Democrat gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams’ first debate against the Trump-endorsed Brian Kemp was a showdown between the old South and a new progressive South last night in Atlanta.
A panel of journalists, comprised of two white men, a Latina and a black female moderator, guided most of the conversation between the candidates (which included Ted Metz, the Libertarian candidate for governor who is polling at 2 percent) tackling voter suppression, healthcare and illegal immigration. In addition, Abrams, who is the former minority leader of the state’s House of Representatives and who could become the nation’s first black, female governor, addressed burning the Georgia flag with the confederate symbol while a college student in 1992 and Kemp discussed his refusal to step down as the state’s secretary of state.
Here are some key points from the first of the two televised debates:
Confederate Symbol is Why Spelman Student Abrams Burned the Georgia Flag
Burning the Georgia flag was the first question Abrams was asked and she didn’t shy away from the controversial question. “Twenty-six years ago, as a college freshman, I, along with many other Georgians, including the governor of Georgia, were deeply disturbed by the racial divisiveness that was embedded in the state flag with that Confederate symbol. I took an action of peaceful protest, I said that that was wrong, and 10 years later, my opponent Brian Kemp actually voted to remove that symbol,” she said, referring to Mr. Kemp’s tenure in the State Senate.
Abrams Chose Father’s Cancer Treatment Over the IRS
“If you can’t manage your own finances and pay your own creditors can you be trusted to manage the state budget?” Metz asked Abrams who reportedly owes over $50,000 to the IRS and roughly $170,000 in credit card and student loan debt.
Her response was not a scenario uncommon to a lot of Americans, especially many black Americans. “I very proudly take care of my parents, my niece and my grandmother,” she answered. “I know that you can defer your taxes but you cannot defer cancer treatment payments for your father. I owe taxes to the federal government and I pay those taxes. I’m on a payment plan. I am current” Abrams also added that she followed the Georgia values that say ‘take care of your family first.’
“I know you can defer your taxes but you can’t defer cancer treatment for your father,” Abrams said.
Kemp has reportedly been sued for failing to repay a $500,000 loan and refused to address the matter.
According to Abrams, Kemp Kept Soldiers from Voting, Canceled Thousands of Registrations and Exposed Millions of Georgians to Identity Theft
“He’s been sued by the military for refusing to allow soldiers overseas to cast ballots. He was sued by nonprofit organizations for his failure to process properly thousands of registrations and a federal judge forced him to restore 34,000 illegally canceled registrations,” Abrams asserted. “He accidentally twice released the information of 6 million voters, made them liable for identity theft.”
Abrams, whose father was arrested as a youth for black Southerners’ right to vote, also said that voter suppression is also about “creating an atmosphere of fear” and “being told it is going to be hard to cast a ballot.” Abrams cited some examples of Kemp’s tactics. “This is a man who had someone arrested for helping her blind father cast a ballot,” she shared. “He raided the offices of organizations to stop them from registering voters.”
Kemp Insisted that Voter Suppression Claims Hide Abrams’s “Extreme Agenda” and Took Credit for High Voter Turnout
A recent Associated Press report showed that Kemp’s office has held up the voter registrations of more than 50,000 people, most of them Black, because of perceived problems with their registration forms. (These voters may still vote if they show a proper identification card, but will eventually be removed from the voter rolls if they do not address alleged discrepancies on their registration forms.)
“Under Secretary Kemp, more people have lost the right to vote in the state of Georgia,” Ms. Abrams said on Tuesday. “They’ve been purged, they’ve been suppressed and they’ve been scared.”
“Voters should look at the numbers and know that this is all a distraction to take away from Ms. Abrams’s extreme agenda that she has for a government takeover of healthcare, wanting to give the HOPE scholarship to those that are here illegally and many, many other radical positions,” Kemp said.
In an attempt to turn the tables, Kemp accused Abrams of voter fraud. He claimed that a video of her speaking about bringing more voters into the fold showed that she planned “for undocumented and documented folks to be part of your winning strategy” and asked “why are you encouraging people to break the law for you in this election?”
Kemp also claimed that, despite the many lawsuits against him, he was actually responsible for more nonwhite people voting. “If you look at the numbers, minority participation in Georgia is up 23 percent,” Kemp said. “We have a million more people on our voter rolls today than we had when I took office. We’ve had record turnouts in our last presidential election and we are having record turnouts right now and this farce about voter suppression and people being held up from being on the rolls and being able to vote is absolutely not true.”
Kemp and Abrams Differed on DACA
Kemp opposes giving Georgia’s HOPE scholarship to help needy and talented students attend school in state to those of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) status, despite their parents bringing them into the country illegally. “We need to continue to fight for our own people,” he insisted. Abrams believes that “every Georgian who graduates from our high schools” and meets the requirements is HOPE eligible and noted that Georgia has a labor shortage, especially in nursing.
Kemp Won’t Step Down As Secretary of State Even In a Runoff
“We’ve got a very competent elections team to oversee that process,” Kemp responded when asked if he would resign in a runoff. He also cited that because there were many eyes on this election “I’m certain that there would be a lot of people watching that.”
Citing Mike Pence as an Example, Abrams Doubled Down on Medicaid Expansion
Abrams accused Kemp of having no healthcare plan as she insisted that hers would cover half a million Georgians by giving them “access to the health care they need,” stop rural hospitals from closing and create jobs. “It’s a bipartisan proven solution that even Gov. Mike Pence did in the state of Indiana,” she said.
“Unfortunately my opponent, Mr. Kemp, does not have a plan for health care, other than saying trust your insurance companies,” Abrams said.
A second debate is scheduled for Nov. 4, two days before Election Day.