On Sept. 18, Milton resident Debra Shigley announced her bid to run for the District 47 seat in the Georgia House of Representatives, a district north of Atlanta’s city limits comprising sections of Alpharetta, Mountain Park, Milton and Roswell.
A former attorney with academic ties to Harvard University and Georgia State, Shigley aspires to take her experience in law to the Georgia State House, running on a platform advocating for common-sense gun reform, reproductive rights and supporting Atlanta’s public schools. She also enters the race with a background in journalism and entrepreneurship, having co-founded a hair care startup for women of color called Colour, and served as a news anchor and editor for various publications while based in the metro Atlanta area over the past decade.
Professional career aside, Shigley is also a wife and mother of five children attending Fulton County public schools, as well as an active member of her synagogue and her kids’ schools’ parent-teacher associations.
The Atlanta Voice spoke with Shigley about her reasons behind running for local office, her vision for District 47 and the impact she hopes to make on her constituents’ lives if elected.
Atlanta Voice: As an attorney, wife and mother of 5, you wear a lot of hats inside your household! What about a career in local political office intrigued you, and why is now the best time for you to run for a seat in the Georgia State House?
Debra Shigley: Ensuring a bright future for my kids is a big reason why I threw my hat in the ring, a big reason why I am running for State House District 47 to represent my neighbors. I am running for office as the daughter of two public school educators. My mom is a Jewish girl from Great Neck, New York; my Dad is a Jamaican American immigrant who came to this country when he was three. They worked hard to make sure I went to the best public schools. After graduating high school at 16 years old, I got myself into Harvard. Then I got myself through law school, while working full time by day as a reporter, and attending law school by night at Georgia State. I am the American Dream. There are not a lot of countries where my story can happen in the same way. When I think about all the opportunities given to me, the paths paved: it feels like it is my responsibility to do the same for others. I am running because I want to ensure that every person in our community, and every child in Georgia, feels a sense of their own potential, and truly has a path to unlimited opportunities. If not me, then who? And if not now, when?
AV: You studied law at Georgia State University and completed your undergraduate studies at Harvard, one of the most prestigious universities in the country. If elected, how do you hope to apply what you’ve learned from your experiences studying and working in law to the position of state legislator?
DS: I am so grateful for the education I got at Georgia State College of Law – Yes it was a blur, those four years of my life where I worked from 9-5 then raced over to school to be in class four nights a week until 9 or 10 pm. But that experience and the quality, public education I received changed my life—from kindergarten to law school. My lived experience is the reason I will work for Georgia to have the BEST public schools in the country. Can you imagine that?
Also, one of my strongest memories from law school is learning about the steady progression of individual rights secured in America. What alarms me is this rolling back of rights– Rolling back of our nation’s agreement that we are all entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. If we start rolling back one right, who is to say they will not roll back the rest of them? In this climate, no rights, and no body is safe. We need someone in office who will speak up, who will be vigilant about protecting us and advocating for our families. In Georgia that’s about standing up to the career politicians who revoked a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions. My law background gives me the experience and the willpower to do that.
AV: What are some of the policies you’re most passionate about and if elected, how will you work with the other members of the Georgia State House to see them implemented?
DS: It doesn’t matter where you sit on the political spectrum—Republican, Democrat or Independent. We all share the experience of going to the grocery store and watching essential costs go up and up. Raising five kids is not cheap—and in my district, the strain on our families’ pocketbooks is felt from Mountain Park to Bell Park.
Under the Gold Dome, I will do everything in my power to make it more affordable to raise a family in our district. I will work to drive down costs, ensure that our taxpayer dollars are going towards efforts that expand educational opportunities for the students here in our district, and work to keep more money in our families’ pockets.
I will work to restore and expand women’s reproductive rights. Like many women in Georgia—the day Roe v Wade was overturned, I was shaken to my core. At the end of the day, it is not just about a woman’s ability to make her own health care decisions. It is about privacy, dignity, and freedom. I am running to stand up for those values. I am running because I have seen such stunning consensus in my district about the urgent need to make our community safer for our kids. Like many Milton and Alpharetta residents, I am a gun owner who wholeheartedly supports common-sense gun reform.
Even with my professional background, until recently, I didn’t have a sense of how important local government is, how our rights as individuals are expanded—or constricted—according to our state’s lawmakers. I look forward to working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to help Georgians thrive. Only after working with my neighbors—on both sides of the aisle—to wrestle back a polling precinct for voters in Milton did I realize how our elected officials really affect our community. Until recently, I didn’t really have a sense of how important it is to have sensible, conscientious folks in the room who truly care. That revelation inspired me to run to ensure my neighbors’ voice is heard under the Gold Dome.
AV: You also co-founded Colour in 2015. What has operating this venture taught you about small business ownership, and how will you serve metro Atlanta’s small business owners if elected to represent House District 47?
DS: Running to represent our neighbors in the Capitol is a big job! But I am not sure I can think of a bigger job than women trusting you with their hair. I am a small business owner who knows how to generate jobs. Our service, called Colour, was kind of like Uber for hair, and geared toward women of color, though we had clients of all backgrounds. This startup was a dream realized, democratizing hair care in this way. And connecting local stylists to flexible employment opportunities. Our clients were attorneys, professors, and CEOs who didn’t have much time to spare. One of the most rewarding parts of starting the company was the feedback we would get from stylists in our network. Stylists would come to me and share that working for our company changed their life. Not only could they supplement their income for real life needs- school supplies, sports uniforms, and dance lessons. Also, we created an opportunity to be in spaces that helped further their life goals. The business leaders, the engines of our economy across the state understand this—getting ahead in life is all about getting your foot in the door. Under the Gold Dome, I’ll work to create jobs, and strengthen and invest in Georgia’s small businesses.
AV: You also have a background in journalism, having worked as a news reporter and magazine editor over the course of your professional career. Will having experience in media help you as you work to develop and spread word of your political campaign?
DS: As a reporter and editor, one of the greatest skills you learn is how to listen and uplift the stories of real people. Right now, we do not have a representative under the Gold Dome that is listening to the community, but rather has sat comfortably in a position of power, unchecked for decades. My experience in media has given me the skills to ask questions from neighbors on all sides of the political spectrum, to listen and learn, to speak truth to power, and to gain a pulse of what folks are really talking and caring about to inform policy decisions. These are the same skills I will use as a Representative under the Gold Dome.
AV: You also approach the position as a mother, raising children in the very same district you’re running to represent. Ideally, what sort of community do you want to see them grow up in, and what changes need to take place to make that vision a reality?
DS: The past few years showed me the POWER and importance of community involvement. It forced me to ask the question: what are the issues that are affecting the community—outside of the divided, partisan world we live in? And I found that a lot of my neighbors—regardless of political affiliation—were and are asking the same questions. The more I started to peel back the curtain on local government, removing the mystery around running for elected office, I thought, if not me, then who? I am running because for far too long, career politicians in our state’s Capitol have wasted our time with excuses and cynical political games. I have seen with my own two eyes what it looks like for my neighbors to come together and improve our community. I don’t believe we have to wait for that bright future—I want our district to be the best it can be right now. I want to ensure our community is safe for our kids. I want women to be able to make their own health care decisions with their doctors, not politicians. I want to make it EASIER, not harder, to raise a family in our district. I want our kids to go to the best schools in the nation. And I truly believe that together, we can make it happen.