SHOP NEW MERCH SHOP NEW MERCH
December 17, 2020
Gaining Ground: The New Georgia
Wins and Losses

In This Episode

As Georgia gears up for another Election Day, we take a look back at the significance of the 2018 Governor’s race that vaulted Stacey Abrams and Georgia politics onto the national stage.

 

Featured in this episode:

  • Nse Ufot- Executive Director, New Georgia Project

  • Hank Klibanoff – Emory University Professor in Practice, Creative Writing

  • Tamara Stevens- Grassroots Organizer in Atlanta and North Fulton

  • Lucy McBath- U.S. Representative for Georgia’s 6th district

  • Matthew Wilson – GA House of Representatives: 80th district

  • Shelly Hutchinson- GA House of Representative: 107th District

 

Transcript:

[0:02] Nse Ufot: When she laid out her vision, this idea that we were going to add a million people to the voter rolls. I tell people I had 33 reasons why this would never work. She had like 34 reasons why it absolutely would work. And she was right. As usual. (laughs)

 

[0:19] Rembert Browne: This is Nse Ufot, CEO of the New Georgia Project, talking about a chance encounter in 2014. 

 

[0:27] Nse Ufot: A mutual friend said, are you coming home for the holidays? And I was like, yes, of course. She said, I would love for you to meet this state rep. Her name is Stacey Abrams. She’s doing some incredible things. And I think you guys need to connect. And I was such an asshole. Like I don’t I’m, you know, I’m really coming home to hang with my family. I don’t really need any new friends. Like there’s just a lot, you know? And then she was like, no, you guys should really have brunch. And I was like, well, should have led with that. Of course I’ll have brunch with this random state representative, because that is the national pastime in Atlanta.

 

We had brunch on New Year’s Day in 2014. I had packed my truck by August, drove the 24 hours from Ottawa in Canada, where I was living at the time, back home to Atlanta. And now we are here where we are today.

 

[1:19] Rembert Browne: Today, Georgia looks very different than it did on New Year’s Day in 2014. Surrounded by five states that went red, Georgia’s a blue state for the first time since 1992. To understand this shift, journalists, pundits and everyday Americans have rightfully reflected on Georgia’s 2018 gubernatorial election.

 

[1:39] Stacey Abrams: Hello on September 18th, thousands of Georgians began casting absentee ballots determined to lift their voices in the democratic process of electing our leaders for the next two years. The next four years.

 

A few weeks later, more than 2 million Georgians declared their choices heading to polling places for early votes. And then on November 6th, more than a million folks arrived in precincts around our beloved state, anxious and excited to express their patriotism through the fundamental act of voting.

 

[2:11] Rembert Browne: On November 16th, 2018, former Minority Leader of the Georgia House of Representatives, Stacey Abrams, was set to end her bid for Governor. She had just narrowly lost the bid to become the first Black woman to be elected Governor in the U.S. 

 

Republican Brian Kemp, who was also the Secretary of State at the time, overseeing the very election in which he was also a candidate, had won.

 

[2:35] Stacey Abrams: For these millions of Georgians, the act may have proven tedious and hard, but they had no doubts their votes would be counted. However, this year more than 200 years into Georgia’s democratic experiment, the state failed its voters. You see, despite a record high population in Georgia, more than a million citizens found their names stripped from the rolls by the Secretary of State.

 

[2:59] Rembert Browne: Abrams admitted defeat, but she refused to concede. Instead, she used her speech to criticize the man she’d previously referred to as the “architect of voter suppression.” This speech. This race. And this candidacy would shift Georgia and impact American politics for years to come.

 

[3:17] Stacey Abrams: Parents stood in the fitful rain in four hour lines, watching as less fortunate voters had to abandon democracy in favor of keeping their jobs and collecting a paycheck. Under the watch of the now former Secretary of State, democracy failed Georgia. Georgians of every political party, every race, every region, again.

 

[3:44] Rembert Browne: From Tenderfoot TV and Crooked Media, this is Gaining Ground: The New Georgia. In this limited series podcast, we’ll tell the story of this historic moment — from how Georgia went blue, and what took so long, to the upcoming Senate runoff and what’s next, once we know the results. 

 

I’m your host, Rembert Browne.

 

[4:24] Rembert Browne: Where was I the last time Georgia went blue? It was 28 years ago.

 

Rembert Browne, as a child: 416 Mathewson Place.

Woman’s voice: Where do you live?

Rembert Browne, as a child: In Georgia.

Woman’s voice: What part of Georgia?

Rembert Browne: Mathewson Place. Atlanta Georgia

Woman’s voice: Do you know how to count to one hundred?

 

[4:44] Rembert Browne: That’s right. 416 Mathewson Place, Southwest Atlanta. It’s a brick house, less than 2 miles away from where my mother went to high school and where I first swung a tennis racquet. Only a few turns away from streets that make you feel something, if you’re from Black Atlanta — Ben Hill. Cascade. Beecher. MLK. Abernathy. Benjamin E. Mays. 

 

I took to local politics early. I wrote a letter to then-Mayor Bill Campbell when I was 10 and tacked it to a bulletin board, hoping he’d walk by and see it. Six years later, when then-Mayor Shirley Franklin came to my high school, The Paideia School, she asked the student body who was interested in public service. I raised my hand and she actually called on me, asking what job I’d like to pursue.

 

“Yours,” I said.  

 

That dream didn’t exactly pan out, but I stayed close — becoming a journalist that went to Ferguson in 2014, Selma in 2015, and by 2016 was covering the Presidential Election.

 

Growing up, I’d always heard the phrase — there’s Atlanta, and then there’s Georgia. I’d listen to adults talk about the prospect of Georgia flipping every state and national election, my entire life. But when it came down to it, I was used to Georgia being called for Republicans by dinner time. 

 

But this year, not only has Georgia flipped blue, but the 2 Georgia senate races are headed to runoffs, and will decide the balance of power in Washington. 

 

NPR estimated that about 158 million Americans voted in this year’s general election, 20 million more than in 2016. With 66.5 percent of eligible voters mailing in ballots or turning out at the polls, voter turnout was the highest it’s been since 1900. Even outside of Georgia, this election was historic in many ways.

 

[6:30] News journalist: Turning back now to our election coverage over the past three-weeks. We have seen record early voting here in Georgia and it is not expected to slow down today.

 

News journalist: Good morning to you Michael, I just want to underline, uh, something here. I have lived in this state for more than 20 years and if Joe Biden is able to win this state, he will have accomplished something that we rarely see here.

 

News journalist: It’s official, Georgia has certified Joe Biden as the state’s 2020 winner after hand counting nearly five-million ballots. The Trump campaign has until Tuesday to request…

 

[7:03] Rembert Browne: When we started asking people why they thought GA flipped blue, more often than not the answer was Stacey Abrams, who has become a patron saint of voting rights since her 2018 loss.

 

But there are two things that Stacey Abrams has continuously reminded us of since this year’s general election. The first is that flipping Georgia blue is not something that happens overnight, over months, or even over a year. It takes years of collective effort, fighting on many fronts. The second is that this wasn’t her fight alone. 

 

[7:34] Nse Ufot: I think that the work of organizing is organizing people or organizing resources to address an issue. And I say issue not necessarily in the negative way, but what is of importance? What are your hopes for yourself, for your family, for your community? What are your fears and concerns for yourself, for your family and your community?

 

[8:03] Rembert Browne: Again, this is Nse’ Ufot, from that story about thinking Stacey was crazy and never turning down brunch. 

 

[8:10] Nse Ufot: I am the CEO of the New Georgia project and the New Georgia project action fund, and the founder of the new South superPAC. New Georgia project is a non-partisan civic engagement organization. We’re probably best known for having registered half a million young people and people of color to vote in all 159 of Georgia’s counties.

 

The work of the New Georgia Project is a year round, right? 365. We are party to dozens of lawsuits. Thousands of memes (laughs), all a part of our organizing to build a better Georgia to build a better country. But elections are only opportunities for us to test the power that we’re building, that we’re constantly building power. And so Leader Abrams’ election was a big opportunity to test our power, but it was also an opportunity to stress test Georgia’s election system. And the truth of the matter is that voter suppression was very much alive and well. And we’d been talking about it for quite some time and people, particularly like the national press ignored it. Like no one cared. I spent the better part of 2017 and 2018 talking about all of the weaknesses and Georgia’s elections infrastructure and talking about all of the ways that white Republicans steal votes and mute or neutralize, this sort of voter enthusiasm, and no one wanted to cover it.

 

They started covering it around Halloween of 2018, a couple of days before the general election. And even then it was only covered in the context of, is Brian going to count every vote?

 

[10:04] Rembert Browne: And by Brian, she means then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp.

 

[10:08] Nse Ufot: The person that’s the chief elections officer who’s supposed to ensure the integrity of the election was also a candidate at the top of the ticket. People were questioning whether or not that was going to have an impact. Of course it was.

 

It allowed people to see in real time, what modern day voter suppression looked like. I think too, it radicalized a whole new generation of young voters who are like democracy, defenders and democracy crusaders. We got to register 18,000 18 year olds in 2018. It was a boom. It was an explosion. Most of them wanted to vote for Stacey Abrams. And then they saw their votes basically being invalidated and they have become some of our most vocal, aggressive, loyal volunteers.

 

So now folks that were born in 2001, 2002, and they’re voting for the first time in these presidential elections, they’ve seen themselves flip a state. They are on their way to flipping control of the United States Senate. So connecting the dots between the vote and the change that they want to see, like there’s no amount of focus group messaging that we could have done that connects the dots in the minds of a new voter, the way flipping a state has. And the way the entire country is talking about Georgia, they know their vote is powerful and that’s going to have implications for elections to come.

 

[12:03] Rembert Browne: Even though she didn’t become Georgia’s governor in 2018, Stacey Abrams still wanted to make an impact. Frustrated by the results of an election she believed was largely impacted by voter suppression tactics, she launched the voting rights organization Fair Fight. 

 

To understand how we got here, we have to go back, beyond the most recent past, and look at the larger history of voter suppression in the South.

 

[12:28] Hank Klibanoff: Well, I grew up in the South. I was born in 1949. Obviously, if you do the math, you realize, hmm, in 1954, when Brown vs Board came down, which was all about school desegregation, he was just about to enter the first grade. I was in Alabama and Alabama resisted. It wasn’t until I was a junior in high school that we desegregated. By the time I landed my first job in journalism, voting rights was just sort of the most pervasive topic. Couldn’t be a reporter in Mississippi without covering voting rights, any more than you could be a reporter in Iowa and not cover agriculture.

 

My name is Hank Klibanoff and I teach at Emory University. I’m in the creative writing program and I am here, I’m sure, because I teach this course called the Georgia Civil Rights, Cold Cases Project. 

 

[13:36] Rembert Browne: Hank is here for that reason, and about 20 more. He’s won a Pulitzer, a Peabody and is the former managing editor for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. 

 

[13:44] Hank Klibanoff: It’s an examination of unpunished racially motivated killings in Georgia history. The efforts were Legion, first of all, they were constant. They were ongoing. I mean, white people who were satisfied with the status quo did not want African Americans to have the vote. And community after community in the South, county, after county, after county was heavily predominantly black. I mean, you had counties, Holmes County, Mississippi is 76% black and there are 12 registered voters who were black. That’s why white people didn’t want to give it up because they would lose. And uncle Charlie, been sheriff for 32 years, wouldn’t be sheriff anymore. And uncle Billy, he wasn’t going to be a County Commissioner anymore. And if uncle Billy is not the County Commissioner, then you know, where’s aunt Reba gonna work. 

 

And of course, I don’t know if it’s an underlay, an overlay, I think it’s an all around lay, of fear. That was demagogic fear. That was fear that was whipped up by the politicians who wanted to win election and to hold on to their office. And that’s what they learned to do. You needed to have somebody who could bully. 

 

The early years, I mean, there was some really offensive things done in the fifties, not that redistricting for racial purposes, isn’t offensive, but you know, you’ve heard the stories of the County registrars, who would sit on a table on the other side of black people trying to register to vote. And there’d be a jar of jelly beans there and say, okay, can you guess how many jelly beans are in this? That was the technique. Or to recite sections of the constitution backwards from memory. And they would just laugh and laugh and laugh. And I think about how, when the US Commission on Civil Rights was created by the 1964, the Civil Rights Act and they go into the South, they’re holding a bunch of hearings and there was one, and I think this was in Jackson in which they had some County Registrar from a rural county. He’s just talking about here’s how, here’s how we do it. You know, they can’t read then we can’t have them registered. And you know, somebody on the Civil Rights Commission, I think handed over a piece of paper to him said, okay, would you mind reading the following? He couldn’t. (laughs) He couldn’t. So we shouldn’t be shocked now when people say things that we think are so obviously going to be viewed by everyone as either dissembling or just an outright fabrication or a real twisting of things, you know, because I’m sure that Registrar was able to go back to that County and get easily reelected after that. There was no shame in those techniques and that’s, I mean, the poll tax was almost mild compared to those sorts of things that were designed to humiliate people.

 

So when I’m coming of age as a young reporter, it would be things like moving certain offices from being elective to being appointed, shutting polling places without notice, you know, on election day, making people stand outside in the rain when there was, you know, a gym that they could go seek shelter in. I mean, anything to discourage black people from voting. I cannot emphasize enough how purposeful it was. Okay. These weren’t just, oh, what a coincidence, we happen to think of a strategy, come up with a strategy because we don’t have enough poll workers or this, that, and the other, this was craftiness. And there was a tool box.  It was a toolbox of techniques to use, very effective. 

 

The people who would do that are a little sharper than they used to be. They’re more media savvy. When our Governor, Brian Kemp was then running for Governor, and he’s the Secretary of State, there’s a county down near these counties that I do my podcast in, my civil rights cold cases on, Randolph County. The last minute there, they close all these polling places. And every one of them to my memory, most of them or, all of them were in African-American neighborhoods. You know, it was so blatant. And they said, no, no, no, that’s not what we, we had, uh, you know, we’re trying to consolidate. And they reversed themselves, because they got caught. But guess what, how many times are people not being caught?

 

[18:40] Tamara Stevens: I’ve really been politically active since I was a teenager. I mean, I loved, I’ve always loved politics. Back then though. I was batting for the other team. Um, the first campaign I actually remember volunteering for was Newt Gingrich. It’s kind of cliche, but I saw Obama on Oprah and I went and purchased both of his books and read them. And I was like, huh, I kind of feel the same way that this guy does. I kind of, I kind of agree with a lot of stuff that he’s saying, but it was something that I had never like really considered.

 

[19:18] Rembert Browne: This is Tamara Stevens, of Roswell, Georgia. She’s been a volunteer and organizer for decades. In recent years she’s helped mobilize thousands of women in the Metro Atlanta area.

 

[19:31] Tamara Stevens: So I did a lot in 2008, I actually ended up being asked to be a surrogate for the Obama campaign. They would send me to go and speak, Country Club of the South, men’s groups and that kind of stuff, because I spoke fluent Republican. So in 2012, I did a little bit more. In 2016 for Hillary, I did nothing, nothing. I’m embarrassed to say that, but I think like on myself, like a lot of other women and, and men, we just took it for granted that there’s no way that this buffoon is going to beat the most qualified person to have ever run for president. It was, it was shocking. And so when I was up in New York on election night in 2016 at the Javits Center, and we saw the returns going in, it was devastating. When I got back to Atlanta the day after the election, that night, I kind of crawled up into the fetal position and cried and worried. And then all of a sudden we had a special election here in Georgia, thanks to Trump, you know, nominated Tom Price. It gave us a place to focus our energy.

 

[20:48] Rembert Browne: Congressman Tom Price had been nominated to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. Running to replace him in a special election was a candidate named Jon Ossoff, someone all eyes would turn to yet again in 2020.

 

[21:00] Tamara Stevens: It was a jungle election. So there was, God, I think there was eight or nine candidates. He came very, very close to getting over that 50% threshold in the initial election. And that was actually the first time that we noticed there might be some irregularities with George’s voting. But he ended up going into a runoff with Karen Handel. Karen Handel was, you know, a Republican stalwart, like she had been around forever. She had been Secretary of State, very well known.

 

We were just all thrown into the fire. It was an amazing experience, but it was exhausting. And John came so close. So, so close. Unfortunately, Karen Handel, won. And John grew so much during that campaign and it’s been amazing to watch the transformation in him from 2017 now to this Senate race in 2020. Just to watch how he has matured. And is just a great, great candidate. And I think he’ll be a fantastic Senator. But during that time, it allowed us to build an infrastructure that prepared us in 2018. The next person to run for that seat, and challenge that seat, was our now Congressman Lucy McBath. So Lucy is now in that seat, which is amazing considering it is a seat that was once held by Newt Gingrich.

 

[22:48] Rembert Browne: As Tamara mentions, Lucy McBath, a former flight attendant, managed to flip Georgia’s sixth district, following Ossoff’s defeat. Her victory signaled that Democrats were gaining ground in Georgia’s historically Republican suburbs. 

 

Crooked Media interviewed McBath in 2018, as she was beginning her campaign. 

 

[23:06] Lucy McBath: I say that my neighborhood is one of those old fashioned neighborhoods where you know, all the people that I live among, we know their names. Jordan really liked living in Marietta. He really was a leader among his friends. We would have discussions about who he was going to be. And I’d always say, Jordan, I see you as an activist. I see you as somebody in the community. I see you, someone standing up for a cause.

 

[23:35] Rembert Browne: McBath’s son, Jordan, was killed on the day after Thanksgiving in 2012 when a 45-year-old white man fired 10 shots into his car at a gas station after complaining that Jordan and his friends were playing loud “thug” music. Jordan Davis was 17 years old.

 

[23:55] Lucy McBath: I just remember screaming, crumbling on the floor. Everything went black. And I just started screaming. I remember hearing this wail come out of me, something so ugly that I, I didn’t really think it was coming from me. But the fact that everything I tried to protect Jordan from, every fear that I had, you know, that one day he would you know be hit by a car or be in an accident or get in a fight or all those things. Everything came down on me at that one, very moment. 

 

[24:35] Rembert Browne: Jordan’s death, and the subsequent response, helped motivate McBath to run for office.

 

[24:41] Lucy McBath: It just began to dawn on me that everything that my father, my mother worked for, all those experiences had probably without my knowing prepared me for what I believe God was calling me to do now. And that’s the reason why I started speaking out about the gun culture. Why were our legislators not talking about these tragedies? Why were they not working to protect the people that put them in office? Why was the clergy silent? In order to change the culture, people need to hear me because I’m not a number. I’m not a statistic, but I’m a real human being that can tell you earnestly and honestly, what this devastating culture looks and feels like. This is me carrying on the mantle of my father and my mother, all the work they did in the civil rights movement to make sure that people had equality and access to everything that you know, democracy is supposed to afford us in this nation, that I now get to carry on their mantle. And I kept thinking how proud they would be of me, how proud Jordan would be. 

 

I think that sometimes people have felt like they didn’t have a voice or people have felt disengaged for whatever their reasons they believe that maybe the politics didn’t speak to them. People are anxious. They’re afraid. They’re concerned about their futures. I think that the people that are standing up now are willing to fight on behalf of their communities. We’re not career politicians. Most of us haven’t been trying to figure out for all of our lives, how to, how to be, you know, in an office, but we’ve decided to stand up and to fight for our communities.

 

[26:39] Rembert Browne: Lucy McBath wasn’t the only person to be inspired to run for public office for the first time in 2018. This is my “Gaining Ground” co-host, Jewel Wicker. She’s an Atlanta native and has reported on news and politics for Teen Vogue.

 

[26:54] Jewel Wicker: So one of the things that really stood out about Lucy McBath’s story, and I think the 2018 midterms in general, was that she was a part of an election during which women played a historic role. Time reported that a record number of 117 women were sworn into Congress. This is in comparison to the 89 women who were elected in 2016. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez became one of the youngest women ever to be elected to Congress. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar also became the first Muslim women elected to Congress that year.

 

Now of course, this group of women varies when it comes to political leanings, even amongst the progressive congresswomen. But, it’s worth contextualizing the moment during which McBath’s and even Abrams’ campaign was taking place. Women were at the forefront, organizing, running and winning. It’s a trend that would continue through this year when Kamala Harris was elected as the first woman, and the first South Asian and Black woman to the role of vice president.

 

[27:57] Matthew Wilson: I grew up enjoying politics, but knowing that I wanted to go to school, I wanted to become a lawyer. And that’s how I wanted to serve people. 

 

[28:07] Rembert Browne: This is Matthew Wilson, the State Representative for House District 80 in Georgia — covering the North Atlanta suburbs of Brookhaven, Sandy Springs, and Chamblee. 

 

[28:17] Matthew Wilson: Being an out and proud gay Georgian, when we would have these nasty bills that popped up at the legislature, I would go down and I would testify. I’d go talk to my legislators. They would send me to talk to other legislators to try to share my story with them. And I was watching and just sort of lobbying as a citizen. Fast forward to 2016. Trump gets elected. Everyone in my world is devastated, including me. I stayed on the couch for three days trying to figure out, what does this mean? And one of the things that I couldn’t get over was that the House District where I lived had flipped from blue back to red. We had just flipped it in a special election the year before and felt that demographics were destiny and we were going to keep it blue for the foreseeable future. 

 

And lo and behold, it flipped back to red by only 286 votes outs of 24,000 votes cast, 286 votes, flipped it back red. And I had to be real honest with myself, you know. I’ve worked on campaigns before, I know what’s involved, and I hadn’t done a single thing to help my House candidate, who I knew personally, other than I wrote him a check and I voted for him. And so many of my friends sort of had the similar story. Well, I voted, but that wasn’t enough. And that was the big takeaway for me in 2016 is voting is not enough. You’ve got to do more. So fast forward a year. And we’re looking at 2018 looking at this particular house race. I’m like, we got to find somebody to run. So I jumped in the race. We went from 286 vote deficit to me winning by five percentage points and fast forward two more years, I just won reelection by 18 points.

 

In addition to me flipping my house seat in 2018, the Northern Atlanta suburbs were really ground zero for the blue wave in Georgia. That’s when Lucy McBath won her congressional seat. We flipped my House race, but we also flipped 10 other House races, mostly in the Northern Atlanta arc, as you go from one end of the city to the other. To the extent that there are themes and takeaways, it’s that we all went door to door and spoke to voters in-person. That was a major part of what we did, was canvassing and having real conversations at people’s doors with them about why they need to vote and what in particular is at stake. It’s not just talking to Democrats, not just talking to Democrats who vote every election. If you do the math, there’s not enough of them to win in Georgia, in particular statewide races. We’ve got to talk to people who don’t vote all the time, find out why they’re not voting and make sure that we’re tailoring a message that speaks to them. We’ve got to talk to Republicans. As we’ve seen Biden was able to successfully pull away enough traditionally Republican voters to kind of build this new coalition. So I think that’s proof that we’ve got to continue to talking to them and not being afraid to engage with them on the issues.

 

[31:29] Rembert Browne: Republican leaders in Georgia made national news this year for their handling, or mishandling, of the COVID-19 pandemic, but this certainly isn’t the first time all eyes have been on the Georgia GOP. Last year, Republicans passed a law that would ban most abortions at six weeks. A federal judge blocked the law earlier this year. Issues like these likely played a major role in galvanizing voters ahead of the general election and helping to flip the state.

 

[31:55] Matthew Wilson: For a lot of modern history, Georgia has sort of had an outsize impact on the dialogue and the conversation. And I think that does have something to do with how people voted in this particular election in 2020. For sure, I know people came out and voted blue because they were upset about some of the laws the legislature passed over the last two years. I know that for a fact, because I’ve talked to voters and they have told me that. Alot of people I talked to said, you know, well, I grew up Republican, but the more and more I see these social issues put in the middle, this anti-abortion bill, or whatever the particular social issue is, to have one party who just harkens on those time and time and time again, every election cycle. I really just want people to go back to governing. I heard that a lot.

 

[32:48] Rembert Browne: Of course, Democrats fighting against the anti-abortion so-called “heartbeat bill” are also governing on social issues, just in the opposing direction. 

 

This is state representative Shelly Hutchinson, who was elected in 2018 to Georgia’s 107th House district, serving parts of Snellville, Lawrenceville and Lilburn in the North Atlanta suburbs. Obama endorsed Hutchinson, identifying the area, a conservative stronghold, as “flippable” in the election.

 

[33:18] Shelly Hutchinson: I met my husband. We got married in ‘96 and that’s when we moved to the district that I represent now. We had our first child in 2000. When I graduated, I didn’t want a nine to five. I didn’t want to put her in daycare all day long. So I started a business only intended to be enough to keep me busy. So after that I started teaching at UGA, got more active civically. I was like, why are so many seats uncontested? There was at least like 10 or 12 seats. I would never, ever contest. Every time I would vote. I was like, one day, I’m going to, I’m just gonna write my name in because I assume that’s how you ran. You just write your name because I never saw signs or people even working in this district because it was on lock. Nobody even ran against them. I thought it would be very easy and it of course was not. It was a huge, huge undertaking, very, very expensive.

 

In Georgia it’s supposed to be a citizen legislature. But when you only pay $17,000 a year, the only citizens that can do this are people who are independently wealthy or have the most flexible schedules. And I was just lucky that I have a business. So I looked into the person who represented us for 16 years and he was ultra conservative. That year, my district voted for Hillary by double digits, by 11%. So I was like, well, at the very least I can give them competition. So I signed up and as soon as I signed up, he retired. But he convinced his neighbor to run against me. So I ran against his neighbor and I won by 18 percentage points. Pay attention to who is representing you because in this case, the person who represented us for 16 years was not at all representative of what this district was looking for.

 

[35:18] Rembert Browne: Representative Hutchinson was elected in both 2018 and 2020. But she still can’t shake the fact that this job simply isn’t accessible for most Georgians.

 

[35:27] Shelly Hutchinson: When we were in the last session, they voted to reduce our salaries. And nobody’s really in this for the money. No, no, nobody can be in this for the money, but the person who did it said, this was his way of helping our budget crunch. But the flaw in that logic is when you take away 10% from nothing, you get nothing. A reduction in our pay did not even touch the budget. What it did though, is further reduce the salary, which further restricted actual average citizens from running for any kind of office, because that reduction came in the House and in the Senate. It’s just interesting being here in, in this seat to see kind of the thought that goes behind some of the shenanigans they pull. 

 

I heard the saying once that Democrats have to fall in love, like they have to be in love with the person that they’re supporting, and Republicans just fall in line. The only thing I can say that would help really is that everyone votes and knows who they’re voting for and what they’re getting when they vote for this particular person. Statistics and history tells us if everyone votes everyone’s voice is heard. Everyone has to vote and talk about it. You know, we don’t talk about politics generally, but talk to your neighbors, your children, talk to everyone about how important it is to vote. Some communities, it’s not if I’m going to vote, but what time are you going to vote? And in other communities it’s like, umm, my vote doesn’t really matter it doesn’t really count. If we’re having, we’re still having those conversations. That’s the problem. We need all the help we can to change the culture around voting. Because if there’s a loophole or there is, any place that people can exploit, they will. And if we don’t vote, then we’re going to be powerless.

 

[37:36] Rembert Browne: This story of shifting the culture around voting and flipping Republican strongholds sounds simple in hindsight. Clean, even. But, organizers like Nse Ufot, Stacey Abrams and the countless others who mobilized voters have been doing this work for years. They started long before our mailboxes were flooded with fliers and our phones were inundated with texts asking us about our voting plan. 

 

Still, before Nov. 3, it was unclear if any of these mobilization tactics would guarantee a victory for Democrats. Especially, when you consider the election that had occurred in Georgia just two years earlier…

 

Again, Stacey Abrams, after her 2018 loss

 

[38:16] Stacey Abrams:I acknowledge that former Secretary of State Brian Kemp will be certified as the victor and the 2018 gubernatorial election. But to watch an elected official who claims to represent the people in the state, baldly pin, his hopes for 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.

 

[39:16] Rembert Browne: This season on Gaining Ground: The New Georgia… 

 

[39:19] Male Voice:There are distinct times in history, where the paradigm shifts, and we are living in that moment. Right now.

 

[39:30] Rembert Browne: As Georgia flips blue, we follow the count… and the recount… and the other recount… 

 

[39:36] Jon Favreau: The Secretary of State said, alright, we are going to move forward with the audit. Which was essentially a hand recount (laughs) and then after that was done, Trump was allowed to request a full recount, a second recount, (laughs) cause the margin was so close.

 

[39:53] Rembert Browne: We take you to the frontlines of the political fight for 2 key senate races…

 

[39:58] (Cheers) Reverend Raphael Warnock: Hello, Warner Robins, Georgia. It’s Sunday and they placed the preacher behind the microphone.

 

[40:19] Rembert Browne: And we hear from voters like you, who have mobilized to create change… 

 

[40:22] Voter: We want our fair due process through everyone, we want everyone to have an opportunity for good healthcare. You know, to be able to have good paying jobs. I am an absentee voter because of my age, and um, if I have to go in person, I’ll do that too.

 

[40:48] 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.

 

Check us out online at gaininggroundpodcast.com, and for information on how you can become politically active, check out votesaveamerica.com/volunteer. Thanks for listening.

Gaining Ground: The New Georgia