Bulloch County Democrats at their annual gala, the party’s 12th District
congressional nominee, Francys Johnson, said he can win with the votes of just
15,000 more people than would vote for a generic Democrat.
Johnson, the Statesboro-based attorney and minister who was previously Georgia NAACP State Conference president, said the Republican incumbent, Rep. Rick Allen, is running scared. Johnson was one of three keynote speakers for the gala last Friday night in the Russell Union Ballroom on the Georgia Southern University campus. The others were Janice Laws, Democratic nominee for state insurance commissioner, and former 12th District Rep. John Barrow, now his party’s nominee for Georgia secretary of state.
Starting with a stump speech in which he quoted and paraphrased Langston Hughes’ poem, “Let America Be America Again,” Johnson described various reasons people have for not voting.
People disgruntled and angry with a broken system don’t vote, Johnson cited as one reason, after talking about battles he has fought over what he sees as voter suppression. Some of those were legal battles with current Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, now the Republican nominee for governor.
“To be sure, voter suppression is real,” Johnson said. “It’s a real threat to our democracy. Some of that is by the design of a broken electoral system. But be very sure that there are many, many, many people — many in this room — who are working to overcome those suppressive tactics.”
But that nobody ever asked them was another reason some people give for not voting, he said on the way to calling for a campaign waged in conversations with neighbors and using “a new language” of “moral clarity.” In the November 2016 presidential election, about 60 percent of registered voters cast ballots.
“The truth of the matter is that 90 million eligible voters simply chose to not vote,” Johnson said. “There are 126,000 registered Democrats in the 12th Congressional District. I only need 89,000 of them to show up and cast a ballot. The generic Democrat, according to every number that we’ve run, would get 77,000. I only need 15,000 votes to beat this candidate who’s running in the opposite party.”
Allen’s photo ops
Without calling his opponent by name, Johnson suggested that photo opportunities Allen has taken clash with congressional Republicans’ proposed defunding of certain educational programs and their opposition to Medicaid expansion.
“I know he’s running, and he’s frightened,” Johnson said. “He must be frightened. He’s taking pictures with Head Start students in Baxley, although his caucus’s budget for 2019 zeroes out appropriations for Head Start.”
The House Republican budget would also eliminate funding for other educational opportunity programs, such as Talent Search, Upward Bound and the Ronald McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program, Johnson noted.
Johnson favors full funding of these programs. He also supports the expansion of Medicaid, which was proposed as part of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. States that approved the expansion received partial federal funding, but the expansion was blocked at the state level by Republican majorities in a number of states, including Georgia. Allen favored repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
“He must be scared,” Johnson said. “He’s taking pictures in Claxton at the hospital although he’s voted against expansions to Medicare, and the budget the president has proposed would eliminate trillions of dollars from Medicare, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, dollars that matter in Evans County. Nearly 40 percent of the people who live in Evans County get their health insurance from one of those sources.”
“He has the audacity to take pictures with the administrators and the doctors and the nurses and the patients, people for whom he could care less whether the hospital closed,” Johnson continued. “As a matter of fact, I’m told that they have about two weeks of an operating cushion in Evans. If you think that’s something, Metter is operating on a one-day cushion. They’ve gone to their county commission three times this year just to float their payroll.”
The newspaper has not checked the specifics of his statements about the hospitals, but that Evans Memorial Hospital and Candler County Hospital face financial struggles is well known. Johnson says that Medicaid expansion would be a way to help these and other rural hospitals.
Laws, the insurance commissioner candidate, lives in Newnan and owns J. Laws and Associates, an independent insurance agency in metro-Atlanta. Born in Jamaica, she immigrated to the United States at age 16 and later became a citizen. She has been in the insurance business in Georgia 17 years.
“My number one issue is to fight skyrocketing car insurance rates in Georgia. In 2008, Senate Bill 276 passed that allowed insurance companies rates to go unchallenged, and what we’ve seen over the last decade is the rates went just outrageous, so we have some of the highest rate increases in the country,” Laws said in an interview before the dinner.
Another issue for her is “to close the coverage gap on health insurance and to make sure that we have quality, affordable health care in Georgia,” she said.
Barrow, a regular at the Democratic Party of Bulloch County galas beginning during his 10 years in Congress, lost to Allen in the 2014 general election but is now the Democratic nominee for secretary of state. That office oversees elections, as well as corporate filings and professional licensing.
He favors replacing Georgia’s aging touchscreen voting machines as soon as possible with electronically counted paper ballots. The law already requires such as change if the existing machines cannot be certified as foolproof, and about 75 percent of Americans now vote on paper ballots that are optically scanned, he said in an interview.
“They don’t alter the vote, they don’t change the vote, they give you a quick, unofficial count, but you will always have something that you can count by hand and if necessary recount,” Barrow said. “We cannot do that in Georgia now. We’re one of just a small handful of states that cannot do that, and that needs to change.”
About 140 people attended the gala, which serves as a fundraiser for the local party.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.