Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams drew a crowd in Columbus on Wednesday night when she stopped to talk about jobs and the state’s future.
More than 150 people crammed into the 124-seat auditorium at the Columbus Public Library. Another 100 stood outside, unable to get into the hall. Abrams addressed those outside before she went in to speak to an enthusiastic crowd.
Abrams, who was a state representative before resigning to run for governor, will face Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp in the Nov. 8 General Election. Kemp, who was supported in a Tweet by President Donald Trump, easily won the Republican runoff over Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle last month.
“We have to get it done this year,” she said. “We are running out of time.”
There has not been a Democratic governor since Roy Barnes was defeated by Sonny Perdue 16 years ago.
“It is possible to have a lot of prosperity and a lot of progress and still have people left out and left behind. It is entirely possible to be in the No. 1 state in which to do business and have the lowest unemployment rates in a generation and still have 40-percent poverty rates in parts of south Georgia, to have 18-percent poverty rate across the state and to have one of the highest poverty rates for children in the nation,” Abrams said.
The poverty issue is not one solved by ignoring it or depending on the free-market system to solve it, Abrams said.
“If the free-market system was going to solve it, it would be solved by now,” she said. “... Sometimes the market needs a little help and that’s why I am the only candidate proposing to help the economy with the 44 percent of private sector jobs are in small businesses. Now, you will hear me and our opponent talk about small businesses, but I am the only one willing to put our money where our mouths are.”
Abrams is proposing a $10 million small business financing pool.
She is also proposing a high-speed internet project for all Georgians.
“High-speed internet is like rural electrification was in the 1920s,” Abrams said. “You must have it if you want to compete in the state of Georgia. There are 600,000 households that do not have access and even more have access but can’t afford it. If we do this work right, if we leverage our AAA bond rating and our ingenuity, this is not just about high-speed internet. This creates thousands of jobs across Georgia. Jobs that pay well and help lift up our economy in every county.”
Most of the local elected Democratic lawmakers were in the crowd, including U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, state Sen. Ed Harbison and state Reps. Calvin Smyre and Carolyn Hugley.
“I think she is able to articulate the vision, hopes and aspirations of all Georgians,” Bishop said. “By doing that she will bring all of the people together.”
The diversity and size of the crowd Wednesday night in Columbus illustrates that, Bishop said.
“She has tapped into the very people who really, really want more for our state and want its people to come together as one,” Bishop said.
Olga Jenkins, a career educator who taught in public schools and now teaches at a local private school, came from Harris County to attend the rally.
“I am here because I think we need a change and I didn’t like what I was seeing around the state and across the nation,” Jenkins said. “She stands for the things that I believe in. Everything she says about jobs is something that we desperately need in Georgia.”
Before the public appearance at the library, Abrams participated in a nearly 40-minute Facebook Live interview at the Ledger-Enquirer. Abrams answered a wide-ranging series of questions, including her stance on the Confederate memorial etched into Stone Mountain. In the aftermath of the violence in Charlottesville, Va., last year, Abrams said the carvings should be removed.
“I grew up in Mississippi,” Abrams said. “I went to visit the Jefferson Davis (mansion), it was mandatory. We had to go visit the last home in Biloxi, and If you go there, you confront very closely what happened to slaves. And to be reminded on a daily basis because of our flag about what the Confederacy was and what it meant and more importantly what happened in Reconstruction. And the reality is, I believe we have to respect Civil War monuments that happened in the moment so we understand our history. And we have to have context for what happened.”
Abrams said part of the context is when she made the statement.
“But the day I answered that question was the day after the president of the United States said white supremacists who murdered a young woman were the same as the activists who wanted to make sure our real history was understood,” Abrams said. “In the wake of Charlottesville as an African-American woman running for governor, I was not going to equivocate about whether I think that a national monument or a state monument to the Confederacy that was put up, not post-Civil War, but post-Reconstruction by the authors of the new KKK in Georgia. By belief is the state should never fund monuments to domestic terrorism. They have to be put in context.”
It is a conversation that must be had, Abrams said.
“Where I want to be is that those things don’t exist,” Abrams said. “But how we get there, I have always worked across the aisle and across the community to figure out solutions. So, I am open to conversations about where we go and how we get there. But my fundamental belief is we can not celebrate those who celebrated destruction and terrorism of communities of color, especially African Americans and Jews in the state of Georgia.”