers from every single vantage point, and that’s why I think we’ll win.
President Obama’s victory demonstrated that even something that seems new and different is entirely achievable. We are following in the path that he laid, which is to organize on the ground, to take every community seriously, to respect the vote of every single person, and to do the hard work of actually turning them out and getting them to vote.
When you say your campaign is taking every
community seriously, are you also including white
folks in rural Georgia?
I have been to 158 of 159 counties. We won every major demographic group in the primary, and we did so by going everywhere. And the reality is that rural Georgia is also very diverse. The focus has often been on one segment of the community, but what I understand is that they’re all concerned about education. They’re all concerned about whether or not they’re going to have access to good jobs that pay well. They all want Medicaid expansion and access to affordable healthcare. And that knits us all together, whether we’re rural Georgia, urban Georgia, suburban Georgia, and regardless of race.
Many Indian-Americans are small business owners.
What are your plans for promoting business in
Georgia? And how do you think they compare to Brian
I am a small business owner myself. I have been a small business owner since 2006 when I first ran for the legislature. I started a consulting firm first, and then I did a larger firm with my business partner; we then started a manufacturing company together, and last we started a financial services company. And then with another colleague I started a small tech company that has an app that we’re pushing out.
What I’ve learned in every single space is that the lifeblood for small businesses is access to capital. We can have all of the contracting opportunities, we can have the best business plan, we can have really smart, strong customers, but if we don’t have the capital to grow, small businesses will struggle. And that is why I would say I’m the only candidate with an actual concrete plan for how we solve the problems for small businesses. I appreciate the fact that others in this race want to help small businesses, but I think we should ask what exactly are you going to do. I’m the only candidate with concrete plans for creating a small business financing fund, so that we have access to that capital. I want us to think about the mainstream business—the convenience stores, the shops, the restaurants—they need as much access to capital as any hi-tech company does, and I intend to be the governor who’s going to provide access to that capital.
Do you see H1-B visa holders—the foreign workers—as a threat to local jobs? Or do you feel skilled workers from abroad are a necessary part of the economy? Will you be in favor of promoting the H1-B visa program, to the extent it can be done at the state level?
I believe H1-B visa program and other visa programs help the economy of Georgia thrive. I believe in the continuation of these programs, and I think that we as a state should celebrate the contributions made by immigrants to our state’s economy, and to our communities, to our values, to our culture. And I think it is short-sighted to push that away. If we want to be seen as an international state, if we want to attract international business, then we have to want to bring international workers to our state. There is enough opportunity to go around if we’re willing to invest together. As the next governor of Georgia, I intend to be four-square behind continuation of the H1-B visa program.
Many Republican voters feel that Democrats have mollycoddled illegal immigrants. What is the right balance to strike between upholding the law versus offering humane solutions?
Immigration is a federal responsibility and we should be holding all 14 of our congressmen and both of our senators to account for not having solved this problem. We need bipartisan legislation that creates a pathway to citizenship and a pathway to legalization for those who are here and those who want to come to United States. As a state matter, our responsibility is to protect and serve those within our borders. That means that we should not be responsible for enforcing federal immigration laws. That is a federal responsibility. I want our state law enforcement to be focused on protecting our community, and you cannot do that when people hide in the shadows and refuse to testify, or refuse to report crimes, when they allow their wages to be stolen by unscrupulous business owners. It’s a good business policy for us to be inclusive and for us to have the right enforcement at the state level because it’s unfair competition when someone can get free labor or reduced cost labor. I want us to celebrate the people we have in the state of Georgia. Everyone should follow the rules, and anyone who commits a crime should be held accountable, and it should be done under state law, not having state resources enforced by federal law.
Republicans often paint a picture of Democrats as the party that regulates business to the point of stifling growth. Trump has been on a massive deregulation binge. How does that affect consumers?
I am very proud to have received an A rating from the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, not once, but multiple times, and to receive strong support from the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. I’ve received support from the Asian-American community and the business community, in part because I understand that, yes, we have to make sure we’re decreasing the burden on companies and on small businesses, but we also want to make sure that we are protecting consumers, and the goal is to strike that balance. And I think that balance can be struck without ripping away the very protections that we rely on. Some of those regulations are the regulations that make sure that small businesses have the ability to compete, that they aren’t pushed out of the marketplace by a larger company. And so I think it’s important for us not to paint everything with a broad brush stroke. We have to be specific, we have to pay attention, and I’m the only candidate in this race who has a background in the type of legal analysis that would help us make sure that we have the best structure possible so small businesses can thrive in Georgia.
Many Indian-Americans who are in top income brackets are seduced by the Republican promise of tax cuts. How will a Democratic government under your leadership help businesses and households that like the idea of lower taxes?
Georgia has enjoyed the most stable bond rating in the nation. We’ve had a AAA Bond rating for decades and that has come about because we have a stable tax base. I think we should always look to make sure we’re putting as much money back in the pockets of those who earn it, but we have to do so by investing in the work that makes that success possible. That means investing in in our schools, investing in our small businesses, investing in healthcare, investing in transit and transportation. Because, for a lot of folks who are high earners, they run companies that need workers to be able to get there. And so my approach is this: I want us to have the right tax structure, and I think we do right now. I think we have the right tax structure. The goal now is to make sure we’re spending the resources we have on the right priorities.
We have avoided the kind of destabilizing tax decisions like Kansas. Under Republican leadership, Kansas has basically crippled its own economy. Under Republican leadership in Colorado they put in place these artificial caps that made it hard to respond to the Great Recession or any recession. What Georgia has is a structure that lets us respond to crises without having to give up who we are and hurt too many communities, and that has been true under Democratic and Republican leadership, and I intend to continue that legacy.
Republicans have been successful in branding themselves as champions of capitalism, and in painting Democrats as socialists that create a welfare state. How would you address that?
I am a business owner who has worked hard to be economically successful. I think that we as humans and as Americans feel a responsibility to make certain that the vulnerable are protected and to create pathways to opportunity. We know that there are barriers for lots of different communities. It can be based on race, based on gender, based on sexual orientation, based on zip code, based on language. And the responsibility of a good government is to make sure we’re removing as many of those barriers as possible, because fundamentally we want productive members of our society. That means creating every opportunity for success to occur. My campaign is about making sure that every single Georgian has the freedom and the opportunity to thrive. That inherently means that you’re reducing the number of people relying on the government for their support. We can only do that if we do the work investing in education, creating good paying jobs, and making sure that everyone has access to healthcare, to transit, to transportation, and to the supports they need.
Under Governor Nathan Deal, Georgia opted out of the Medicaid Expansion provision of the Affordable Health Care Act. How do you think that has helped or hurt Georgia, and what are your plans for Medicaid Expansion?
Governor Deal and I have agreed on a number of issues including the work we were able to do together on transportation, on saving the HOPE Scholarship, on criminal justice reform, but on this, I think that the decision was short-sighted, it was mean-spirited, and it has hurt Georgia’s economy. We have lost rural hospitals at an unnecessary clip, we have crippled communities by forcing them not only to lose their hospitals, but then for some communities to lose up to 30% of their workforce. That is bad for Georgia. And so, I believe that the fundamental responsibility of the next governor of Georgia is to accept Medicaid expansion. And we know that it is not a Democratic or Republican issue. Republicans like Mike Pence expanded Medicaid. Democrats like Jerry Brown of California expanded Medicaid. Georgia’s refusal is like “cutting off our nose to spite our face.” For 136 million dollars in investment, we can draw down billions of dollars that can help not only save our hospitals, but increase reimbursement rates which means our doctors will accept more Medicaid expansion, but they will also be able to make a good living providing services and care.
Regarding purging of voter rolls, supporters of Brian Kemp say he is only following the bipartisan “Help America Vote Act” which requires secretaries of states to purge voter rolls of inactive voters. They say he is required to do so by Federal law. Comments?
I have had strong disagreements with Secretary of State Kemp on his administration of his duties. I have found through my work as the head of the New Georgia Project that under his leadership the Secretary of State’s office has failed to register voters, it’s failed to protect voters who’ve submitted timely applications, has pushed to close polling places, and has unfortunately exposed too many Georgians to dangerous infiltration [hacking] because of his failure to do his job properly. My belief is that the right to vote is a sacred right and that everyone in the state government should be working to increase and expand access, not to create false narratives that make it harder for people to vote. I’m proud of what was accomplished [in August] when Randolph County kept its polling places open. And I look forward to working to elect John Barrows so that we have a Secretary of State who actually believes in supporting the right to vote for every Georgian who’s legally eligible.
As Governor of Georgia, would you consider making a trip to India to promote trade between Georgia and India?
I would be honored. I have been proud to be a member of the council and form relations for more than a decade. I’ve visited Israel, I’ve been to Taiwan, I’ve been to Korea, and prior to that I worked with international groups going to Australia, Italy, Great Britain, and Amsterdam. I’ve been around the world and I believe that if we want to be an international state, we have to make certain we’re building strong relationships, and so I look forward to visiting India as the next governor of Georgia.
Parthiv N. Parekh is the editor-in-chief of Khabar magazine.
We had reached out to the campaign of Brian Kemp, the Republican running against Stacey Abrams, requesting an interview, but did not hear back from them for over a couple of weeks, not in time to make the print issue deadline. Later, through a friend, we managed to get a time slot for what we believed was a one-on-one exclusive interview with Mr. Kemp as per our request. The interview was then scheduled, to appear on our website. However, when we showed up, it turned out to be a press conference with several other media present. So we don’t have a one-on-one interview with Brian Kemp.
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