Q&A: Stacey Abrams talks affordable housing, support for law enforcement, Georgia’s film industry and education | News

EDITOR’S NOTE: The staff of the Rome News-Tribune sat down with the Democratic Party candidate for Georgia governor, Stacey Abrams. She is running against the incumbent, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, in the November general election. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

QUESTION: Affordable and available housing has been an issue in Northwest Georgia for several years. Rome’s City Commission named a rare special committee investigating options for possibly doing something about the housing shortage with some results. In your administration, what other steps or remedies might be available to help ease our housing crunch?

ABRAMS: So, Georgia has an affordability crisis statewide, and it’s particularly acute in this region. And it’s four pieces. It is the issue of a shrinking inventory. It’s actual affordability of the units that exist. We have a gentrification challenge, and while most people think of gentrification in a much more specific Atlanta acute way we know that, essentially, it’s when the cost of living goes up, because different economic strata moves into a community and often that’s forcing long standing families and communities out of housing that they’ve been in. They’re simply priced out of their own housing. And then of course, the concomitant issue of homelessness, which also has a depressive effect on the economy.

My plan actually looks at all four pieces. And we know that one of the challenges we have is that Georgia does not have a sustainable investment in affordable housing. The housing trust fund right now has about $3 million in it. And while the governor has recently announced a series of grants, those grants are spread across the state, but they are underwhelming in the sense that they’re one-time dollars that go across the state. But it’s insufficient for solving the problem in any part of the state.

We have to tackle these issues in turn. One piece is that we have got to invest in affordable units. Georgia has a shortage as of today of 207,000 affordable units. And part of those units of course needs to be in the Floyd/Bartow County region. We need to partner with the housing authority in Floyd County and with developers to not only increase the tax credits, but then to hold them accountable for the units. What happens right now is that you will get a tax credit for affordable units. Those units only stay affordable for a minimum of a couple of years. And there’s no regulatory framework that requires that those units actually remain affordable.

No. 2 … as a local government, you’re precluded from actually taking leadership on right-sizing your affordability needs. In the state of Georgia, it is unlawful for local governments to use inclusionary zoning to look at rent control to use any of the tools that other states have been able to leverage and so right now whether you’re in Floyd County, or Fulton County, or Fannin County, you have to use the exact same tools. And that means that you are distanced from the ability to actually respond to the needs of your communities.

We also have the issue of out-of-state corporations buying up swaths of property and then jacking up rents. Georgia has the third highest eviction filing rate in the nation and the fourth highest eviction rate, although we’re the eighth largest state. And that means that we have too many of our families that are basically being priced out of the housing that they have, and they have nowhere to go to regain that housing.

We also have a shortage of workforce housing. And this is particularly acute in this region. As … development happens on the I-75 corridor, as more industry comes in, if there is not workforce housing we’re going to see further difference between opportunity and access in this region in the state. And so I want to improve the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. I want to put an immediate $29 million that would go in and that money would … be accessible by local governments to help them draw down federal funds they currently cannot access. We have to tackle the issue of treating bad landlords as bad landlords. Georgia’s law right now privileges landlords who do not care for their tenants. It is easy to evict. It is easy to deny access. There are predatory leases and none of these are being regulated by the state. And the state has precluded local governments from regulating. Right now if the Floyd County Commission wanted to go in and stop a bad landlord who is raising rates and evicting tenants, they could not do so.

The law in Georgia it privileges the landlord and not the tenants and it also ties the hands of local governments. I actually believe in the home rule and I would make certain that local governments have the tools they need for enforcement.

I would also invest in homelessness prevention. Right now we think of homelessness typically as a challenge for small community but what we’re facing is that it’s more and more often women with children. And it happens because affordability is so high, and the lack of access, but they also cannot move — there’s nowhere to go. And so we need to actually intentionally start to address homelessness and recognize we have to expand our definition of what homelessness looks like in the state of Georgia.

I’ve got an eight-page plan on my website, so I’m not going to do all of it. But the point is that we have to have a comprehensive intentional plan that has annual investment in this issue. It cannot be a one time only investment, which is unfortunately what has happened under the current administration.

The last thing I’ll add is that the state of Georgia has $450 million that’s been allocated for eviction rental assistance under the Cares Act. As of the last time, I think it was as of two weeks ago, only 40% of those dollars had been allocated, 60% of the applicants have been rejected by DCA. That is untenable.

Other states have found a way to deploy those dollars. Georgia has not, and we are one of the states in the affordable housing crisis. We are watching that crisis exacerbate because the governor is refusing to effectively deploy those dollars and, as governor, I will make certain we can deploy those dollars. We have I think until 2024, between 2024 and 2026, to actually do so. And I think that we need a governor who actually believes that that nearly half a billion dollars should actually go to keeping people in housing.

QUESTION: At least 10 governors have been elected since the concept of a connecting highway between I-75 in the US 411/41 connector in Cartersville was proposed to enhance personal and commercial traffic in between Rome and the interstate. Even with more hearings set for September, we’re no closer to turning their first shovel of soil. How would that change under an Abrams’ administration?

ABRAMS: One is that the population has changed and the needs have accelerated. I respect the concerns that were raised by the Rollins family. I respect the environmental issues that were raised. But we are in an inflection point in the state of Georgia and we have a unique financial opportunity with the bipartisan infrastructure bill. The resources necessary to accelerate this project are finally available in the state. But we have to have the intention of a governor to make this possible.

We also know that right now, economic development is unevenly distributed across the state. While Floyd County has done well, Bartow County may have done well, we know Chattooga County continues to have one of the highest poverty rates in our state. We need leadership that understands that by bringing in that transportation corridor, we’re also bringing economic opportunity that is more evenly distributed, that can raise wages across the board. And by leveraging the bipartisan infrastructure bill we can actually develop and draw down those dollars to accelerate this project. Finally for the first time.

I was actually credited during my tenure in the legislature for my lead on transportation. I like to point out that I got the A rating from the Georgia Chamber of Commerce for the work that I’ve done on transportation issues. And because I was successful at bringing bipartisan support to issues, recognizing that it’s not just about the corridor, it’s also about making sure that we have ancillary transportation services available.

Because yes … we need the connector. But we also need to make certain that those who do not have cars still have access to transportation for the resources and opportunities that are going to come. And my plan looks at both the building of that corridor, but making sure that we have the type of public transit corollaries that we that we need to make sure that everyone is benefiting from these opportunities.

QUESTION: Some parts of (Northwest Georgia) have earned some major screen time from movies and television, including a recent film in season four of “Stranger Things.” As a recent guest artist self on Star Trek Discovery, what does the “President of Earth” plan to do to further promote our area and our state as a major creative hub?

ABRAMS: So in 2019 when the abortion ban was put in place, a number of industry leaders called the governor and did not receive a return phone call. It was so egregious and urgent that I was asked to fly out to California, and I met with studio heads. I met CEOs for a number of not only the largest studios but deepest investors in the state of Georgia. They credit me with helping save the industry when a number of those projects would have pulled out because of the abortion ban. We know that more than 1,000 show runners, producers and directors have all said that they are looking at relocating their projects and they are deeply concerned about what’s happening in Georgia.

We also know that the current governor has signaled that he believes there should be no exceptions for rape or incest. And he has signaled his very strong support of the Texas bounty-style approach to abortion issues. This is an economic issue, not putting aside but in addition to the bodily autonomy and civil liberties that women should enjoy in this state. This is an economic issue because other states are going to continue to compete with Georgia.

California has offered a $1.65 billion tax credit to lure companies back and for those who say well, they won’t leave. We need to remember that’s how we got it. We took it from North Carolina and Michigan. Georgia had a tax credit in 2004, as did Michigan and North Carolina. But because of overreaches by their governors and by disinvestment, when Georgia decided to re-up the credit in 2008 — and I was part of the subcommittee and Ways and Means that helped draw revise our credit to make it more appealing — we were able to steal opportunity because folks forget, North Carolina was a hub for filming in the early 2000s. We were able to steal those jobs, those jobs will leave Georgia.

It may not be immediate, but it will happen over time. If we are seen as a hard right state with anti-civil liberties laws. And because of the governor’s refusal to say that he will support marriage equality, because of the fact that if Obergefell falls, as did Roe v. Wade, Georgia has an anti gay marriage constitutional amendment. The governor has said he believes that marriage is between man and woman and he refuses to commit to actually pushing for legislation that will support marriage equality. Georgia will lose jobs.

And so if we believe in this industry, it is insufficient to simply have a tax credit when no one wants to come to the state to do the work. And that’s going to be the real challenge. The more draconian our laws become the more tenuous our ownership with this tax credit becomes.

But on the positive side, I am someone who not only strongly believes in the entertainment industry, I was at the table in 2008 when the expansion of the tax credit was brought to the Ways and Means Committee. I reached out to, in fact was sitting near, the chair of the committee and said can I be on the subcommittee because this is interesting to me and I watched an inordinate amount of television. He let me serve on that committee and over the next seven years during my tenure in the legislature. I worked again and again with the Department of Economic Development and with our film industry to make certain that we kept this credit in the state of Georgia. But I also have very deep relationships across the country, particularly in Colorado and California, with show runners with producers and as someone who is a creative myself who has been able to sell some of my ideas to … the entertainment industry, I’m working to make certain that when they decide where they’re going to film I want them to be able to film here in Georgia.

QUESTION: It sounds like you’re almost likening the … local film industry to maybe a sort of a gateway, or the canary in the coal mine if you will. Whereas if we see these things happening within that industry, either bringing investors in or keeping them away, are you saying that might signal other industries as well to do policy?

ANSWER: It absolutely will. We’ve also seen music Midtown leave Atlanta. Since 1994 Music Midtown has been a staple of the metro Atlanta music scene, but it brings in a cross section. It’s the only place you’re gonna find 2 Chainz and Fall Out Boy. It left this year because of the gun laws passed by the Republican governor in this state. Unfortunately … the current governor seems to believe that no one will leave.

We know that’s not the case. Because we have taken from other states. Why do we believe we’re impervious to the likelihood that they will leave? We know that as we move harder and harder, right — unlike a Disney World, Disney can’t just pack up and move. But a film can. A music festival can. And as we continue to try to attract a cross section of industry in a cross section of opportunity. Our No. 1 industry is agriculture but our second is tourism and restaurant industry. And then we got film and entertainment close behind. Those are absolutely fungible and we will lose opportunity if we do not have a governor who does more than simply pass laws that drive away the very people who make those industries run.

QUESTION: Healthcare is one of our strongest parts of the economy in Northwest Georgia. We’ve seen a lot of politics and affordable health care and not enough solutions. How would that change with Stacey Abrams in office?

ABRAMS: I will draw down $3.5 billion every single year to invest in health care. So, the Affordable Care Act was designed to solve what was the core issue of health care in the United States, which is that we had this fractured process where you received health insurance usually through your employer or through the federal government. You were either employer based health care or Medicare. And then in between if you were in the poorest echelons you received access to Medicaid.

That uninsured population in the center could not get it through their employers and were either too wealthy or too young to get it through the government programs. The ACA was designed to solve that problem by creating the marketplace which 700,000 Georgians use right now to buy health insurance. But we still have a gap of half a million dollars and almost 600,000 Georgians who could have access to health insurance, but they make too little to qualify for the marketplace. But they make too much to qualify for traditional Medicaid, that is what Medicaid expansion does.’

Medicaid expansion is not simply giving more people who are impoverished access to health insurance. It’s actually to cover the gap between those who simply don’t make enough to pay for out of pocket, but who make too much to qualify under Georgia’s fairly restrictive laws.

A person who makes $9 an hour in the state of Georgia is too wealthy for Medicaid and too poor to afford the ACA. But under Medicaid expansion, they could have access to health insurance. That is what I would do. We would expand the pool of available we expand the pool of customers who have health insurance by 600,000 people that benefits all of us because right now, Georgia has what’s called an uncompensated care rate. Which is poor people get sick whether they can afford to or not, they go to the doctor whether they can afford to or not. Every other Georgian pays their bill right now to the tune of $2.7 billion at the same time. If you have paid $1 in federal taxes, you’ve already paid for Medicaid expansion for Georgia.

But we do not accept the money. Every year the governor of Georgia for the last eight years has said no to our allocation. And that money doesn’t just go back into federal coffers. That money is then distributed to Indiana and Kentucky and Louisiana — to every other state that has expanded Medicaid. So Georgians are actually paying for other people to have health insurance and are unable to get it themselves. This is going to be a dire problem because what for a very long time was seen as mostly a rural issue has absolutely impacted us everywhere.

Commerce lost the hospital. Northeast Georgia lost the hospital. (Wednesday), Wellstar announced that it is likely to shut down the Atlanta Medical Center. Yes, as of today, because they do not have enough paying patients. That means that the capital city is going to lose a vital hospital because we will not expand Medicaid.

Now it is entirely possible that the governor will offer some stopgap measure, take some of the money from the ARPA funds and say, well, we’ll give them enough. But that doesn’t solve the systemic issue. Georgia is the second highest uninsured rate in the nation, 14.5% of our population does not have insurance. People get sick, whether they have insurance or not. We pay for it one way or the other and by refusing to draw down Medicaid, we are refusing to pay the difference. But, more than that, we’re actually forfeiting opportunity.

In every state that has expanded Medicaid. They’ve seen health care costs go down across the board. They’ve seen health outcomes improve across the board. They have seen fewer closures of hospitals across the board and they’ve seen 1,000s of jobs. New Jersey created 55,000 jobs and they expanded Medicaid.

Mike Pence as governor of Indiana expanded Medicaid and oversaw the increase of thousands of jobs. And we’re not talking 10 years for those jobs to come to fruition. We’re talking two to three years because these are health care jobs. And these are the supportive jobs that go around health care. So you’re talking about restaurant owners, and pharmacist … but we do know that Medicaid expansion will create 64,000 jobs in Georgia good paying jobs. It will provide health insurance to 600,000 Georgians, it will reduce the out of pocket cost for every Georgian. Because right now, we pay the cost of every person who goes to the hospital because they can’t afford to and it reduces the critical care needs.

But the other piece, and this is something that often gets left out of the affordable health care piece, right now the No. 1 provider of mental health care in Georgia, it’s not our medical, it’s not our community service boards, it’s not our hospitals, it’s law enforcement.

Until we expand Medicaid, law enforcement can only recoup its cost by billing Medicaid. But they can’t get recompensed because we do not expand Medicaid. They don’t get the money they need, and the populations that are often arrested and incarcerated for mental health issues are not the wealthy. They are those who fall into that gap.

We know that Brianna Grier in Hancock County died falling out of a police car because when her parents knew that she was having a psychotic break, they could not call a doctor. Because there was no doctor in Hancock County to call. They had to call the police. That’s what happens over and over again in the state of Georgia. When someone is in a mental health crisis. The only solution is to call the police is not their job. And they are not equipped to handle it.

We should be arresting people because they’re dangerous, not because they’re sick. Medicaid expansion would actually reduce the cost and the burden on law enforcement. In every state that has expanded Medicaid, they’ve seen the concomitant benefit to their ability to actually direct their resources to actual law enforcement as opposed to serving as responders to mental health crisis.

QUESTION: In Rome and Floyd County voters passed a special purpose local option sales tax to help expand medical care, including mental health, and the Floyd County Jail. Prior to that the Northwest Regional Hospital closed down in 2011. All that being said on what you just talked about here, is there a way where communities such as ours can recoup?

ABRAMS: It’s exactly how we recoup it. You have now taxed yourself twice for services you’ve already paid for. If we draw down Medicaid that SPLOST can be rededicated to another need. Although I will say this Georgia is also No. 48 in the provision of mental health services. We’re so far behind it may take a minute to catch up.

But let’s understand that part of the challenge is that Georgia can’t sustain the number of mental health professionals that we need because we do not pay them. You do not get mental health services in Georgia unless you can pay for it or unless you’re in crisis. Most of these challenges could be mitigated if people could get help when they’re sick, not when they’re in crisis. And so if we expand Medicaid, they actually get the preventative and long term care that they need before they hit crisis, before the police get called. You both reduce the population that the law enforcement has to deal with. But you also create other opportunities. Our community service boards would instead be the hub for delivering services, instead of our jails.

And that’s what Medicaid can do.

QUESTION: Also huge here in Rome of course is education — public and private. We’re home to four colleges, two public school systems, at least four private schools, and a pretty robust homeschool community. How do your goals align with the growth of all our education centers?

ABRAMS: I believe that parents are entitled to choose the educational platform that they find best for their children. The state’s responsibility is public education. It is in our constitution, and it is our most foundational obligation. It is how we provide futures for our children. It’s how we create a skilled workforce. It is a communal benefit that has a direct economic impact.

And it has been unfortunately woefully underfunded for the last 20 years. We are seeing an exodus of teachers. Georgia right now has a 67% retention rate. There is no other job where we would celebrate more than 33% of our workforce leaving. And if you talk to a teacher rarely does a teacher have time to do just the job of education. They are often doing second and tertiary jobs either at the school or they have to take on additional jobs to make ends meet. Georgia currently pays less as a starting salary than Mississippi or Florida to a starting teacher — $39,092.

I intend to raise the starting salary to $50,000 within the first four years of my administration. It is not only something we can do, it’s something we can afford to do without raising taxes. And in fact everything I have listed housing, healthcare, education, transportation — we can do all of these things without raising a dime in taxes. And if you don’t believe me go to my website. I actually have my spreadsheet that shows how it works.

But here’s the reality for education. We have to raise starting salary but we also have to raise teacher salaries by an average of $11,000 over the next four years. The $5,000 pay raise that they received over four year period was essentially gobbled up by inflation. Unfortunately for most teachers, those dollars they were already underfunded in real dollars. Teachers make less today than they made 20 years ago in the state of Georgia. And so we have not been keeping up with inflation or the cost of living and how we fund education.

Under my plan we will not only finance education through our educators, we will also help paraprofessionals our school bus drivers Georgia has a school bus driver shortage and I’m sure you all are facing that here. That shortage came about because I think it was 10 or 15 years ago, we shifted to a privatized model and we underpaid school bus drivers so much we — I was actually successful in stopping it — but there was even an effort afoot to strip them of unemployment benefits. We have to recognize that every person in our educational system needs to be there and they need to be able to make a living there. But that’s part of it.

The other part is that it is more expensive to educate a rural child, a child who speaks English as a second language, a child who is poor and a child who has special needs. Georgia has not right sized our funding formula since 1985. That is when the funding formula was put in place. Now, every four years right around this time, the governor will convene a commission to look at what we need to do. Nathan Deal did it, I read the report in 2015. Right now the same people are reading once again. It is not that we don’t know the answer, it is that we have yet to have the political will to implement the answer. And I will point out that the current governor slashed a billion dollars from education as recently as 2019.

The only reason we haven’t seen a concomitant cut is that Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff delivered billions of dollars in and economic funding to our schools during covid. That’s the only thing keeping our students afloat. And so we have to right size our funding formula in the state of Georgia.

On top of that, we can be supportive of our colleges — both technical college and a four year college. But let’s think about our kids who are graduating from high school, not every student finishes our high schools intends to go to college. We need to create more vocational opportunities. I want to create 20,000 apprenticeships where students can earn while they learn, including to agritech. This is an agricultural community. Why not make certain that we’re doing vo-tech that helps them move from school into farming? Georgia is facing a looming generational collapse where most of our farmers are older. And we are not replacing them but one in every seven jobs in Georgia is an agribusiness job. And so I want to use apprenticeships to start training the next generation.

I also want to make certain that if you want to go to technical college, we return to where we were in 2010 where technical college is free in the state of Georgia. It has been free before, I was part of working with Nathan Deal to save the HOPE Scholarship and that meant that we had to eliminate free technical college.

But we have stayed in that space for too long. We can now afford to make it free again, and we can sustain it through the expansion of gaming in the state of Georgia.

We’ve already decided we gamble in Georgia. Let’s stop pretending we don’t that’s what the lottery is. I want to expand access to gaming and sports betting and you guys know this better than anyone. There are folks here who drive north to go and bet on the Tennessee-UGA game but Tennessee gets the money for it. We don’t. Why not make sports betting legal in the state of Georgia? Why not look to casinos in other regions of the state …

And then for colleges, Berry Colleges is an amazing school but we know there are students at Berry who can barely afford to finish. We know there students in our public colleges who can’t finish and HOPE is good for those who get it. But when you lose HOPE it is almost impossible to regain, and HOPE does not pay for what it once paid for. Georgia is one of only two states in the nation that does not provide need based financial aid, at all.

Now the governor put in place a modest college completion grant. If you get 80% of the way through he’ll help you with the last 20%. Most students if you get to 80%, you figured it out. It’s the students who are just starting or never even dreamed of going who need the help … middle class families who have done exactly what they’re supposed to, but they can’t afford to send their kids to school. If we create need based financial aid in the state of Georgia, we can increase the population that can attend, and personally I believe you if you’re a C student you still should still be able to see your way to college. And so this will create a an expanded access. If we do so, we’re creating a faster and more nimble skilled workforce. We are creating more opportunity and across the board this is a sustainable program. Because we have $1 billion in unrestricted reserves sitting already in the lottery fund — money that could be used right now. And that’s this is not the fund we put in place to backstop the lottery.

This is literally unrestricted unreserved funds, and then you use $300 million to start this program. And then by the time we get gaming online you can sustain the program without raising a dime in taxes.

QUESTION: Let me backtrack on that either saying we have $1 billion sitting in the lottery right now?

ABRAMS: Yes, unrestricted and reserved. Yep, just sitting there … one of your former residents from this region, Stacey Evans, can tell you this is something she’s introducing. I asked her to start this when we work together in the legislature in 2011. I said look at what we can do with the lottery. She will tell you every year, she puts in legislation, and every year legislation gets ignored. The money is sitting there and we could have been spending it for our students this whole time. And for some reason they won’t.

QUESTION: So what is the money being used for?

ABRAMS: It is literally sitting there. And I was instrumental, as you know, at working with Governor Deal to save the HOPE Scholarship we put in place a backstop, so that if we ever faced another economic crisis — that backstop is fully filled. This is additional money.

QUESTION: Are there any other points you’d like to touch on?

ABRAMS: So one of the concerns that we know is plaguing Georgia is increased gun violence and it comes in two ways. We have the ninth highest rate of gun violence in the nation. And gun violence is the No. 1 killer of children in the state of Georgia — more than car accidents more than cancer. There is a concern that has been raised, that because I believe in gun safety that I’m somehow anti-Second Amendment. I grew up in Southern Mississippi I know how to shoot I know what a sawed off .410 looks like. I know how to use a weapon but I also know that the responsibility belongs to the gun owner … We have porous laws in the state of Georgia and the criminal carry law that was signed by Governor Kemp remove one of the ways we were able to track who had access to weapons in our state. It has made us less safe. And over the last 10 years we’ve seen a weakening of gun laws that have made us a dangerous place to live.

And it costs us money, is an economic issue but it’s also a personal issue. The conversations our school districts are having about hardening our schools. Yes, we need to make certain our students are safe, but we should not turn our schools into fortresses of fear. And we know that there is a concomitant increase when you have more school resource officers in schools, more students are then subjected to disciplinary action, which means that especially students of color are more likely to be treated as miniature criminals. Which means they are less likely to actually matriculate through and finish. And so we have to be very careful about how we respond.

That begins by saying that we’re going to do the right thing for gun safety. And this is a bipartisan issue. And the way I put it is look we can protect the Second Amendment and protect second graders. There is no reason to make an arbitrary choice. And my posture is one that is enjoyed and shared by Democrats and Republicans which is simply — let’s close loopholes. Let’s increase background checks and let’s make certain that gun safety is actually the law and not the exception in Georgia. Corollary to that, is that my position on law enforcement has been grossly misstated by the current governor to be very frank, he has lied about my posture. I’ve worked with the Georgia Sheriffs Association. I can tell you I’m the only candidate who has ever written SOPs for the police. I was deputy city attorney for the City of Atlanta and that was one of the jobs I had with one of my responsibilities and I have worked with law enforcement across the state on a number of issues. Often in the legislature when they couldn’t get Republicans to help them. They will come and find me because I support law enforcement but I believe that it is both supporting law enforcement and it is accountability.

We cannot pretend that racial violence and that police violence do not exist. But we do not have to treat every member of law enforcement is that they’re a bad actor. But we have to put in place more transparency and accountability. So those bad actors do not decrease the trust that the community has. And that’s what we’ve seen across the state. And it is naïve to ignore it. And it is, I believe, deeply problematic, that my belief that we can have both safety and justice has been not only dismissed by the current governor, it has been ridiculed by him.

The second part of that is that I worked for eight years with Nathan Deal to make Georgia the leader on criminal justice reform. And under the current governor, he has either slashed or ignored the programming that was put in place. And we are finding ourselves once again returning to a mass incarceration state where we are going to spend more and more on locking people up and less and less on making sure that people are on the road to redemption.

I want Georgia to be a leader. And that means that we have to do what’s right by our people. They have to be held accountable for their mistakes. Those mistakes should not be permanent. And in this region of the state where we know drug crimes have been a part of the challenge the absence of criminal justice reform, the absence of investing in criminal justice reform means that too many of our community members are going to be permanent outcasts — unable to get housing, unable to get jobs unable to get opportunity.

And then my last thing is this I believe in small businesses Georgia, we have been the beneficiaries of a number of mega corporations wanting to come here, but 99% of businesses in Georgia are small businesses. 43% of jobs are created by small businesses. They deserve the same type of attention and economic investment that mega corporations get. And that is what my plan delivers.

I intend to invest in them by creating a $10 million small business capital fund because I know how hard it is for small business to compete for a loan. Getting an SBA qualification just means they can give you the money. It doesn’t mean anyone will. You have to have a bank to actually write you the check and for too many of our small businesses they never get access. By the same token, being able to have the red carpet rolled out for you if you are Rivian or Kia should happen for small businesses. That’s why I want to create a small business … basically an entrepreneurs learner’s permit so you don’t have to learn on the job how to navigate some of the more difficult parts of being a small business owner in Georgia.

And I want to invest in our organic farms, Floyd County, Bartow County, Catoosa, Chattooga County — these are communities that are building the next wave of agricultural innovation. We should be in there with them and that’s why I want to create a $5 million family farm fund so that those small farms that it cost them about as much to navigate the USDA system as it does to get the money. Why not make certain that we create a fund so that we are actually, I hate to use this language, but incubating — investing in an organic way in the small farms. They don’t all need to be able to go out and buy the latest John Deere they might just need to be able to lease it and share it. But we need to be more innovative about how we leverage resources because those are also jobs that can be beneficial to our state and those are small business owners who deserve the same kind of investment and that’s my plan as governor. Thank you.