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.”