Over the years, I've learned a lot about interviewing people.
Some subjects are naturally reticent and reluctant to provide more than one word answers. When that happens, I might have to ask the same question several times, rephrasing it slightly each time– like mining for gold when you know there's a rich vein to be discovered if you just keep digging.
Other interviewees are naturally voluble and enthusiastic about the subject at hand. You don't even have to ask questions– just throw out a topic and they're off to the races. Keeping pace with them can be like jumping aboard a moving train as it's leaving the station.
Then there's Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Stacey Abrams, who was first elected to the state House of Representatives in 2007, and became the first woman party leader in Georgia's history four years later. She is in a category all her own.
Abrams possesses the ability to instantly express complex thoughts in words that pour from her tongue like water from a hydrant– each sentence a bullet train of perfectly aligned subjects and predicates. She is amazingly articulate and it comes as no surprise to learn she grew up immersed in language– both spoken and written as the progeny of a Methodist minister and his librarian wife.
Abrams stopped by the La Voz Latina office last month, saying her quest to become the nation's first black woman to be elected governor depends on continued success in uniting minority voters like Latinos and African-Americans while building a broad coalition of support among both moderate and progressive voters.
“I see our diversity as a strength and resource not a liability,” she told me. “Unfortunately, many candidates have traditionally treated Latino voters as an afterthought. But Hispanics make up nearly one out of every ten Georgia residents and I intend to see them represented in every facet of our state government.”
As a progressive candidate, Abrams is unequivocal in supporting the legal status of DACA recipients.
“There are hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who arrived here as children, have made the United States their home, and are now DACA recipients,” Abrams said. “Ending DACA would force them to leave their loved ones and communities. This is a cruel rejection of their humanity, and the role they play in strengthening the fabric of our nation.”
Abrams also supports the right of Georgia's “DREAMer” students to pay instate tuition when enrolling in Georgia colleges and universities. Current policy, as established by the Georgia Board of Regents (BOR), requires undocumented students to pay out-of-state tuition, which can triple the cost of a college education. The Board consists of 19 voting members who serve seven-year terms. Twelve of those members will be replaced during the administration of Georgia's next governor.
“Education is the cornerstone of success in this country,” Abrams said. “The BOR is appointed by the governor and, when elected, I intend to make sure that body respects the composition of our student population. Even Texas, which has one of the most conservative legislatures in the nation, offers in-state tuition to undocumented students who were educated there.”
Abrams also understands how medical bills and a lack of access to affordable healthcare keeps many Georgia families locked in poverty. “I believe that, in a country as rich as ours, healthcare should be a right and not a privilege,” she said. “25% of Georgia's Hispanic population doesn't have health insurance and the expansion of Medicaid is a must if we are serious about lifting families out of poverty.”
Some fellow Democrats, including State Representative, Stacy Evans, who is also running for governor, questioned Abram's commitment to education in 2011 when she supported Republican-led efforts to cut funding to the state's popular HOPE scholarship program. Since its inception in 1992, the lottery-funded initiative has provided more than $9 billion in financial assistance to students enrolled in post-secondary education programs across the state.
“Because of the recession and a steep drop in lottery revenues, we were faced with tough legislative choices,” Abrams said. “The Republicans controlled both state houses and had won all the statewide elective offices. Their proposals would have made it virtually impossible for minority students to gain admission to either of our state's flagship universities and would have eliminated funding for pre-K education in Georgia. They also wanted to eliminate remedial education for Georgia’s technical college students, many of whom are older adults returning to school after years away from the classroom. As House Minority Leader, I embraced compromise as a way to save as much HOPE funding as possible and I make no apologies for that.”
Abram's efforts resulted in the restoration of all day pre-K as well as remedial classes for technical college students. She also instituted the creation of a 1% low interest loan for college students affected by the funding cuts.
We live in an age where political compromise is cast as a weakness by extremists and moderates alike but I suspect there are many voters like me who are fed up with the legislative gridlock this attitude has created. Stacey Abrams may not be the perfect candidate, but her support for issues embraced by Georgia’s Hispanic communities puts her light-years ahead of any Republican candidate for Governor and offers a bright ray of hope for Hispanic voters tired of seeing their needs ignored.
Four years ago, Stacey Abrams established the New Georgia Project, a voting rights nonprofit that has helped tens of thousands of Georgia residents, most of them minorities, register to vote. That effort continues apace as she continues her march to the Governor’s mansion.
Last November, the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO) released a post-election analysis that offered specific details on Hispanic voter turnout in 2016. According to the report, our state is now home to an estimated 244,190 Hispanic voters, representing 3.6% of Georgia’s overall electorate. Of that number, a little over half turned out to vote last year.
In the fifteen counties comprising Southeast Georgia, there are an estimated 15,000 Hispanics registered to vote. Last year, in a political season that saw the Republican Party’s candidate for President characterize Latinos as murderers, thugs, and drug dealers, only 40% of those registered voters took time to cast their ballots on Election Day.
You can and you must do better next year.