Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Stacey Abrams said her first act as governor will be to expand Medicaid during a Monday campaign stop in Richmond Hill.
Abrams, who is vying to be the first African American woman to be elected governor in U.S. history, called the lack of access to health care in Georgia “a crisis crippling the state,” and said expanding Medicaid will provide coverage to about half a million people, save 21 rural hospitals and lower premiums by increasing competition.
It will also bring 56,000 “good paying jobs,” Abrams said. painting her opponent, Republican Brian Kemp, as someone who voted in 2005 to “eliminate coverage for cancer, eliminate coverage for asthma, eliminate coverage for women,” she said.
“I had an aunt tell me that if somebody tells you who they are, believe them,” Abrams said. “He has told us what he’s going to do.”
Kemp, who held a rally Friday in Richmond Hill, has denied those claims apparently based on his vote while in the state senate for SB 174, which reportedly would have allowed insurers to make some coverage optional, according to various online reports.
Kemp said in an TV ad that both his wife and teen daughter have preexisting conditions, and he claims Abrams will end both Medicare and Medicaid and create a single-payer health care system.
Both candidates have repeatedly accused the other of negative campaigning.
Friday, Kemp told about 100 supporters under the pavilion at J.F. Gregory Park that Abrams was “running the most negative campaign Georgia has ever seen.”
At that rally, local officials such as Bryan County Commission Chairman Carter Infinger, Richmond Hill Mayor Russ Carpenter and Richmond Hill Mayor Pro-Tem Johnny Murphy, Bryan County School Board Chairman Eddie Warren and Sheriff Clyde Smith were among those attending. None attended Abrams' rally.
Abrams, speaking Monday to a smaller crowd of about 50, said Kemp was “lying so hard. He knows that if we show up at the polls, we will show America who we are in Georgia.”
Like Kemp, who urged supporters to vote for other Republicans on the ticket who were in attendance, Abrams did the same.
And like Kemp, who said Friday his family’s financial struggles during the recession made running for governor the furthest thing from his mind, Abrams also got personal with supporters.
She spoke of how, upon becoming valedictorian of Avondale High School, she and her parents were initially denied access to the governor’s mansion for an annual event featuring all the state’s valedictorians because the guard assumed they shouldn’t be there because they’d come on a bus.
Eventually, she said, her parents – who she described were working but unable to afford a car – convinced the guard to check and found her invitation, but the guard’s actions tainted the moment.
“The thing of it is, I don’t remember meeting Zell Miller, I do not remember meeting my fellow valedictorians,” she said. “I remember that guard looking at me and telling me I don’t belong.”
Abrams also spoke of the state’s need to provide better mental health care by talking of her brother, Walter, who was a student at Morehouse when he began to get into trouble for alcohol and drug abuse and was diagnosed as bipolar, and eventually landed in prison.
Abrams called the state’s prison system “the number 1 provider of mental health care in Georgia,” with “officers responsible for arresting us also responsible for treating us.”
“He got the health care he needed in prison, but he was released,” she said, and can’t get coverage for it unless Medicaid is expanded. She said her brother is like many others, who “wandered in and out of rehab for years.”
“You probably know a Walter out there, someone who nobody is going to hire because you have to check that box that says you spent time in prison,” Abrams said. “And they won’t rent you an apartment because your last address was the penitentiary. It’s a cycle of retribution. When I’m the next governor, it’ll be a state of redemption.”
Abrams also said she wants to create a $10 million fund to help small businesses. She said both she and her opponent talk about helping small businesses, and she said she wasn’t referring to those who are able to borrow “half a million you fail to pay back to your friends or an $800,000 from a bank you own,” a jab at Kemp’s reported failure to pay back a loan.
Kemp has been sued over the loan, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
Republicans, for their part, have accused Abrams of not paying
around $50,000 in taxes and using the money to fund past political campaigns.
Abrams has said she had to use the money to support her parents and she is on a payment plan with the IRS, according to the online fact checking site www.snopes.com.
Both candidates have talked about their plans for education,
with Kemp saying he’ll give teachers a $5,000 raise. Abrams said she wants to
invest more money in teachers, cafeteria workers, bus drivers and
paraprofessionals, and other programs to help “educate our children from cradle
to career,” starting with affordable day care and continuing through
apprenticeship programs, tuition free technical schools and a need-based HOPE
system that will help students who want to work toward a college degree, regardless
of their high school grades.
“It is our chance to tell the world who we are,” she said, noting that Georgia “needs a governor who believes in your right to be who you are.”