Sarah Riggs Amico, Democratic nominee to be Georgia’s lieutenant governor, wants to set priorities for the state Senate such as reducing maternal mortality, expanding Medicaid and fully funding public schools every year.
After growing up attending public schools, Amico graduated from Washington and Lee University and attained her Master of Business Administration from Harvard Business School. She is executive chair of Jack Cooper Holdings, which operates big trucks that haul cars to dealerships. The company, with a headquarters in Kennesaw, has grown from about 120 employees in 2008 to more than 3,500 employees now.
Amico visited Statesboro Friday and spoke from the porch of the Democratic Party of Bulloch County headquarters on North College Street.
“As lieutenant governor in the state Senate, you’re the presiding officer,” Amico noted. “You’re supposed to be the person that forces prioritization. Right? You guys do this in your own families. You have a budget. You have to talk about where we put your time, your energy, your resources. That apparently doesn’t happen in our state Senate.”
Having instead made an unsuccessful Republican primary bid for governor, incumbent Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle is not in the race. Amico faces Republican lieutenant governor nominee Geoff Duncan, a former state representative from Cumming, in the Nov. 6 general election for the open office.
To show that Georgia has not made women’s and children’s health a priority, Amico noted that 64 of Georgia’s 159 counties are without a single pediatrician, and that 79 counties lack an obstetrician-gynecologist.
“Not surprisingly, we have the highest maternal mortality rate in the nation, 50 out of 50,” she said.
She had her two daughters, ages 5 and 7, traveling with her on the campaign bus.
“I don’t think their lives should be at risk someday simply because they decide to have a family,” Amico said. “It’s embarrassing that we’re that low, and that’s only on healthcare, and that’s not including the seven rural hospitals we lost in five years.”
Like Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams, Amico has made Medicaid expansion a major talking point in her campaign. Georgia is one of several states where Republican-majority governments refused the expansion originally called for with then-President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Like the overall need-based Medicaid program, the expansions to cover more people are majority federal but partly state-funded.
“If we expand Medicaid, the Urban Institute estimated this spring that that would cost a net next year of about $136 million,”Amico said. “For that $136 million, Georgia would get $3 billion of your tax money you’ve already paid brought right back here to Georgia to take care of our people.”
It would also create 56,000 jobs and $6.5 billion in economic output, she said.
“And here’s my favorite part, 473,000 Georgians who don’t have health insurance right now would have an insurance card in their pocket,” Amico said. “You see the thing is, those people who don’t have insurance, they still get sick.”
They tend to show up in emergency rooms after they are sicker and more expensive to treat, which drives up healthcare costs for everyone else, she said.
“And more importantly, it’s not the right thing to do,” Amico said. “This is 2018. The fact that there are 163,000 children in Georgia without health insurance is shameful.”
She contrasted the state’s lack of action on Medicaid to her company’s 100 percent funding of health insurance for its employees.
“And the thing is, it didn’t break us,” Amico said.
The company has also added paid parental leave for male and female employees and installed an onsite daycare at its Kennesaw location.
“So if you were to listen to Republicans talk about all those programs: we’re paying for healthcare, we’re paying for parental leave, we’re paying for onsite daycare, we’re paying for people to go out and do community service work in their communities, what do you think they’d tell you? ‘My gosh, we’re going to go broke!’” Amico said.
But the company’s profit margin has grown by more than 60 percent since she took over the business in 2016, she said.
“We knew something instinctively,” Amico said. “We knew that investing in people works.”
This year Gov. Nathan Deal and the Legislature fully funded the Quality Basic Education per-student funding formula to the public school systems, the first time the state has done so in 16 years, as she acknowledged. Amico said Democrats would fully fund prekindergarten through 12th-grade education every year and update the funding formula.
“We’ve underfunded our (QBE) formula by more than $9.2 billion, so every time you hear one of those guys bragging on a tax cut, I want you to remember that,” she said. “It’s good that they could give a tax cut. I love tax cuts. Nobody likes to pay more in taxes than they have to, but here’s the thing. They’re doing it without covering the basics.”
Amico endorsed all the other statewide Democratic candidates, naming them individually. If she and Abrams are elected, they will make history in a number of ways, she noted.
But unlike a presidential ticket, Georgia’s governor and lieutenant governor are elected separately and could be from different parties.
Amico and her husband, Andrea, and their daughters live near Marietta. He also works for Jack Cooper, heading the company’s logistics division.