The Woman Running to Be the First Black Female Governor in the United States
"We have to change the face of leadership," says Stacey Abrams. "People need to see themselves reflected in those who lead them.
Image courtesy of Stacey Abrams
In honor of the Women’s March and their “Power to the Polls” initiative, we're highlighting progressive women and nonbinary candidates on the 2018 ballot. You can read more of their stories here.
“I can say without equivocation that I bring the strongest set of skills and the broadest set of experiences to the table. I am ready to be governor on day one,” said Stacey Abrams, a politician, lawyer, and businesswoman running for governor in the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election.
Abrams is no stranger to politics. She served as a member of the Georgia House of Representatives for more than a decade, with seven of those years spent as House Minority Leader. Abrams has tirelessly advocated for a fair and diverse economy for all and filed her candidacy last summer. If she emerges victorious after the primary election this spring and general election this fall, Abrams will become the first black female governor in the United States.
“When I announced [my candidacy], I did so with a very clear understanding that we have to change the face of leadership,” she said. “We must elect more women, more people of color, and more people that represent the broad communities that are often left out our politics.”
Broadly spoke with Abrams about her experience with the Women’s March and her campaign for an historic governorship.
BROADLY: In solidarity with millions nationwide, you participated in the Atlanta Women’s March last year. What was that experience like?
STACEY ABRAMS: I was privileged to be one of the speakers at last year’s march in Atlanta. I also had the opportunity to introduce Representative John Lewis and was then privileged to march alongside him and the first woman mayor of Atlanta, Shirley Franklin.
I will tell you that despite the horrific narrative that has come out of the [Trump] administration, the day of the march was extraordinary. I arrived at the location thinking I could just walk up to the stage and get in line to do my speech. It took almost 15 minutes for me to make my way through the people that had gathered and when you saw the diversity—men, women, young and old, every racial community—you realized that every manner of humanity had gathered there to lift their voices and to stand together. While it is certainly the Women’s March, what is so extraordinary is that it lifted up the issues of so many people. It created a space for everyone to know we’re in this together.
You’ve been a critical part of the resistance against President Trump. Was that effort an immediate reaction to his election?
I served as the Minority Leader in 2017, so I’d been the Minority Leader for seven years. Part of my responsibility, I thought and saw, as a legislative leader is to really meet the new administration with a very strong signal of our commitment to holding up the rights of everybody. As such, we had started a website through our caucus for the resistance and we helped support a range of issues, such as pushing back on the travel ban.
I’m going to be speaking at the Women’s March event in Atlanta this Saturday. As I felt last year, my mission is to bring together this wide range of voices. We are able to use women as the galvanizing force but we also need to lift the voices of the marginalized, women of color, the LGBTQ community. We need to think about that immigration policies of this country, including the deportations and ostracization that comes with it. I’m hopeful that this year's march will continue to give voice to the range of issues facing our nation and the responsibility we each hold to tackle them.
"We have to change the face of leadership. People need to see themselves reflected in those who lead them. How can you follow someone who doesn’t understand where you’re coming from?"
This year, the Women’s March is focused on #PowerToThePolls—its effort to launch a national voter registration tour—which ties in perfectly with your campaign. What was the process behind your decision to run?
I’m a daughter of the south. I’m originally from Mississippi but I’ve spent more than half of my life in Georgia. When I look at Georgia, I see the opportunities that exist in our communities but see that too many families are getting left out and left behind. I entered politics because I wanted to tackle these issues.
I continue to be a small business owner while I’m a political leader. I’ve started non-profit organizations and I’m running for governor because I know it takes all three of those sectors to transform our community and create opportunity for success. Ultimately, that’s what we’re all fighting for. We want to be successful and be able to raise our children and live our own individual lives with purpose. You have to have a governor and government that is in it with you, not actively opposing your autonomy and liberty.
Have you seen people become more engaged with politics in the past year?
Our campaign has been met with the most extraordinary enthusiasm. We’ve done more than 300,000 voter contact attempts reaching out to voters. We have people at every single event across the state of Georgia.
I think that’s important to note, this isn’t an Atlanta campaign, this is a state of Georgia campaign. Whether I’m in a big city or in towns like De Soto or Hinesville, we often have packed rooms of people who aren’t always involved with politics but now understand that this election is about their needs and their values. I’m gratified that they see me as a vessel and a problem solver that can make their lives better when I’m the next governor of Georgia.
You’ve been an elected official in the Georgia House of Representatives for over a decade with seven years of that being spent as the Minority Leader.
I look at my experience as the best reason for my victory, both in the primary and general. I have unmatched qualifications as a political leader, civic leader, and business leader. We need a governor that can knit together all three of these sectors and you have to have a governor that respects the responsibility that is embedded in each sector.
Having a governor that talks about creating jobs but has never actually run a business, is deeply problematic. They’ve never had to sign the paychecks of employees. Or having a governor that is not a defender of our workers, that is equally problematic.
What are you working on day one as governor?
My mission the day I get there is to expand Medicaid. Medicaid expansion covers a host of communities. It provides access to medical care for communities where children live, where pediatricians are hard to come by, and hospitals will close. It will help stabilize hospitals across the state and provide for more than 500,000 people while creating jobs for those children’s families.
By large, it will send a signal across the nation that healthcare is essential. It is not a privilege. We have an opportunity as a state to ensure access to healthcare as it also informs whether or not we have mass incarceration. Too many people go to prison because of mental health or substance abuse issues. Both of which can be treated if we draw down those Medicaid dollars. Day one, Medicaid expansion is my mission.
People are especially excited about your campaign because if victorious, you would become the first female African American mayor of the US.
I think what that would mean for everyone is that we don’t have to talk about this again. It would mean that we have transcended yet another barrier to show that this nation continues to move forward.
I think it also feeds into the larger ethos of the Women’s March. We have to change the face of leadership. People need to see themselves reflected in those who lead them. How can you follow someone who doesn’t understand where you’re coming from? While I don’t contain the experiences of everyone, as a black woman, the set of challenges and barriers I’ve had to navigate speak to my ability to stand up and be a voice for so many other communities that are often marginalized and overlooked. I’m honored and humbled by the opportunity to break that barrier and say to America, through the voice of Georgia, we’ve done this now what’s next?