We are on the precipice of change here in Georgia. As State Senator, I will make sure that change benefits the many and not just the few.
Despite the outspoken support for local control among Republicans, it is increasingly popular for the State Government to step in and preempt local government action that they disagree with politically. Unfortunately, this preemption is rarely accompanied by a state-lead effort to address the concern that prompted the original action. This leaves many Georgians in an unfortunate situation where their state representatives will not address their concerns and their city/county government cannot address them due to state mandate. There is no doubt that some issues are best handled at a state level, but there are also many that can be best addressed by local governments. In order to most effectively serve Georgians, state policy makers and elected officials have to coordinate with local governments to determine which level of government can best address specific concerns, and how other levels of government can support that mission. And when it is decided that a state-led effort would be most effective, the state must actively lead it or at least allow local governments to do so.
In my years working in the service industry, I have seen how common labor abuses are and how powerless Georgian workers are to stand up to them. Despite being the “number one state for business” for nearly a decade, Georgia’s working class still struggles to provide for their families and make ends meet. That is because the state’s growing economy is built on a foundation of labor rights abuses allowed by “Right-to-Work” style laws that empower employers and make employees vulnerable. Even the meagre protections that do exist go unenforced, as the Department of Labor is one of the least funded agencies in the state, and grossly unprepared to protect Georgians for labor violations. The situation is even worse for state employees, who are legally prohibited from collective bargaining and expressing discontent through strikes without losing their jobs. There is no reason that an economy has to benefit a few and the expense of the many, and the State has no right to rob the voices of the people who work for them. We must work to restore and strengthen labor protections for Georgia’s working class while ensuring that all Georgians, regardless of their employers, are guaranteed the same protected freedom to express their dissatisfaction however they see fit without fear of losing their jobs.
Access to safe, affordable housing is a human right. Unfortunately, for many Georgians this is an unobtainable goal. Whether it is a young middle-class family looking to buy their first home in Oconee County, or a service industry employee looking for a place close to their job in downtown Athens, it is increasingly difficult to find a place to live at an affordable price. Challenges faced by these households are not just felt by those individuals; the lack of affordable housing stock keeps people from taking new jobs in Georgia if they can’t find a place to live, while those who do find a place often sacrifice other necessities such as healthcare to spend on housing instead. Addressing this lack of affordable housing would have untold benefits including an economic boost from more spending outside of housing and individual economic mobility among low and middle-income households.
Criminal Justice Reform
While Georgia has made great strides in reforming our criminal justice system in the past few years, there is still so much that needs to be done and can be achieved. Although we are the eighth most populous state in the U.S. we are first in the number of individuals under state supervision. With more people leaving prison than going in, our probation and parole system is in desperate need of restructuring around evidence-based initiatives to reduce recidivism. It is also imperative that we address the ways that our criminal justice system disproportionately affects low income individuals eliminating or greatly restricting cash bail and expanding exemptions from expenses like probation and court fees, Georgia can make a more equitable system where experience with the criminal justice system is not determined by the size of your bank account.
Access to fast, reliable internet is no longer a luxury, but an essential utility. Unfortunately, as the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us, millions of Georgian’s do not have access to this vital utility which is necessary for their jobs, education, and social lives. While the lack of access to reliable internet is felt across Georgia, our rural communities are suffering the most from a “digital divide” between those who reside in our cities and those who live in rural areas. Tackling this challenge will require strong leadership from state and local governments and coordination with community stakeholders and private businesses, but it is not an insurmountable task. Together, we can ensure that someone’s access to the modern world is no longer dictated by where they choose to live.
I firmly stand in support of protecting reproductive rights. Securing a woman’s right to choose is essential to guaranteeing gender equality in Georgia. The decision to have an abortion is between a woman and her doctor protected and is protected by a constitutional right to privacy; government has no place intruding into the personal decisions made by its citizens. Protecting reproductive freedom goes beyond the right to choose, it also means expanding programs which assist low-income parents, comprehensive sex education, and improving a healthcare system which makes Georgia the most dangerous place to give birth in the United States
My generation will be the first to live their entire lives under the specter of global climate change as we have come to realize the catastrophic consequences of our reliance on non-renewable energy sources. Fortunately, we have also seen the enormous advances in alternative energy sources which have finally made a transition to 100% clean energy technologically and economically possible. Rebuilding our energy infrastructure around renewables will not only protect the world our children will grow up in but provide immediate benefits in the form of new jobs, cheaper electricity, and safer energy production. At one time, nuclear power was the only viable alternative energy source; today, however, one hundred solar farms could be produced for the same price of the expansion at Plant Vogtle, and would generate five times the energy currently produced there. These farms would bring secure, well-paying jobs to struggling rural communities; with none of the inherent dangers of nuclear power or toxic by-product of coal, the primary source of electricity in Georgia. Coastal wind farms offer another opportunity for cheap renewable energy which takes advantage of Georgia geographical resources and would provide significant economic benefits to all Georgians. As the rest of the world continues to expand its clean energy production, there will be an enormous need for the wind turbines and solar arrays needed to meet the demands of that expansion. By bringing the modern, high-tech manufacturing required for these products to Georgia, we can create even more stable, well-paying jobs and renew our struggling working class.