Chat With Stacey Abrams

January 30, 2013 13:54 pm

by Ed · 18 comments

Your intrepid correspondent spoke with Georgia House Democratic leader Stacey Abrams recently for a wide-ranging interview.

I’ve put it below the fold but in it she discusses some the caucus’ legislative priorities including ethics reform (change the definition of who is a lobbyist), her potential candidacy for Saxby’s seat (read on for details) and…well, I don’t want to give it away so be sure to go read it. I’ll give you a final tease: she sees Democrats as still playing a very important role in the rest of the Session.

House Democratic Leader Stacey Abrams says Democrats still have an important role to play in the House. Even with a smaller caucus, she says Democrats can still hold the Republicans accountable.

“Our job is to offer competitive thought, to hold the majority party accountable to offer leadership and we’ve done that effectively.”

Last year, there were 63 Democrats in the House, now there are 60 members in her caucus, and she notes: “it should be lower.”

Abrams said House Democrats would unveil their legislative agenda on Thursday and she notes the main concern will be to play defense. “Education, opportunity, and shared responsibility” will be the key themes of the Democratic House agenda.

With the 2013 legislative session off to “a quiet start” with the exception of the bed tax, she said “we’re going to spend a lot of time looking at what services are cut,” and making sure “the right choices” are made. Such choices mean preventing harm to communities, according to Abrams.

One example of Democrats’ oversight, Abrams claimed, would be on state funding for student scholarship organizations. She says it’s important to make sure there is no “back-door funding for private schools” and raised concerns they could use state funding to discriminate and to improve the overall transparency of the organizations themselves.

“We should be able to hold those schools accountable,” she said of the $170 million doled out.

Another focus relates to HB 87, which passed in 2011 and designed to crackdown on illegal immigration in Georgia, requiring employers to have employees prove citizenship.

“The fact you have to continue to prove your citizen in Georgia is absurd,” she said. We believe we are harming small businesses. She added: “we’ve cut the number of staffers at the Secretary of State to process applications as they come in. You can’t increase regulations and decrease enforcement.”

On the Falcons’ stadium she said House Democrats are “reading and watching.”
She said it is important to remember the potential for long-term risk from stadia deals make sure any deal is “first and foremost financially sound” and that “communities are well-served, and jobs go to Georgians.”

On ethics reform, Abrams has  novel approach to solving lingering issues raised over Gold Dome machinations.

“The issue is not what we cap,” she said. The issue is who is doing the lobbying, what they’re putting in.”

She said she wants to change the definition of who is a lobbyist to make it much broader and all encompassing. A simple question of: “Do you influence the legislator or their staff,” would determine if you are a lobbyist.

“If you’re calling as a concerned citizen calling your legislator, you’re exactly that. If you’re a corporate executive with legislation coming before the body but 99 percent of your job is financial services, you should be held accountable if you are with members and mention legislation. There are states that have adequately captured that.

“People have to be willing to behave. That’s the threshold.”

House Democrats have new leadership for this session, with all but two members coming from Metro Atlanta, but she says that does not mean Democrats are ignoring the rest of state, saying there is “a very intentional focus” on south Georgia and other areas.

Abrams also sees a positive future for Democrats in Georgia.

“I think [Georgia] could be blue in 2016,” she asserted. Abrams looked at the margin of victory for Mitt Romney in the 2012 Presidential election and notes Democrats need to swing 300,000 voters in a state of 10 million. “It’s definitely doable.”

“I think the announcement by Senator Chambliss puts a very different spin on things,” she said.

She laid to rest any rumors of running for the open Senate seat in 2014.

“Not at all; I have no interest.

“My eye is on a long-term look of growing our party and caucus. We have to be very deliberate in what we target, who we target. I don’t think it’s going to take us 160 years to get back to where we were. Democracy will be very good to us.”

Ed January 30, 2013 at 1:58 pm

A) Best post PP has had in like, its history.
2) I forgot to put this in but she also doesn’t see any more House Democrats switching parties. So…there’s that

novicegirl January 30, 2013 at 3:19 pm

With all due respect to the smartest woman in the Legislature, I don’t even see a remote path for her victory in the US Senate . Even if the GOP nominates a Todd Aikin disciple, the Dems would need someone with more statewide appeal.

novicegirl January 30, 2013 at 3:20 pm

That said, I enjoyed your interview.

Bill Dawers January 30, 2013 at 3:52 pm

I suspect Abrams would be among the best possible Democratic candidates for the Senate seat, at least based on what I know right now. Few politicians have good statewide name recognition, especially on the Democratic side. The key in the primaries will be finding candidates who can excite the base — a woman like Abrams seems like she could do that.

Good interview.

Ed January 30, 2013 at 5:12 pm

Well its a good thing she said she’s not running

Nonchalant January 30, 2013 at 3:52 pm

I don’t see much future in a blue Georgia. I’ve lived in California, seen the implosion unfold. Not for me.

Mike Hassinger January 30, 2013 at 5:23 pm

Don’t know about the best in PP history -but well done, Ed. Especially the part about stadium deals being “first and foremost financially sound” and that “communities are well-served, and jobs go to Georgians.”
YES.

Mrs. Adam Kornstein January 30, 2013 at 5:42 pm

I like Stacey, she seems like a bright gal… however she seriously can’t be supporting Ralston’s Ethics bill.
It’s a dog of a thing.

Did Senator Heath make the corrections with a purple crayon while sobbing because “the people” had the nerve to send him an email about Chip Rogers?

Good grief, such thin skins at the capitol these days.

The Last Democrat in Georgia January 30, 2013 at 6:20 pm

““I think [Georgia] could be blue in 2016,” she asserted. Abrams looked at the margin of victory for Mitt Romney in the 2012 Presidential election and notes Democrats need to swing 300,000 voters in a state of 10 million. “It’s definitely doable.””

Georgia COULD be blue in 2016, but it most likely WON’T as it is going to take a heckuva lot more than conjecture and positive thinking to flip Georgia from hardcore deep red to even purple.

It’s going to take money and lots of it, and right now money is just simply something that Georgia Democrats don’t have.

And even if Georgia Democrats were to suddenly somehow come up with the money to compete against Georgia Republicans’ absurdly deep and unending reserves, it would still take time to use that money to build a statewide political organization that right now is totally non-existent.

Scott65 January 30, 2013 at 9:28 pm

Hillary will carry Georgia if she runs…we can look this comment up in 2016 and see if I’m right

The Last Democrat in Georgia January 30, 2013 at 10:07 pm

To his credit, Kasim Reed is the ONLY Georgia Democrat that has openly talked about attempting to build a statewide organization that is currently non-existent.

But it is going to take a heckuva lot longer than three years to build that organization in the face of a Republican organization that one of the most extremely-active in the nation and is funded to the hilt.

I’m not saying that it can’t happen, because the demographics say that there is a chance that it could.
The problem is that Georgia Democrats don’t have the organization needed to get out enough voters to match the intensity of a Republican vote that is going to very-highly motivated in 2014 to send someone to Washington to challenge the much-hated Obama head-on.
And Georgia Democrats most definitely don’t have the organization at present needed to match the intensity of a Republican vote that is going to be even more very-highly motivated to come out in droves to vote against a candidate in Hillary Clinton (if she runs) whom is hated even more than Barack Obama in many precincts.

A Hillary Clinton can win Georgia, but Georgia Democrats will need tons of money and organization and they’ll need it in a hurry to match the extreme intensity and motivation of Georgia Republicans whose intensity will be at peak form during the next two election cycles.

seekingtounderstand January 31, 2013 at 9:08 pm

your under estimating the fact that our one party state is due for a change. if the dems figure out how to put forth the right canidate……………….

The Last Democrat in Georgia February 1, 2013 at 4:07 am

I understand where you are coming from as Republican leadership and domination of the state of Georgia has been anything but robust (or even adequate) over the past decade that they’ve been in charge.

But one of the major problems of Georgia Democrats is that they seem not to be able to put forth the right candidates that you speak of in a one-party state that overwhelmingly leans AWAY from them.

The last two gubernatorial nominees that Georgia Democrats have put forth reflect the pressing need for them to figure out how to put forth appealing candidates that Georgia may actually want to vote for in statewide races containing Republican candidates who, while overwhelmingly and supremely well-funded, were unquestionably flawed.

And even if Georgia Democrats were ever to figure out how to put forth the right candidate they would still have to figure out how to adequately fund and organize an effective statewide campaign for that right candidate against a Georgia Republican Party that projects an image of superior political strength, popularity and literally has money falling from the sky at the moment.

The one-party state of Georgia may be due for a political change, but effecting that desired change that some seek will require adequate, if not an overwhelming amount of funding and political organization, not to mention the presence of popular and likeable candidates that make people want to turnout to vote for them in heated statewide elections against a Georgia Republican Party whose bench still seems to be much deeper and have much more popular candidates with infinitely more resources.

Heck, there is no question that, if a statewide election were held tomorrow, a GOP ticket containing such popular and well-liked candidates as a Sam Olens or a Casey Cagle would easily overwhelm a ticket containing any nominee that the Democrats could put forward as right now the Georgia GOP just simply has an overwhelming advantage in name recognition, organization and monetary resources, despite the long-term demographic advantage that seems to building for Georgia Democrats.

atlanta_advocate January 30, 2013 at 9:28 pm

@nonchalant:

California is a mess, but plenty of blue states are doing fine: Hawai’i, Washington, Oregon and pretty much the entire northeast from Maryland upwards (even if you want to be snarky and exclude New Jersey). By contrast, plenty of red states have terrible economies, and their economies would be even worse if they didn’t receive far more money from the federal government than they contribute in taxes, and/or the economies that they do have are not so much the result of excellent stewardship by state leaders as they are by having huge oil/natural gas/coal deposits, or otherwise they’d be even larger net drains on the federal treasury and economy than they are now. Look at the electoral map from 2012, and Texas is the only economic powerhouse, especially when oil/natural gas is excluded from the picture. (Georgia, North Carolina, Utah, Indiana and Missouri do all right, but aren’t powerhouses.)

Conservatives and Republicans had better watch their rhetoric. Again, excluding Texas, nearly all the red states lack a single significant economic sector beyond oil and natural gas, and the only big economic idea they’ve been able to come up with in decades is government-subsidized ethanol. This is despite being these low tax, low regulation, right-to-work pro business paradises.

Scott65 January 30, 2013 at 9:30 pm

Last time I checked…CA had balanced their budget and was running a surplus for this fiscal year…Blue Team-1…Red Team-0

Harry January 30, 2013 at 10:02 pm

The theory that CA will balance their budget this year is based on some false assumptions.

Nonchalant January 30, 2013 at 10:01 pm

Texas, you say?

seekingtounderstand January 31, 2013 at 8:57 pm

Stacy: Here is how GA turns blue…………..you and Hillary ask the women of the state
ARE YOU EVER GOING TO SEE WOMEN IN LEADERSHIPS POSITIONS with this governor and this republican party? NO your not and neither are your daughters.
Start a “We have had enough” girl party.
And those wives who vote republican and love their republican men, tell them its time to stand up for women for once. If we don’t band together, the men will never let women have any positions of power. And encourage women groups to not give money this campaign cycle.

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