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January 12, 2021
Gaining Ground: The New Georgia
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In This Episode

Georgia once again made history with the elections of Reverend Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff to the U.S. Senate. Celebrations were cut short on January 6th as the harsh reality of the divided nation was clear when the U.S. Capitol was overtaken by a pro-Trump mob. How will the two new Democratic seats shape what is next and is Georgia’s flip the start of a new recognition of Black voters across America?


Featured in this episode: 

  • Nse Ufot- Executive Director, New Georgia Project 
  • Greg Bluestien – Political Reporter, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
  • Tia Mitchel – Washington D.C. Correspondent, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
  • Errin Haines – Editor-at-Large, The 19th
  • Jerry Gonzales, CEO, Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO)
  • Matthew Wilson – GA House of Representatives: 80th district
  • Mariah ParkerCountry Commissioner, Athens Clark County



Jewel Wicker: Nse, it sounds like you lost your voice a little bit. Is this from last night? Is this from the celebration?


Nse Ufot: No, I, uh, so I hit the road on New Year’s Day. Uh, so I took New Year’s Eve off — finger quotes.


Rembert Browne: This is Jewel, talking to Nse Ufot — CEO of THEE New Georgia Project.


Nse Ufot: But on New Year’s Day, I got on the road. We went to Savannah to love on our staff and organizers in Savannah. From Savannah, we went to Statesboro, Georgia in Bulloch County, and then from Bulloch County to Macon, Georgia — took everybody to church and then left Macon and went to Atlanta, back home to Atlanta, where we had a concert in partnership with Mrs. Obama’s When We All Vote, where I learned that it’s not Young Jeezy, it’s just Jeezy. Listen – we all grow up. But performances from like Atlanta — our Atlanta loves, the home team. Monica. Jeezy. 400 cars, people pledging to make sure that they annoy their friends and family in the group chat. And then Monday got up and got on the road and headed to Augusta. And in between all of that, doing press, to make sure that nobody tells our story, but us.


There’s no doubt in my mind that there are Stacey Abrams’ in Alabama and Louisiana in Texas.  There’s no doubt in my mind that they’re doing amazing work. I can’t wait for our siblings to turn up and shock the world and show what Southern organizing looks like.


Rembert Browne: From Tenderfoot TV and Crooked Media, this is Gaining Ground: The New Georgia. In this episode, we talk about a truly historic day — January 5th’s Georgia Senate runoffs. We also talk about what happened next, on January 6th, and what the future holds for Georgia politics, and the nation. 


I’m your host, Rembert Browne with Jewel Wicker.


Rembert Browne: There are some election days you just don’t forget. One for me was November 4th, 2008. After casting my first ever vote as a college senior, I ran through people’s yards in New Hampshire with a megaphone screaming “Obamaaaaaaaa,” after we got our first Black president. There was also November 8, 2016, when Trump won. I’ll always remember wandering through Brooklyn in the middle of the night after it was called, stumbling on a store that was closed, but had a TV on facing the street, playing the news. There was no sound, but people crowded, watching this beam of light from the screen — this beacon of disbelief, if you will. None of us spoke, but we all knew things would be different. 


November 3, 2020 was memorable, but the events will, eventually, blur. Because, to some degree, election day did become election week. But January 5th, 2021 — that’s gonna be clear as day, for a very long time. 


News clips:

“All eyes on Georgia today as voters cast ballots determining the balance of power in the Senate.”

“Two dozen people waiting in line when the doors opened at 7am and a steady stream of voters all morning long.”

“60% of the expected vote in and at this hour Warnock is leading 51% to Loefller’s 49%. It’s close”

“If one of the Republican candidates or both lose their seats in the Senate, who would be to blame?” “It would fall squarely on the shoulders of President Trump and his actions since November 3rd.”

“Two thirds in right now, just a little shy of two thirds, and you can see David Perdue has jumped Jon Ossoff in the vote count. He has a 16,000 vote lead.”


Rembert Browne: This is Greg Bluestein, who has been covering Georgia politics for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution since 2012. We asked him about his runoff election day. 


Greg Bluestein: That day, I think I woke up and did a lot of TV and radio hits. And so I sat right here where I’m speaking right now and did a bunch of those. I went out with Senator Loeffler to, she was in a sign waving thing, got a final interview with her. Went out and interviewed some voters went back, did more TV. My kids are doing virtual school at home, so hung out with them for awhile. They’re seven and ten. Then got out there and went to the Republican, uh, watch party. Before you go to those things, you’ve got to have all your prep ready because once you get there, you’re talking with people. And in this case, it’s like four different stories. It’s, it’s too close to call, the Democrats win, the Republicans win. One wins and the other doesn’t win. The first one was the most likely to happen.


I didn’t think there’d be any call ‘till like Friday. I was really worried that this would drag on. The last one, the split ticket was the one I thought was least likely just because these candidates have so aggressively tied themselves to each other. They’ve both run as packaged deals. I was bracing for an all-nighter, which is what I pulled. I pulled an all nighter, but like, I was also bracing for like multiple all-nighters ‘cause after November I stayed up straight for three or four days. I think I got maybe a couple of hours of nap in between, but pretty much straight for three or four days. But in this case I was ready for the same thing and even a grander scale, because this was control of the Senate.


It was before midnight on Tuesday, it was too close to, for anyone to call the races. And it was one of those moments where I’m at the Republican watch party. And you know, that, you know, there’s certainly operatives around you who know the score who know what’s happening, but you’re also surrounded by like donors and activists and just, you know, folks who aren’t as in tune. And they’re seeing Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue up by two points with whatever percent reporting, 70, 80%. So they’re, they’re in great moods like, Oh yeah, this is going to be great. She’s going to win. You know, a few of them saw one of my tweets saying otherwise and said, why are you such a downer? I said, look, the Dekalb County has got 160,000 votes that are still out. And Democrats are winning those 80/20. Like it’s not over yet, but it’s about to be over.


But it was probably around, um, a few hours later when it was done, you know, it was just, you just knew no one was going to concede that night. It wasn’t going to be an, an early end, but it was only a matter of time until the networks called it for both Warnock and Ossoff.


News Clips:

“At this hour, CBS News can characterize it, the race between Democrat Raphael Warnock and Republican-Imcumbent Kelly Loeffler is leaning Democrat. If Reverend Warnock holds on, he will become Georgia’s first Black Senator.”

“Dramatic change here. Both Republican leads have evaporated with about 98% of Georgia’s statewide vote totals now in.”

“Breaking news, we can now make a projection in one of the two Georgia Senate run offs. CNN will now project that Democrat Raphael Warnock is elected to the U.S. Senate.”

“The other race between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican David Perdue, well that remains still too close to call. I mean razor thin.”


Greg Bluestien: And then I, it struck me. I was like, wow, I should write a separate story about this is Abrams’s revenge because Stacey Abrams had had, was very involved in recruiting Reverend Warnock to run and clearing the field in a special election to make sure other Democrats didn’t run. So, and of course, Kelly Loeffler was Governor Kemp’s handpicked person. So this was kind of a proxy war in a way. And Stacey Abrams wins it hands down. Right? Two years after losing a really close election to Governor Kemp, she gets a measure of revenge by her favorite candidate. Her favorite candidate, uh, beating his handpicked candidate.  


Rembert Browne: Again, here’s Nse Ufot. We spoke to her the day after the election.


Nse Ufot: So yesterday and today have been a lot, you know, woke up at 5:00 AM on Tuesday, Election Day, as I’ve been doing for election days on election day for the past 15 years. We’ve been living through watching these multiple coup attempts. I mean, let’s just call them what they are. So I had no idea what Election Day had in store. And they say, if you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready.


So I wanted to make sure that I was ready for whatever yesterday had, but you know, made history, elected Raphael Warnock. Soon, we’re going to hear that uh, Jon Ossoff also got elected. When I tell you that this Baptist preacher and this Jewish young documentary filmmaker came out and said, we need police reform. Cause we not, we done dying that we needed $2,000 check. We’re not playing with you. And that’s just the beginning. The threat to our environment is an existential threat. There is absolutely a plan to hold them accountable, to make sure that they get to D.C. to do the people’s work. And I’m excited. I’m here for it.


Rembert Browne: Even with the Ossoff/Perdue race not officially called, it looked as if we were going to have a tie in the Senate. But that morning after the election wasn’t a complete moment of celebration for local Democrats. There was a third race. For the position of Public Service Commissioner, Daniel Blackman lost to incumbent Lauren “Bubba” McDonald.


Nse Ufot: I’m not going to lie. That hurt. It really did. We were having this conversation with our team earlier, how do we cut through the noise? What is the like, vote all the way down the ballot message or education that needs to happen?


Rembert Browne: As Nse said, not only were we all waiting for Jon Ossoff to officially be projected winner over David Perdue, but in Washington at the Capitol, Congress was counting the electoral votes, to officially nominate Joe Biden as our 46th president. Later in the day we would get the projection that we were waiting for.


News clip:

“Just want to make it official right now, CNN can now project that the Democrats will be the majority in the U.S. Senate. Jon Ossoff, the Democrat candidate in Georgia, he is defeating David Perdue, the Republican candidate. Earlier we projected that the Democrat Raphael Warnock…” 


Rembert Browne: After mobilizing voters for both the general election and the Senate runoffs, Jewel asked Nse what was next for her…


Nse Ufot: Well, I’m definitely gonna take some rest and I want to lead by example. I feel like martyrdom is definitely a mark of like movement and like justice work. And I want people to see that, like, we don’t have to kill ourselves. In fact, we do this work because we want to live and we want to live well. I’m going to get some rest. And then after that, the 2021 legislative session starts.


Jewel Wicker: Thank you so much Nse. I also just want to point out that in the 30 minutes that we’ve been on a call, I have gotten a push alert that they have officially stormed the Capitol in there, inside the Capitol. Now, so 


Nse Ufot: The U.S. Capitol?


Jewel Wicker: Yes, the U.S. Capitol. They are inside the U.S. Capitol right now. So if you, saw me looking at my phone it’s because it started blowing up with people being like there, I have friends who were in D.C. covering this and they’re like, they’re in the Capitol. So.


Nse Ufot: That’s insane.


News Clips:

“We’ve been following the situation right now. You are looking at a live look at the U.S. Capitol which is under lockdown right now.”

“Scaling walls, smashing windows, and shots fired. The United States Capitol building breached by a violent mob of President Trump supporters.”

“Well, what I saw today was an attempt at an insurrection, an attempt for a coup.”

“We are also learning that today’s insurrection has turned deadly. A woman was pronounced dead at a hospital after apparently being shot on Capitol grounds.”

“Ah, we can not allow these thugs, these terrorists, these, you know, traitors, to destroy our democracy.”

“This violence was sparked by the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, who rallied that crowd earlier today.”

“We’re gonna walk down to the Capitol because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong.”

“Let’s have trial by combat”

“Are you proud of what happened here today?” “Absolutely. I think we should have gone in there and janked our senators out by the hair on their head, and drug them out and said, no more.”

“It is terrible how this election was stolen. I had to come here and do my patriotic duty.”

“I’m proud that the patriots came out today to show their support for our president.”

“This is a peaceful protest.” “People have been hurt.” 

“We have to as American patriots, we have to do as we can to take back this country.”


Jewel Wicker: It was no secret that MAGA supporters from around the country were planning to meet in D.C. on January 6th. They’d been publicly planning for weeks to protest as Congress met to count and certify the electoral college votes that would make Joe Biden the next President of the United States. In a speech given before his supporters stormed theCcapitol, President Trump refused to concede. “Our country has had enough,” he said. “We will not take it anymore.” By mid-afternoon, one thing was clear: This was no longer a peaceful protest — this was an insurrection. 


Tia Mitchell of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, was scheduled to be interviewed for this podcast at 3 p.m. on this day, fifteen minutes after our call with Nse wrapped. As it turns out, she was a little preoccupied. Tia was inside the Capitol at the time of the riots. 


Tia Mitchell: My name is Tia Mitchell, and I’m the Washington correspondent for the Atlanta Journal Constitution newspaper. The way I had planned out my day and had started my day was to cover the joint session of Congress. You know, usually this is really routine. And even when there are objections, they usually don’t go anywhere. There were protests. There are protests often around the Capitol, but usually they’re not that big. This one was bigger. There was a perimeter and they were behind it. And so we went to the Chamber and it was business as usual. We knew something was wrong. The first indication was we found out that some of the office buildings in the Capitol complex were being evacuated. Then staff came around and told us they were going to lock down the Chamber and keep anyone from entering and exiting, because at that point they said the protesters were trying to get into the building.


It was turning into a riot. And then at a point they hustled out the leaders. And at that point, Capitol police told us to get face masks, um, gas masks, because they said the rioters were in the rotunda and they were using tear gas. The rotunda is just steps away from each chamber. And there’s literally just a door. There was probably 200 members of Congress in the chamber at the time. They tried to quickly evacuate, but some of the members were up on the upper level where visitors usually sit, that’s where the media was as well. And so there, isn’t a quick way to get down. Eventually we heard banging on the doors, they told us to crouch down, take cover. And there’s an iconic picture going around of members of the Capitol police with their guns drawn. You can see insurrectionists trying to break the windows into the door. I saw that in real time.


After a few minutes, they finally said they had secured the hallways. We had to kind of walk past some of the rioters that had been, you know, police had made them lay down, face down. And I just really went into reporter mode, breaking news mode. When I was a young reporter, I started out covering night cops in Jacksonville, Florida. And that means I’ve seen a lot of things, you know, and I’ve covered some big events and breaking news where your adrenaline is flowing. And you’re just trying to give updates minute by minute of what’s happening. Be the eyes in the room for people who aren’t there.


I did call my mom mainly because I knew that people, other people were going to start calling her and she’s not on social media and I didn’t want her to start getting calls and then panic. And so I called her and I said, I can’t talk, but I just want you to know I’m okay, whatever you see on the news, just know I’m okay. I just tried to chronicle it on social media because I wanted to get facts out there and accurate information about what we were seeing.


Jewel Wicker: Along with her other followers, I kept up with Tia throughout the frightening incident via her Twitter accounts. Among her updates, she tweeted about watching congressmen pray and hearing a loud bang, uncertain if it was a single gunshot or the sound from a teargas canister.


Even before the insurrection, though, Tia had become an essential voice in Georgia politics.


Tia Mitchell: People are thirsty for news sources they can trust and rely upon. And I think that’s showed during this runoff season. Even now I had to put on makeup this morning and do a TV hit is what they call it. That’s like TV speak for going on TV. And I’ve been doing TVs hits pretty much daily for the past week or two. And I, that’s a lot, you know, and I’m, I’m, I’m grateful for it. Let me be clear. I’m grateful for it. It’s a part of my job that I do enjoy. The eyes of the nation were on the runoffs and they wanted reporters with Georgia experience and Georgia ties to really help explain it. That’s been a really cool place to be, but that’s also a lot of pressure. I’m not perfect, but I want to make sure I live up to the importance of the moment.


And it’s still a busy time. You know, people ask, when am I going to be able to take time off? We’ve got to get through Inauguration. We’ve got to get through the first few weeks of the new session of Congress. And we’ve got four new congressional members from Georgia and that’s my job. And I plan on continuing to do it. Even when the eyes of the nation kind of move on from Georgia, the readers and viewers and listeners of Georgia are still coming to me to make sure that I tell them what our delegation is doing and how what’s happening in Washington affects the people of the peach state. And that’s my job. That’s my honor. And that’s what I plan to continue to do.


Jewel Wicker: Before the end of January  6th, Congress had returned to the Capitol, determined now more than ever to certify Biden’s win. Ahead of the Capitol riots, Kelly Loeffler, who had just lost the Senate race to Raphael Warnock, pledged to object to the electoral college certification process. But, the events that occurred hours earlier led her to change her mind. She did not object, although others in Congress went ahead with their plans to do so. Ultimately, Vice President Pence declared a victory for Joe Biden after 3 a.m. on January 7th..


After the violence that ensued at the Capitol, a number of resignations within the President’s own administration, increased calls for either a second impeachment hearing or the invoking of the 25th amendment, which would allow the Vice President or Trump’s Cabinet to remove him from office, and speculation regarding whether or not he could be criminally charged for inciting an insurrection, President Trump seemingly backtracked on a previous video in which he told MAGA supporters at the capitol that he loved them and they were “very special.”


This new video wasn’t quite a concession, but it did feature Trump admitting that his time as president was coming to an end. 


Clip of President Trump’s speech:

I’d like to begin by addressing the heinous attack on the United States Capitol, like all Americans, I am outraged by the violence, lawlessness and mayhem.America is, and must always be a nation of law and order. My campaign vigorously pursued every legal avenue to contest the election results. Now Congress has certified the results, a new administration will be inaugurated on January 20th. My focus now turns to ensuring a smooth, orderly and seamless transition of power. This moment calls for healing and reconciliation. Thank you. God bless you. And God bless America.


Jewel Wicker: While MAGA supporters invaded the U.S. Capitol, Chester Doles, a former KKK leader, was in the Georgia State Capitol, looking for Brad Raffensperger’s office. The Secretary of State had just been escorted out of the building, avoiding a confrontation. No one was hurt in Georgia’s small protest outside of the state capitol, but five people, including a Capitol police officer, died as a result of the insurrection in D.C.


Errin Haines: My name is Errin Haines and I am Editor-at-large at the 19th. It is focused, uh, on the intersection of gender politics and policy. And we are charged with no less than changing the game around the narrative, uh, around, uh, women in politics. 


Rembert Browne: By the way, that’s Errin, E R R I N. And don’t you ever forget it. 


Errin Haines: I think, in Atlanta, you know, because we were in proximity to so many of these people, they were there in plain sight. And if you were paying attention, you could see them, right. I mean, we grew up seeing Coretta Scott King, walking the streets of Atlanta. We had proximity to her. Juanita Abernathy was there that somebody like me could go to lunch with. And it’s just like, Oh my God, I can’t believe I’m getting these stories from, from this person. Evelyn Lowery, definitely women who were front and center in the movement who were getting arrested, who were organizing, who were pushing for change, even though they didn’t have the same spotlight and have not gotten the same recognition, their shoulders were absolutely to the plow on, on this work and amplifying them and recognizing them as part of this continuum that gets us to where we are now. We can’t do that enough, I don’t think. And that is something that I with the platform that I have and the voice that I have for as long as I have it, uh, will continue to do. 


Rembert Browne: Growing up Black in Atlanta, and in Georgia, instills in you an importance of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Only two states have more than Georgia’s nine (a number that’ll hopefully be 10 again, one day, with the accreditation of Morris Brown College), and no single city has more than Atlanta. Not only are HBCUs great institutions, but they’re the training grounds for so much of our Black leadership. Our next Vice President, Kamala Harris went to Howard. The Mayor of Atlanta, Keisha Lance Bottoms, is a Florida A&M Rattler. And, of course, there’s Stacey Abrams, Spelman College, Class of 1995. 


Let that short list of names be a reminder that Black women have been, and continue to be, the backbone, the heart, and the engine of both the progressive agenda and of the Democratic party. 


Errin Haines: Just the story of Black women. I would say, even from 2016 to now, you know, for everybody else that is now recognizing the power, uh, that they had, even in an unofficial capacity, these are folks who had to make a way out of no way and to build their own infrastructure. For them to be finally, you know, getting their due because they frankly said No More Play in GA I’m here for it. You know, I think it’s a remarkable, it’s one of the best storylines in politics. And, and I was just really happy to get to cover that, not just as like the sideline story, but as the story.


And so for this to come down to not just the contest between these four candidates, but really a contest between voter suppression versus voter turnout and for voter turnout to win and for Black people to be that key to that is no small thing. In the deep South. I have covered Southern politics, Georgia politics, long enough to know that there are two things that are very rare in, uh, in that domain. One is a white Democrat and two is a Black Democrat that gets elected statewide. Both of those people were on the ballot and both of them won, like, it really does blow your mind unless you are obviously somebody like Stacey Abrams or Latasha Brown, who believes if they had the political imagination to believe that this was possible. And so that is how we now find ourselves here.


News clips:

“More than one million Black Americans cast their ballots in Georgia during the 2020 election. Organizations such as Black Voters Matter and the New Georgia Project got right back to work.”

“Let’s bring in Latasha Brown, she’s the co-founder of Black Voters Matter Fund.”

“Black America showed up for the Democractic party. We showed up quite frankly for this nation. We showed up for democracy. We showed up for ourselves.”

“We made a difference. If there were three words that capture what is happening in Georgia right now, it is black voters matter.”


Rembert Browne: This is Jerry Gonzales, the CEO of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, or GALEO.


Jerry Gonzalez: GALEO is a nonprofit nonpartisan organization focused on promoting civic engagement and leadership development of the Latino community in Georgia. 


Well, the Latino Community in Georgia is about a million people. Two thirds of that is of Mexican descent. Next biggest segment of the population is Puerto Ricans. A lot of it is anchored within the Metro Atlanta area, but there’s Latinos in every, every county. And there’s 159 counties in Georgia. When we started as an organization in 2003, there were only 10,000 Latinos registered to vote. Now we estimate that there’s about 250,000 and the Latino electorate in Georgia has been outperforming the national Latino voter participation rate for several election cycles now, and certainly broke records this, this election cycle too.


The records were broken because there was a lot at stake. Determining the president, the outcome of the presidency was a big concern for our community. Given the hateful rhetoric that was coming from the Trump administration, people were, were willing to go vote on behalf of our community that didn’t have the right to vote, to make sure that we can move forward with some federal solutions for immigration reform.


It’s been a collaborative effort that we’ve been working on. GALEO is part of a state table collaborative called pro-Georgia, where there’s 40 other organizations that focus on promoting civic engagement in their own respective communities. Over the years, we’ve registered probably well over about 40,000 people at naturalization ceremonies. Normally we go door to door, but we are in a pandemic and that’s a little bit difficult these days. So what we did this year was we implemented a very robust mail program for the general election. We sent four rounds of mailers to the Latino community. We lead with Spanish instead of with English. Spanish speaking voters are lower propensity voters, and we wanted to make sure that they felt comfortable being educated and informed about the process.


Language access is a big issue in Georgia. There’s only one county that provides Spanish language access out of 159 counties, We did a lot of partnerships with Spanish media. And then of course, we did a lot of phone and text banking to our community in-language to make sure people knew where to go to for resources in Spanish and, uh, where they could call and find out where they needed to go vote. 


Rembert Browne: On January 11th, the Georgia State Legislature is officially in session. And the stakes are high. 


Jerry Gonzalez: They’re talking about restricting voting access, trying to make it more difficult for people to request absentee ballots and vote by mail. It was a process that the Republican leadership implemented because it worked well with their voters. Well, now that Black, Brown and Asian voters have learned how to utilize, they don’t like it as much. So I’m going to call it for what it is. It’s a racist attack on voting rights of minority communities. And we’re going to be fighting that at legislature. We’ve got our eye on the prize of redistricting. We want the redistricting process centered on community and not on politicians or parties. 


We’ve got a lot of work cut out for us for the 2021 sessions.


Rembert Browne: Not only will these issues be addressed as the legislature convenes, but also a bill to end runoffs. One of those state legislators is Matthew Wilson, who we spoke with in our first episode. He represents House District 80, which covers parts of Brookhaven, Sandy Springs, and Chamblee. 


Matthew Wilson: One of the things that we are going to see this legislative session in Georgia is a discussion about runoffs. We have a law in Georgia in every race, no matter what the position is for, the victor has to win 50% plus one. And if you don’t win 50% plus one, you have to have a runoff. It’s the counties in Georgia that run elections. And when there’s a runoff, the state doesn’t say, Oh, okay. Uh, DeKalb County is going to have to have a run off. Let me get a checkbook out, send them a check for the runoff. No, it’s Dekalb County. That’s going to say, holy cow, we’ve got to have a runoff now. Someone go find a hundred thousand dollars. So we can fund this runoff. You know, I’m working with a group of legislators right now to draft legislation, to get rid of runoffs in Georgia and go to rank choice voting.


Rembert Browne: Ranked-choice voting is a system that lets voters submit ballots where they can rank their first-choice candidate, as well as their second choice, third choice, etc. It’s being increasingly adopted by cities and states across the country.


Matthew Wilson: It’s also incumbent upon us to make it easier and more predictable for low propensity voters to participate in the process. That’s a big challenge that I’ve struggled with. I know all down-ballot candidates struggle with it is how do we get these voters to understand that we have much more control over what happens in presidential years if we continue to show up for every election and a lot of ways, there are a lot more important.


Rembert Browne: Representative Wilson spoke with Christina Dana, our lead producer for Gaining Ground, about their shared home county. 


Christina Dana: I’m in DeKalb County. And I think we’ve been voting for sheriff for like eight years. I swear. And I have to like research all of them every time, but I know that it’s important if I ever encounter the sheriff to have a say in what they do. But it’s exhausting,


Matthew Wilson: It’s so funny that you mentioned that particular race. I know Melody Maddix, um, who was our sheriff and I was writing her a congratulatory note. I said, you can finally stop running and actually do the job now, you know, she’s, she’s had to win three elections back to back to back to be able to be sheriff. It’s exhausting. It’s exhausting for me. So I know it’s exhausting for everybody else because I live on this stuff.


Jewel Wicker: Even before the general election, Trump had refused to agree to a peaceful transfer of power. He’s only been building on that notion since he lost to President-elect Biden, using unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud, as his excuse. For anyone who has been paying attention, the events that happened during the first full week of 2021 shouldn’t be much of a surprise.


Still, it was major news when an hour-long call of President Trump pressuring Georgia’s Secretary of State to reexamine the general election and find votes in his favor leaked the Sunday before the runoffs. This, along with the President’s claims of voter fraud, sent a confusing message to Republican voters about whether or not they should even bother showing up to the polls for Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue.


Audio of phone call:

Trump: “We have won this election in Georgia, based on all of this. There’s nothing wrong with saying that Brad. You know, having a correct, you, you. The people of Georgia are angry. And there’s nothing wrong with saying that, you know, uh, that you’ve re-calculated.”


Raffensperger: “Well, Mr. President, the challenge that you have, is that the data you have is wrong.”


Trump: “You should want to have an accurate election, and you’re a Republican.” 


Raffensperger: “We believe that we do have an accurate election.”


Trump: “No, I, no you don’t, no. You don’t have, you don’t have, not even close. You’re off by hundreds of thousands of votes. So look, all I want I wanna do is this, I just wanna find, uh, eleven thousand seven hundred and eighty votes, which is one more than we have, because we won the state. So, so, tell me Brad, what are we gonna do? We won the election and its not fair to take it away from us like this and its gonna be very costly in many ways. And I think you have to say that you are going to re-examine it and you can re-examine it, but re-examine it with people that want to find answers. Not people that don’t want to find answers.”


Jewel Wicker: A quick reminder, Georgia is a one-party consent state, meaning as long as one party on a call agrees to being recorded, it’s legal. 


Rembert Browne: Where do you see both, you know, both parties going the right is clearly a fractured party…. 


Jewel Wicker: Rembert caught back up with Greg Bluestein to get his opinion on the future of both parties.


Rembert Browne:… as we, you know, we enter 2021 and then another, you know, set of elections down the road. 


Greg Bluestein: Democrats are going to continue going down this path. I don’t know if Georgia’s is going to be the next Virginia. Like they hope, you know, turning into a solidly blue state. We might be more like Florida where elections for the next five, six, 10 years are really, really close and could teeter either way. But Stacey Abrams showed really everyone in Georgia that there is a path to victory by embracing liberal ideas and initiatives that just a few years ago, Democrats would, wouldn’t have touched with a 10 foot pole. You know, gun control, raising the minimum wage, income equality, racial justice, all these, all these policies that she brought up, that Democrats didn’t touch in 2014. And it was considered shrewd political strategy that they didn’t, um, showed that there was a pathway. So I think Democrats continue to do that. They’re not going to be as afraid to embrace liberal ideas. On the Republican side, you’re exactly right. There’s a reckoning coming. I’m not sure where that will lead the legislative session. Starting in days, Republicans have a choice here because the grassroots base still, or is very loyal to President Trump. Look at what’s happening to Brian Kemp. Donald Trump is promising to appear personally to rally against Brian Kemp next year. And a crowd in Dalton went wild over that. If you go against Trump right now, you get vilified by your own base, but they have that, they have that choice. Do they move on to a post-Trump era where they try to find other political leaders or do they stick with President Trump’s brand of very divisive politics? And we’re not sure where they’re going in that one yet. And I haven’t gotten a clear answer from party leaders yet. And even Governor Kemp still hasn’t directly swung back at President Trump, but that, that reckoning is coming. It’s so easy to paint the suburbs of some, with some broad brush stroke as like just white moderates, but it’s so different now. And that’s the story I think of the next decade too. If the suburbs become even more Democratic, it’s really hard for Republicans to have any sort of shot at statewide races because the rural areas they’re running by 70, 80%. They’re not gaining in population. So they’ve got to figure out their strategy. Georgia is so much more nuanced than, than it looks a map.


It’s easy to just paint this. Oh, it’s all right. Southern politics. And they’re just, you know, cozying up to Trump. They don’t care. The reality is some of them really believe him and believe all this and others held their nose and are saying stuff they don’t believe. I don’t know, which is worse if you don’t believe it. And you’re saying it, or if you do believe it, and you’re saying it, but either way that helped drive all their decisions over the last well, four years, but really the last year of these runoffs.


Rembert Browne: Following the domestic terrorist act at the US Capitol, Georgia Republican Congressman Jody Hice posted a now-deleted Instagram post, with the caption: “this is our 1776 moment.”


Some of his colleagues have called for his removal from office. One woman, Mariah Parker — the current County Commissioner of Athens-Clarke County — is considering a run to unseat him in 2022. The story of Parker — who was elected County Commissioner in 2018 at the age of 26 — is yet another story of the direction Georgia is headed.


Mariah Parker: I definitely never thought I was gonna run for office like ever, ever, ever, ever, ever. I thought I was disqualified for just various aspects of my identity, as well as life experiences I have having, you know, once upon a time been arrested once upon time, you struggled with substance abuse and drug addiction and all these other things. I’m just like, nah, like I, ain’t not going to change the world. And still the day came that I had been working on my friend’s campaign for county commission and discovered that in my own district, there was a gentleman who had served as commissioner for twenty-five years, largely unopposed throughout that two and a half decades span and as well, someone who was running to be his successor was running unopposed. I was like, the people deserve a choice. If they roundly reject me fine, they at least had an option. So I decided to jump into the race about three months before the election. Knocked on thousands of doors, called thousands of people, and won by 13 votes.


Rembert Browne: When someone asks “does every vote matter” — think about Matthew Wilson, who told us that his district in 2016 — the district he now represents — flipped from blue back to red by 286 votes. And think about Mariah Parker, who won her election by 13 votes. Yes, from the top to the bottom of the ballot — every vote matters. 


Mariah Parker: I saw that no one else was stepping up to do this and that like, if it’s nobody else, it has to be you, you can’t wait around for somebody else to like, come save the day. I just need a walk with the swagger of like a balding 40 year old white guy. And then everyone will start listening to me.


Usually, you get sworn in in the basement of city hall with like your husband there or whatever. And I wanted to, as I had throughout my candidacy, and had throughout my political, if you want to call it a political career or that as a community organizer, is wanting to invite people into the process and make politics fun. So I was like, let’s make it a thing. Let’s have it on the steps of city hall. Let’s invite a bunch of people. Let’s do some chants. Let’s have some speeches. Let’s like, you know, turn up a little bit. Cause like, you know, and then maybe those people will come to the commission meeting afterwards and listen to the stuff we’re voting on and like feel invited into participating in their local government. And as well, they had asked me like, oh, just bring a copy of whatever you want to be sworn in on.


And I was like, oh, I didn’t know you had a choice. Like that’s pretty lit. Like I just had a sworn in on the constitution or whatever, or you know, the Bible. I had recently finished reading the autobiography of Malcolm X and felt very inspired by the way that he had turned his tumultuous upbringing into a source of like political solidity. Like, you know, like he was unfuckwithable. And so I wanted to embody that in my own leadership as a commissioner. And so I decided to be sworn in on that text, apparently that was a big deal. But for some reason she said my oath and we all went into the meeting and I cast my first vote.


Rembert Browne: And it wasn’t just one hand on The Autobiography of Malcolm X, but her mom was the one holding it. And it wasn’t a pristine, fresh out the bookstore copy — it was one that was a bit worn around the edges, like it’d been passed around a bit, read by a few fortunate souls. And that wasn’t it either — her right fist was in the air. 


I can only speak for myself, but this is the stuff dreams are made of, happening in real life. 


Mariah Parker: They might try to tell you when you’re growing up, like, oh, you can be anything, but there’s all this, all this, the signs and signals to the contrary. You can do anything, if you stay out of trouble, if you say no to drugs and like you do good in school and you know, you stay away from the police, but actually we need people representing us, have done the opposite of all of that. Because so many people have been making decisions for us, the fallen and the vulnerable and the swept aside that like we need people who have been to jail, like determining what the future of our criminal justice system looks like. People who dropped out of college or got kicked out of high school to be the ones deciding our education policy. Because those are the folks who are being failed by the policies created by others who have no idea what their experiences are like. And so if you’re interested in politics, but you’re like, man, I got that, got that shop lifting thing on my record or man resume ain’t right. You know, I work at a diner, I make 7.25, there’s no way for me.  No, we’ll make a way for you together because we need that representation and people are hungry for it and thirsty for it. You just gotta step up. So do it, step up.


Rembert Browne: People from every corner of Georgia stepping up is what turned Georgia blue. And as every organizer and elected official that fought for that result will tell you, it’ll take even more people stepping up, as we push toward 2022, 2024, and beyond. 


Yes, Georgia put the country on its back. But more impressively — Georgia stood up for itself. 


What Georgia has done will long be discussed and will never be forgotten. But organizers in this state have no intention of settling, staring at its achievement like a trophy in a case, or basking in its glory of being a blueprint for states around the country.


Georgia’s just getting started. One more time, with my dear friend, the big homie, Errin Haines. 


This is my final question. And I’m just curious, your thoughts. Do you think that Stacey will run?


Errin Haines: Yeah, I do. This is somebody who was recruited to be, to run for Senate run for one of those Senate seats. This is somebody who has been recruited to join the Biden administration. Stacey Abrams wants to be Governor of Georgia. And I don’t see how, even with everything that has happened, that she doesn’t still want to be Governor of Georgia and Stacey Abrams, frankly, did do something in 2020 that she was unable to do in 2018. And that is she beat voter suppression. She beat it. So now what does she do next?


Rembert Browne: At the end of episode 1 we played you part of Stacey’s “this is not a concession” speech after the 2018 election… but we didn’t quite play you all of it.  She ended the speech on a last line,…a hope for the future…a determination and promise that we can now say came absolutely true. 


Stacey Abrams clip:

‘I acknowledge that former Secretary of State Brian Kemp will be certified as the victor in the 2018 gubernatorial election. But to watch an elected official who claims to represent the people in this state, baldly pin his hopes for this election on the suppression of the people’s democratic right to vote has been truly appalling. So let’s be clear, this is not a speech of concession. We deserve a state that elects leaders who will not tolerate the erosion of our values. Fair fight Georgia, because these votes are our voices and we are entitled to our choices each of us. And we have always been, Georgia, at the forefront of speaking truth to whatever power may lay claim to leadership, if only for a moment. And we will win because we are Georgia, and I promise you, we we will get it done”


Jewel Wicker: Gaining Ground: The New Georgia is brought to you by Tenderfoot TV and Crooked Media, in association with Cadence 13


Donald Albright and Payne Lindsey are Executive Producers on behalf of Tenderfoot TV.


Jon Favreau and Tanya Somanader are Executive Producers on behalf of Crooked Media.


Executive Produced, written and hosted by Rembert Browne.


Written and co-hosted by Jewel Wicker.


Our lead producer is Christina Dana. 


Gaining Ground: The New Georgia is produced by Jaime Albright, Mike Rooney, Matthew Pusti, Julia Beverly, Tracy Leeds Kaplan, Anne Rusten, Christina Toney-Schmitt and Stephanie Booker, with additional production support from Shaniqua McClendon and Justine Howe.


Edited by Christina Dana and Mike Rooney. Mixed and mastered by Cooper Skinner, with additional mixing by Devin Johnson.


Original music is by Makeup and Vanity Set. Special thanks to Chris Corcoran and the team at Cadence 13, Oren Rosenbaum and Grace Royer from UTA, Ryan Nord, Jesse Nord and Matthew Papa from The Nord Group, and the teams at Tenderfoot TV, and Crooked Media.


And an extra thanks to all our guests and contributors who helped make this show possible.


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