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Crowd packs rally space for Abrams
Democratic gubernatorial candidate makes stop at Georgia Southern
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The atrium at Georgia Southern's Carroll Building is standing room only as Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams makes a stop at the university Tuesday. - photo by By SCOTT BRYANT/staff

Scheduled remarks Tuesday evening by Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate for governor, drew hundreds of students and other people, most of them supporters who cheered and applauded whenever she paused, to the Carroll Building at Georgia Southern University.

Her visit to the Statesboro campus was the next-to-last of her five campaign bus stops for the day, which concluded with a similar event at Savannah State University. At the Carroll Building, the crowd not only filled the ground floor of the atrium but looked down from balcony rails on all four sides above. The Young Democrats of Georgia Southern hosted the event as a rally for early voting, which opened Monday for the Nov. 6 election.

Abrams talked about her proposal to “make college debt-free” with expansion of HOPE scholarships, about her support for Medicaid expansion and her proposals to spur job creation. She contrasted her views on these things with those of Brian Kemp, the Republican candidate, who she said is trying to suppress voting.

“My opponent also thinks that it’s OK that a lot of our students go to college and leave with enough debt to buy a really nice house in Buckhead,” Abrams said. “His answer to college debt is ‘don’t.’ My answer to college debt is that we make college debt-free in the state of Georgia.”

Abrams was minority-party leader in the Georgia House of Representatives for six and a half years, during the latter portion of her 11 years as a representative. Noting her previous efforts, especially during the 2011 session, to protect a 3.0 or “B” grade-point average as the minimum for HOPE scholarships at academic colleges, Abrams said Republicans had tried to tried to strip this away.

“What I did in 2011, I’m going to do a little bit more in 2019, because HOPE has always had a little bit of a flaw,” Abrams said. “It’s always said you had to have a ‘B’ to be successful. Well, I bet you in this room there are some strong ‘C’s.’”

She also proposes a needs-based scholarship program.

 

Job creation


For creating jobs, Abrams proposes using $10 million in state funding to work with private lenders and create a financing pool for small businesses. If 5,000 small businesses created 10 good-paying jobs each, that would meet a goal of 50,000 good-paying jobs, she noted.

“I want to create 50,000 jobs in Georgia, but not just by bringing big companies here that may go to Atlanta,” Abrams said. “I want them to go to Statesboro. …”

She went on to list a number of rural counties in southern Georgia as places she would like to see get more jobs.

“People shouldn’t have to go into agriculture or hospitality to make a living in Georgia,” Abrams said. “Why not create renewable energy jobs too? I tell people climate change is real, and we can create 25,000 to 45,000 good-paying jobs in Georgia if we acknowledge that renewable energy is not only the future, it’s the now.”

 

Medicaid

Abrams also advocates Medicaid expansion as a means to create jobs and to keep struggling rural hospitals in business. Kemp, like outgoing Gov. Nathan Deal and others in Georgia’s Republican leadership, has opposed Medicaid expansion, which was proposed in conjunction with the federal Affordable Care Act.

“A lot of folks think of it as health care for the poor, but here’s the thing. In the state of Georgia we say you’re too rich for Medicaid if you make more than $7,000,” she said, getting some responses like ‘Oh, my gosh!’” from the crowd.

“Yes, Medicaid expansion is for folks who make between $7,000 and $17,000, and we have a governor and a want-to-be governor who say that you’re too wealthy, too well off to get access to health care, and they’re saying that to half a million Georgians,” Abrams said.

She asserts that Medicaid expansion would create 56,000 jobs in Georgia. The state’s refusal to accept the federal funding amounts to giving away $8 million each day, or a total of $12 billion since January 2014, Abrams said. The state would also have a share in the added costs.

“I’m the only candidate for governor who will expand Medicaid on day one,” Abrams said at the start of her remarks on the subject.

When she took a few questions before getting back on the bus, a student journalist asked how that “day one” achievement would be possible, because Abrams would still be dealing with a Republican majority in the Legislature.

“I know that Republicans share my belief that we should expand Medicaid, because most of the hospitals that are shutting down are in their regions,” she said. “They’ve known, however, that Governor Deal refused to expand it, and they’ve kept silent, but I’ve talked to a lot of them.”

 

Voting rights

Abrams has frequently accused Kemp, who in his current office as Georgia secretary of state oversees the state elections system, of suppressing the vote. In fact, this was the first major topic of her remarks to the Young Democrats crowd.

“I have an opponent in this race who has decided that the numbers aren’t looking good for him, and usually when you see something isn’t going your way, you go with what you know, and unfortunately my opponent knows how to suppress the vote,” Abrams said.

She had been preceded on stage by state insurance commissioner candidate Janice Laws and the Rev. Francys Johnson, the Statesboro minister, attorney and former Georgia NAACP State Conference president who as Democratic nominee in the 12th District is challenging Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Rick Allen.

In 2016, Abrams said, she and Johnson “with some good friends” got a federal judge to tell Kemp to stop suppressing the vote after he “illegally cancelled 33,000 voters in the state of Georgia.”

But in 2017, Kemp got the Legislature to approve “a license to discriminate against voters,” Abrams said, referring to the “exact match” law for voter registration. A lawsuit filed last week by several activist groups challenges Kemp and the state law for holding up 53,000 pending registrations.

“If you drop a hyphen from your name, if you spell “Francys” with a “y” and not an “i,” he could deny you the right to vote,” Abrams said.

Meanwhile, Kemp has said that the pending voters can participate in this election with proper ID. He has also accused Abrams of seeking to let “illegal aliens” vote, based on remarks such as one she made previously about not excluding ballots of voters “flagged as non-citizens.”

“My opponent is attempting to distract from his failure to do his job by saying that I said something that I didn’t say,” Abrams responded  to a Statesboro Herald question. “He’s taking what I said completely out of context. I believe in the right for legal citizens to cast a ballot. The problem is legal citizens aren’t being allowed to cast a ballot under his leadership.” 

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