Tuesday evening at the Georgia Public Broadcasting headquarters, Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp fought tooth and nail at their first debate. In front of a small and silent studio audience, Abrams and Kemp used the platform to exchange barbs, zingers and needle each other as Georgia and the concerned electorate watched on television and online.
The first question asked in the debate were accusations leading up Tuesday’s showdown, and from over the past eight years, that Kemp has sought to suppress the minority vote. In addition, Kemp was asked if he would recuse himself from a possible recount.
“We’ve got a very competent elections team to oversee that (recount) process,” Kemp said, and in a nod to the microscope now on the state, added: “I’m certain that there would be a lot of people watching that.”
Abrams issued a swift response.
“Voter suppression is not simply about being told ‘no,’ ” Abrams said. “It’s about being told it is going to be hard to cast a ballot. And that’s the deeper concern that I have. Because under (his) eight years of leadership, Mr. Kemp has created an atmosphere of fear around the right to vote in the state of Georgia.”
After a three minute delay due to a fire alarm going off, the candidates returned and the moderator asked Abrams regarding a protest she attended at the Georgia State Capitol in 1992 when someone burned the Georgia State Flag. At the time, the State Flag carried the Confederate Battle Emblem and was the official flag from 1956 to 2001.
“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,” Abrams commented. “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.”
Another key moment in Tuesday’s debate were questions regarding healthcare. Abrams doubled down on Medicaid expansion because she believes it would establish more rural hospitals and add 56,000 new jobs.
“I’m so bullish on Medicaid expansion because I know it works,” said Abrams, adding it would help shore up rural hospitals and mean health insurance for many who don’t have it now.”
Kemp said expanding healthcare does not work because the system is broken and Abrams strives for a complete takeover of the American healthcare system.
Another flashpoint in Tuesday’s debate were taxes and personal debts. Abrams is more than $50,000 in debt to the Internal Revenue Service and about $170,000 more in credit card and student loan debt, according to personal financial disclosure documents released earlier this year.
“I have paid my taxes, unlike Ms. Abrams, when they were due,” Kemp said.
Abrams addressed this earlier in the ear year in a Forbes magazine essay titled “My $200,000 Debt Should Not Disqualify Me For Governor of Georgia.” She reiterated Tuesday evening the debt was incurred while caring for her parents, who sustained life-altering losses due to Hurricane Katrina, then battled serious illness in 2015.
“You can defer tax payments,” Abrams said. “You cannot defer cancer treatment.”
During Tuesday’s showdown, both candidates were asked if DACA recipients – people who were brought into the country illegally as children – should be able to attend Georgia colleges with in-state tuition or the HOPE scholarship. Kemp unequivocally says no because it rewards illegal behavior.
“We need to continue to fight for our own people,” he said.
Abrams said “every Georgian who graduates from our high schools” should be able to attend college as in-state students and receive the HOPE if academically eligible.
Currently, the HOPE scholarship is designed to pay most college expenses for Georgia students graduating with B averages. However, Georgia students that are DACA recipients – the children brought to the US illegally by their parents — are ineligible for HOPE.
There will be a second debate taking place Sunday, November 4th hosted by WSB-TV.