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U.S. Senate candidate Raphael Warnock makes campaign visit to Georgia Southern, Statesboro
Talks about health care, racism, challenges to democracy
U.S. Senate candidate the Rev. Raphael Warnock, third from left, is flanked by Georgia Southern Young Democrats current and former members, left to right, John Mack, Joe Rocheleau, Eduardo Delgado, Jules Shelly and Abigail Bass. (Photo courtesy of Meredith Brasher/Warnock Campaign)

The Rev. Raphael Warnock, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, told people attending a campaign stop Saturday on Georgia Southern University’s campus in Statesboro that the nation now faces four historic challenges at the same time.

Health care, linked to more than one of those challenges, was the issue he emphasized most. Warnock, 51, senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, which  was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s home church, is one of 20 candidates on Georgia’s Nov. 3 ballot contending for the seat previously held by Sen. Johnny Isakson and now  by appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler.

Opinion polls show Loeffler and U.S. Rep. Doug Collins as the leading Republicans in the race and Warnock as the leading Democrat. He spoke to about 30 people, with attendance capped for social distancing, hosted by the Bulloch County Democratic Party and the Georgia Southern Young Democrats at the M.C. Anderson Park Pavilion. 

“We are living through some tough times,” Warnock said. “In an ordinary time, any one of these things would be a real challenge and would demand real leadership: a once-in-a-century pandemic, which has then produced an economic turndown unlike anything we’ve seen since the Great Depression, a renewed reckoning on our age-old challenges regarding race in this country. ...”


Renewed reckoning

He then mentioned Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Rayshard Brooks by way of noting their deaths among “the flashpoints that urge us into that conversation.” Warnock, who officiated at Brooks’ funeral and delivered his eulogy, also traveled to Brunswick to visit Arbery’s family at Mother’s Day.

Having listed the pandemic, the economic downturn and the reckoning with racism, which he called “America’s original sin,” Warnock observed, “on top of all of that, a challenge from the highest levels of our government to the very basic democratic norms and institutions that make us an American people.”

He never mentioned President Donald Trump by name. But Warnock referred to this fourth difficulty as “a challenge to the democratic norms … the nonviolent transfer of power, the ability to hear the voices of ordinary people in the process and to know that no one, no one, absolutely no one is above the law.”

He is offering himself for service in the Senate “as just one among many voices needed in this moment," he said.

“In this moment we don’t need a leader,” Warnock continued. “In this moment we need many leaders, we need moral leaders, we need leaders of integrity, we need leaders who respect expertise, we need leaders of insight and who recognize that we are inextricably connected to one another.”


Pandemic parable

He noted that he had preached a sermon called “The Parable of a Pandemic” earlier this year.

“We should have known before COVID-19 that we need our neighbors to have health care, but now that we have a deadly, airborne pandemic, if my neighbor coughs, if my neighbor sneezes, and I am sitting next to that neighbor, I’m imperiled, and everybody in my house is potentially imperiled, and so  I should want  that  person covered,” Warnock said. “I should want that person to have health care.”

It is first a matter of moral obligation for the richest nation on earth, he argues. Poorer nations have found ways to cover their citizens, so the United States, he said, clearly does not suffer from a lack of resources but from “a lack of moral imagination” and “a lack of political will.”

But the COVID-19 pandemic also shows that seeking to provide affordable health care for everyone is also a matter of “enlightened self-interest,” Warnock said.

He advocates preserving and expanding the Affordable Care Act’s provisions and expanding Medicaid to cover more people as originally intended under the ACA. Georgia was one of a number of states with Republican-led governments that rejected the Medicaid expansion.

Several years ago, Warnock was one of 40 activists who staged a sit-in demonstration at now-former Gov. Nathan Deal’s office to demand that expansion.

“I’ve been fighting for healthcare reform for years because I believe that health care is a human right,” Warnock said. “It is something certainly the richest nation on earth can and ought to provide to all of its citizens.”


Rural hospitals

Georgians had already paid most of the cost of the Medicaid expansion with their federal taxes, so they ended up subsidizing other states’ health care while Georgia got nothing back, he said.

“While seven rural hospitals in our state have closed and two more have announced that they’re going to close, all we had to do is check the box and say, ‘Yes, you can expand Medicaid in Georgia,’ and the federal government for the first three years would have paid 100% and from then on 90%,” Warnock said.

Instead, in his assessment, Republicans played “the politics of personal destruction,” because the ACA was attached to Obama, “waging war on Obama” and “Obamacare” for short-term election gains.

Now, Georgia residents who would never need Medicaid are endangered because of this, Warnock asserts.

“Your private insurance won’t do you a bit of good if you’re having a stroke and you can’t get to the hospital in time because the nearest hospital is closed,” he said. “We’re tied in a single garment of destiny.”


Other issues

He also advocates for voting rights and criminal justice reform, seeking to end “mass incarceration.”

“The lack of moral imagination … has made the land of the free the incarceration capital of the world,” Warnock said. “We warehouse 25% of the world’s prisoners in this country, and we’re only 4% of the world.”

He referred to “the so-called War on Drugs,” as having been “really a war on black and brown communities.”


King’s pulpit

Warnock grew up in public housing in Savannah. “Long before I came to King’s pulpit I was a kid growing up in Kayton Homes housing project,” he said.

Now, in the Senate race he has the endorsement of former presidents Obama and Jimmy Carter, as well as 2018 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams and every Democrat in Georgia’s congressional delegation.

Those endorsements had included that of the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis. But Warnock was lead speaker at Lewis’ funeral July 30 at Ebenezer Baptist. He shared his pulpit with three former presidents that day.

The Statesboro Herald was unable to have a reporter present at Warnock’s campaign stop Saturday but requested and received a video of his remarks. 

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