House Minority Leader Abrams Talks New Georgia Project, Gig Economy and Upcoming Session

House Minority Leader Abrams Talks New Georgia Project, Gig Economy and Upcoming Session

By Baker Owens –

Reading Stacey Abrams’ bio, it’s tough to see how she has all the time to fit everything in. She’s co-founded a financial services firm, NOWaccount, Nourish, Inc, a beverage company those focuses on toddlers and infants and is the CEO of Sage Works, a legal advisory firm. She serves as general counsel to the Atlanta Dream and is the COO of Insomnia Group, an Atlanta firm specializing in investment and development for business projects.

One other unexpected detail: In an interview with Womenetics, a B2B services firm that specializes in helping women professionals, Ms. Abrams named three favorite books: The Institutionist, Ender’s Game and… Atlas Shrugged, not exactly a book at the top of most Democrat reading lists. Womenetics called her a “serial entrepreneur” and clearly she has a passion for business. As to how does that translate to the tough business of navigating the politics of Georgia as a Democrat legislator, she seems to have found quick success.

Abrams was elected Minority Leader in 2011, after two terms as a state legislator. She has already won numerous awards, including the 2012 John F. Kennedy New Frontier Award and being named the 2014 Public Official of the Year by Governing magazine.

As the calendar heads towards the start of the legislative session, Ms. Abrams answered a few questions about the upcoming session and her role and plans as Minority Leader.

Asked about the one issue she is looking to push more than any other this legislative session, Rep. Abrams talked about an issue that is close to her heart and to her legislative committee.

“I am privileged to chair the House Study Committee on Grandparents Raising Grandchildren and Kinship Care. More than 100,000 children are in a relative’s care, and neither the children nor the families receive the full support they need. We know our foster care system is over-burdened, but that population only accounts for approximately 9,000 of the children who are not in the primary custody of their parents. Whether the children are eligible for foster care or have lost their parents due to incarceration, military deployment, illness or other causes, we also know that the outcomes are best for children when they are placed with family members.

This is an urgent issue our state needs to tackle. It is personal to me because my parents are kinship caregivers who are raising my niece. I understand the struggles that kinship families face and am deeply committed to addressing them.

Governor Deal and Commissioner Bobby Cagle have been responsive to concerns; however, key solutions to funding and legal barriers for kinship care require a legislative solution. The bipartisan committee that I chair, appointed by Speaker Ralston, is meeting with experts and members of the community across the state to learn more about what we can do to help kinship families, and I look forward to educating and engaging our colleagues on this critical matter and practical solutions in January.”

2)   Where do you stand on the casinos issue? Would a casino in downtown Atlanta get support from Democrats? One of the hot issues certain to come up in the session next year is allowing casino gambling in Georgia. Many legislators are remaining illusive on how they feel about it but Abrams noted that any deal should have a beneficial direction for the revenue, as well as to consider all the impacted communities.

Said Abrams, “Any discussion of casinos will require a hard look at where revenue will be directed and from whom it will be derived. I am most interested revenue being directed towards need-based aid that reaches a broad cross-section of our college students.

As Minority Leader, my concerns are on the holistic impact on the state of Georgia – our Caucus members come from every corner of the state. A constitutional amendment must consider both the immediate and long-term implications of permitting casinos across Georgia.”

Two years ago, Abrams got much applause for working with Governor Deal on improving education reforms in the state and is generally looked to as a Democrat that the Republicans at the Gold Dome respect and can work with. She is not sure where that opportunity might come up this year but said her “responsibility is to look for every opportunity to work collaboratively with the majority party to best serve the citizens of Georgia, whether the issue is education, transportation, the budget or other issues.”

Regarding the “gig” economy: Are you concerned about the impact of AirBnB and Uber and what do you think about the seeming pressure to regulate and level the playing field between those companies and the rest of the industry? How do Georgia Democrats differ from Georgia Republicans on these issues?

Last year’s session and committee hearings throughout the year have  turned an eye towards regulating the “gig economy,” AirBnB, Uber, Lyft and others that have  broken the mold of traditional business strategies and are seen by some as undercutting existing companies without playing by the same rules. Others see them as entrepreneurial successes that deserve the right to compete and should be left alone. Abrams wants to make sure the playing field is level and that tax laws and regulation are fair but still fulfill the needs of consumer protection.

“Every corporate citizen has an obligation to protect its customers and makes its fair contribution to the economy. Consumer protection requires some degree of oversight. Similarly, our tax laws should not privilege any one approach to commerce, but should recognize the differences in cost structures and payment,” said Abrams. Last year, the oversight of ride-share services found bi-partisan support. Democrats will look at the findings of the study committee and attendant legislation to determine whether the proper balance has been struck on regulation and taxation.”

Regarding the New Georgia Project, Abrams project to enroll new voters in Georgia which has faced some controversy, she remains positive.

“From lifelong community service influenced by my parents, who are United Methodist ministers, to the creation of the nonprofit Third Sector Development nearly 15 years ago – before I ran for office, the New Georgia Project is a natural result of my commitment to civic engagement.  Our work has always been geared towards helping disadvantaged groups. I know first-hand that progress can happen if we give people a voice and a vote, but also that there are still hundreds of thousands of people of color in Georgia who don’t have access to the ballot box.

The New Georgia Project is a permanent organization with a professional staff, and its work will continue until those hundreds of thousands of citizens are voters. ”

As to what to the future holds (maybe a possible governor run), Abrams wouldn’t bite: “I am focused on the upcoming legislative session, and my role as Minority Leader. “