With the midterm elections less than two weeks away, we look at the governor’s race in Georgia, where Democrat Stacey Abrams is attempting to become the first black woman governor in the country. Polls show Abrams and her opponent, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, are in a dead heat, but the race has been roiled with accusations that Kemp has used his power as secretary of state to suppress the vote. Earlier this month, Abrams called on Kemp to step down as secretary of state for placing 53,000 voter applications on hold. Seven out of 10 of the stalled applications are for African-American voters, in a state where less than one-third of the population is black. Voting rights activists have also sued Kemp for purging voters from the rolls. On Tuesday, Rolling Stone published an audio recording of Kemp privately telling Republican donors that he was concerned about too many Georgians exercising their right to vote. Hours later, Abrams and Kemp sparred in their first debate. We speak to Leah Wright Rigueur, professor at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. She is the author of “The Loneliness of the Black Republican: Pragmatic Politics and the Pursuit of Power.”
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JUAN GONZÁLEZ: With the midterm elections less than two weeks away, we begin today’s show looking at the governor’s race in Georgia, where Democrat Stacey Abrams is attempting to become the first black woman governor in the country. Polls show Abrams and her opponent, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, are in a dead heat. But the race has been roiled with accusations that Kemp has used his power as secretary of state to suppress the vote. Earlier this month, Abrams called Kemp to step down as secretary of state for placing 53,000 voter applications on hold. Seven out of 10 of the stalled applications are for African-American voters, in a state where less than one-third of the population is black. Voting rights activists have also sued Kemp for purging voters from the rolls.
AMY GOODMAN: On Tuesday, Rolling Stone published an audio recording of Kemp privately telling Republican donors he’s concerned about too many Georgians exercising their right to vote. Listen carefully.
SECRETARY OF STATE BRIAN KEMP: And as worried as were, going into the start of early voting, with the literally tens of millions of dollars that they are putting behind the get-out-the-vote efforts for their base—a lot of that was absentee ballot requests—they had just an unprecedented number of that, which is something that continues to concern us, especially if everybody uses and exercises their right to vote, which they absolutely can, and mails those ballots in. We’ve got to have heavy turnout to offset that.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Georgia Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp speaking last Friday at an event in Atlanta for Republican donors. Audio of his remarks were leaked to Rolling Stone magazine. Well, on Tuesday night, Brian Kemp and Stacey Abrams faced off in their first debate.
SECRETARY OF STATE BRIAN KEMP: And this farce about voter suppression and people being held up from being on the rolls and being able to vote is absolutely not true. Anyone who is—meets the requirements, that’s on the pending list, all they have to do is do the same thing that you and I at home have to do: go to your polling location, show your government ID, and you can vote. But 75 percent of those individuals missed the Social Security—
LISA RAYAM: Mr. Kemp, I’m sorry to interrupt. You are out of time.
SECRETARY OF STATE BRIAN KEMP: —match, which is a federal problem.
LISA RAYAM: Ms. Abrams, would you like to respond?
STACEY ABRAMS: I would indeed. The right to vote is a right. I grew up in a family that fought for the right to vote, before they were old enough to do so. My father was arrested helping people register, and so I take the right to vote very seriously. I only believe that those who have the legal eligibility to vote should cast a ballot. But I also understand that under Secretary Kemp, more people have lost the right to vote in the state of Georgia. They have been purged. They have been suppressed. And they’ve been scared. This is a man who had someone arrested for helping her blind father cast a ballot. He raided the offices of organizations to stop them from registering voters. That type of voter suppression feeds the narrative, because voter suppression isn’t only about blocking the vote. It’s also about creating an atmosphere of fear, making people worried that their votes won’t count. As the next governor of Georgia, I will work with the secretary of state to ensure that there is no question that the right to vote in Georgia is not a privilege, it is indeed a right that belongs to those who are Georgia citizens. And I will work hard to make it so.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Georgia Democratic governor candidate Stacey Abrams debating the Republican secretary of state, gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp.
To talk more about what’s at stake in the race, we’re joined by Leah Wright Rigueur, professor at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, author of The Loneliness of the Black Republican: Pragmatic Politics and the Pursuit of Power.
So, you saw the debate last night, Professor Rigueur. Can you talk about what was raised? And start with this issue of voter suppression, the accusation that Brian Kemp is holding onto 53,000 voter registration forms, and also that leaked audio recording questioning Georgians’ right to vote.
LEAH WRIGHT RIGUEUR: Stacey Abrams versus Brian Kemp has become a touchstone for the entire country and for issues of voter rights and thinking about what does voting mean, who has the right to vote, voter suppression, questions of—you know, alleged questions of voter fraud. And we saw that play out on the debate—on the debate stage last night, where you had Brian Kemp saying the idea of voter suppression is a farce, versus Stacey Abrams, who very clearly and explicitly said, “No, actually, voting is a right. It is a constitutional right. It is a protected right. And this election is all about ensuring the rights of people, to ensure that democracy is actually—exists, as opposed to just imagined.” So, really, that’s what—you know, that was at the heart of the debate last night and really played out as these two contenders took very polarizing and very opposite opinions on a very contentious issue.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Professor Leah Wright Rigueur, I’d like to ask you about the Rolling Stone release of the audio of Kemp talking to some donors about his concern about too many people voting.
LEAH WRIGHT RIGUEUR: Absolutely. I mean, this is not actually a new concern. The Republicans, for a very long time, have had very open conversations—in other cases, very private conversations—about their concern about turnout. And why is that? Because the higher the turnout, particularly amongst groups of color, particularly amongst young people, tends to favor Democratic candidates.
In this case, Stacey Abrams has really taken what shouldn’t be a novel approach, but is a novel approach, by going out and pounding the pavement and going after nonlikely—unlikely voters, voters who haven’t voted before, young people, people of color, getting them to try and turn out at high numbers. And so, if you’re Brian Kemp, that is something that you absolutely don’t want. And so, in his private remarks, this is essentially what he said, which is, “We don’t want these people coming out and voting. We have to think about what are the alternatives and how can we not get them to come out, even though that’s their legal and constitutional right, to vote.”
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break and then come back to this discussion. We’ll also bring in Greg Palast, who is suing the Secretary of State Kemp. Leah Wright Rigueur is going to stay with us, professor at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. We’ll also be asking her about the video that’s just come out of Stacey Abrams, decades ago, participating in a flag burning of the Confederate flag of Georgia at the time, that led to the flag being replaced, gotten rid of. This is Democracy Now! Stay with us.