A large and energetic crowd gathered early Friday afternoon under the roof at the farmers market pavilion, enjoying the breeze off the East River at Mary Ross Waterfront Park, and excitedly waited for the woman of the hour, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams, to arrive.
Former ambassador and U.S. Sen. Wyche Fowler, an unexpected sight on the afternoon, joked there were a few people on hand who were old enough to remember him.
“Stacey is smart, she is ethical, she believes in public policy — helping people — not just power,” Fowler said. “She will work for all of us, at any age, at any income level, to make the playing field level and opportunistic for people who need education, health care. We are extremely fortunate to have a candidate of her caliber, and as you have been implored by all our local Democrats, we can win this. But I think that Stacey will probably tell you, it’s really not up to her. It’s up to us.”
When Abrams stepped to the lectern, she and the crowd fed off each other for the next 15 minutes. Abrams hit on her main issues in the campaign — education, economic development and health care.
She said she believes “we can educate from cradle to career, from the very beginning to when they walk into the world, and that we can be with them every step of the way, and if they need to come back for better education, we can give that to them, too.
“Because the thing of it is, I’m not running to be the education governor of Georgia. We’ve had a lot of those — to questionable results. And I’m not running to be the governor who plans to divert $200 million from our public schools into private school vouchers. I’ll tell you here and now I don’t want to be another education governor. I will be the public education governor of the great state of Georgia.”
Abrams emphasized the need to build up Georgia without the myopia that sometimes develops around Metro Atlanta.
“The thing of it is, we can’t be a state that tells you you have to move to Atlanta or Savannah to make a life,” Abrams said. “I want every Georgian to make a living where they want to make their lives.”
She also reiterated her strong support for Medicaid expansion, which she said is the only way to solve the state’s health care crisis. Abrams said spending $250 million will turn into $3 billion for health care, heading off a future that in several years could result in a quarter of the state’s residents being uninsured, citing a Georgia Chamber of Commerce study. At the time of the study in 2016, the state led the nation in uninsured residents at 13.9 percent. She said Medicaid expansion would result in 56,000 jobs, the majority of which would not be based in Metro Atlanta.
“That’s math that gives 500,000 Georgians access to health insurance — most of whom are working poor,” Abrams said. “That’s $3 billion to help us save half of the rural hospitals that are on the brink of closure, and possibly bring back the seven that have already shut down.”
Abrams also cited numbers that showed significant numbers of Georgia Democrats didn’t vote in the 2014 elections, and if they did, that would have been the difference in Michelle Nunn and Jason Carter’s races.
“We don’t lose elections because we lack the votes, we lose elections because we lack the vision and because we don’t lift up our voices,” Abrams said. “If we do that in this election, we will change Georgia. And if we change Georgia, we will change the South. And if we change the South, we will change America.”