By Jason Carter
EDITOR'S NOTE: As we continue through a season of elections across the South, The Bitter Southerner hopes to spur civil dialogue and discussion among our readers across the political spectrum, and we will soon debut a new "Letters to the Editor" page. If you would like to respond to this or any BS column, please write us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If we decide to publish your letter, we'll let you know. — Chuck Reece
Georgia Democratic nominee for governor Rep. Stacey Abrams. (Photo by John-Robert Ward II)
On Tuesday, Georgia Democrats nominated Stacey Abrams as their candidate for governor.
Representative Abrams is an enormously intelligent, dynamic woman. She has had a successful career as an attorney, a businesswoman, and an author. Her personal story, with its remarkably humble beginnings, demonstrates that her success has been hard-earned with talent, determination and drive. She is also an accomplished policymaker with a history of working across the aisle in the partisan, male-dominated Georgia legislature. And she is a policy wonk who will run circles around either of the Republican candidates in governing the state of Georgia to get the most out of its incredible potential.
Rep. Abrams’ huge primary victory also makes her the first African-American woman ever to be nominated as a candidate for governor in any of the 50 states. Georgia Democrats, and many national Democrats, are thrilled both by this historic moment and the real possibility that Rep. Abrams will be elected governor in November.
However, the dialogue surrounding this Democratic primary poses a real danger for Democrats in the South. We must not draw the wrong lessons from Rep. Abrams’ victory.
Rep. Abrams’ primary opponent, Rep. Stacey Evans, shared much in common with Abrams. She is likewise a dynamic, successful woman, and an accomplished policymaker with a string of legislative successes. And she too has a compelling story — growing up in one of the poorest parts of rural Georgia, living in 16 homes different homes and relying on public education and Georgia’s HOPE Scholarship to achieve her success.
Yet, in the national and local news and in countless public and private discussions, the narrative of this primary focused (with palpable sexism) on the most superficial aspects of their candidacies: They are both named Stacey; one of them is black, and one is white.
Throughout the primary, the conventional story said if you believe that, to win, Democrats must motivate African-Americans and other people of color, then you should support Rep. Abrams. And if you believe that, to win, Democrats must convince disaffected white Republicans and Independents, then Rep. Evans was your candidate. Put simply, this narrative said it was a race between a white Stacey who sought to persuade white voters and a black Stacey who sought to motivate black voters.
This is a false choice, and it is a lie. And there are real dangers here if Democrats do not confront it.
The truth is that all of us who support Rep. Abrams must do both, and more. Not only to win, but to remain true to what it means to be a Democrat.
There is no reason to choose one group over another. Indeed, there is no reason to group voters like this in the first place: We cannot reduce the great diversity of Georgia into “persuasion voters” (read: white) or “motivation voters” (read: minorities). Those stereotypes not only do the voters a disservice, but they also skew our message away from the things that bring us together and lift up all people.
By the same token, we cannot pigeonhole our candidates by race. Sure, there are racist people throughout this country who want no part of a multiracial coalition, much less one led by an African-American woman. But that is a tiny minority of people.
This is 2018. African-American candidates like U.S. Sens. Kamala Harris and Cory Booker — not to mention Barack Obama — have persuaded and energized white voters from all economic strata. And Georgia voters have participated in multiracial coalitions before, not only with Democrats rallying behind Stacey Abrams today, but electing African Americans to statewide office decades ago.
Rep. Abrams knows she can win these voters. Despite the media and others trying to confine her to an oversimplified narrative, she is committed to reaching across racial and cultural barriers to connect with voters, and she is eminently capable of doing so. The beliefs and values that drive her campaign are no different from those that drove Stacey Evans: the belief that prosperity comes from the marriage of hard work and opportunity; that education can unlock the potential of all Georgia’s citizens; that all people should be treated with dignity; and above all, the belief that where you begin in life should not determine where you will end.
These beliefs do not belong to a race or a region or a class. They unify us as Americans, as Southerners, and as Georgians.
Democrats may debate, for example, whether Stacey Abrams can win without convincing a single Trump voter. But why would we?
At our core, Democrats believe America’s fundamental project is to live and prosper together, to heal divisions and unify our country as an example to the world. We cannot achieve that if we give up on any group of people.
And if Democrats lose this focus, it’s lost. We all know that today’s Republicans have no interest at all in that project.
The Democratic Party must be a party that reaches out to all people. Of course, this includes young African-American women struggling to find health care and pay student loans. And it also includes young white women, like Stacey Evans, raised in the poorest parts of rural Georgia, relying on public education and struggling in those same ways. We know the potential of these young women.
One of them could be Georgia’s next governor. All of them must be the focus of our work.
Jason Carter was the Decmoratic candidate for Georgia governor in 2014. Like both of his grandfathers, he was a member of the Georgia State Senate. He is an attorney at the Atlanta law firm of Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore, and is an avid fan of Bitter Southerners everywhere.