Sally’s Senate Snapshot #1

Finding Normal in the Sea of Anomaly

As I arrived at the Capitol Monday morning for the start of the 156th Georgia General Assembly, I felt a little like Nemo trying to find his way through the sea anemone. I admit I was scared. It’s not the first time I felt scared at the Capitol, so I told myself I knew I could push through it — like the time in the early 2000s when in order to get to my office I had to push a baby stroller through a swarm of angry men waving 1956 Confederate flags.

As the week progressed, I realized the only way to govern through scary times is to look for the “normal.” Experiencing the rites and rituals of the legislative process, and dealing with the necessary mundane business of organizing, gave me the stable ground I needed to calm my nerves.

Many of you have reached out to express your concern for my safety and health. Your concern has sustained me. And, you’ll be pleased to know that the legislature will not be in session next week. It is a longstanding tradition that following the MLK holiday, we recess for budget hearings, and I will watch those budget hearings from the safety of my own home. Security at the Capitol has been ramping up all week, though I must say, it is very disconcerting to see State Troopers all decked out in military garb and holding M4s. Sadly, it is necessary.

Georgia’s Vaccine Rollout is having a Whale of a Time

There is no doubt Georgia is having a difficult time rolling out vaccines and that people are very frustrated. The hope we felt when we first heard of the vaccines has unfortunately turned to frustration at the difficulty of getting it into people’s arms. Like everything else about this pandemic, the Trump administration has punted the vaccine deployment to the states, and Georgia is relying on a public health infrastructure that has been severely underfunded for decades. As recently as January of 2020, during good economic times, Governor Kemp asked public health to make draconian cuts to their budgets. Even Republican legislators thought this was a shortsighted move.

That being said, help is on the way and I am confident the situation will improve. There’s talk of a centralized, statewide registration system being developed and many commercial entities such as grocery and drug stores are signing up to be providers. There’s also a massive effort to recruit volunteers, including healthcare and non-clinical volunteer positions. If you are interested, please apply through Georgia Responds (https://dph.georgia.gov/georgia-responds).

Out to Sea: The First Legislative Week 2021

At my first freshman legislative training, a veteran legislator said travelling to the Capitol for the legislative session felt a little like being on a ship out at sea.

I personally think it would have been more responsible to postpone Georgia’s legislative session until things settle down from the election, and vaccines are rolling out more smoothly. By Georgia’s constitution, we must begin the second Monday of January, but we could have all been sworn in, then gone back home. The General Assembly is the perfect superspreader event. We bring people to Atlanta from every corner of the state, put them together in two big rooms, then send them back out. And we do this every week for about three months. The Governor, public health, GEMA and the National Guard don’t need the distraction of the legislature right now. That being said, the legislature is taking the virus much more seriously now than they have in the past.

COVID Testing: My first trip back to the Capitol since June began the week before session, as I went for my first COVID test. Many years ago I learned from Speaker Tom Murphy that the legislative desks in the chamber used to all have spittoons so legislators could spit their tobacco. Now legislators are spitting into plastic specimen cups!

Last fall, I learned about Georgia Tech’s very effective COVID surveillance testing through my own Tech student’s experience. I was so impressed, I called Georgia Tech to suggest they offer the same service to the General Assembly. I’m thrilled to report that Georgia Tech is now on-site at the Capitol doing mandatory testing for all staff and members twice a week. Four Senators (out of 56)  have already tested positive, including the Majority Leader.

This is the kind of testing program that should be provided to every K-12 public school in the state, so that teachers are safe, and kids can return to the face-to-face learning and the socialization that they so desperately need.

Swearing-In: Following Monday morning COVID testing (which almost half the House skipped), members of the Senate were sworn-in by Georgia Supreme Court Justice Charlie Bethel. For me, taking the oath is always highly emotional. Two years ago, fresh on the heels of winning a very intense campaign, I could hardly get the words out. I did much better this time. This year I chose to place my left hand on the Constitution of the State of Georgia, since in the oath I promise to “support the Constitution of the state and of the United States.”

Rules & Preachers: This year’s Senate Rules passed easily and without controversy. Instead of the volatile changes we saw last term, we approved some minor rule adjustments to allow for flexibility due to COVID safety. Though guests are not allowed this year in the Senate chamber, we still have our Chaplain of the Day. As I’ve said before, I enjoy a moment of quiet reflection in the morning, and many of the preachers do a good job of offering thoughtful and appropriate words. But too often that is not the case.  Monday was the first time I needed earplugs. The Preacher of the Day spoke of love, but yelled it so loud it hurt! Wednesday’s preacher was a bit rattled because he had a car accident that morning with the Preacher of the Day scheduled to address the House!

Committee Assignments: This year, I hoped to be placed on either Health & Human Services or Appropriations. I did not get either of these committees, and instead was placed on Retirement. I will continue to serve on Ethics, Higher Education, Natural Resources & the Environment, and State Institutions and Property. You might have heard that three prominent Republicans were stripped of their Committee chairmanships ostensibly due to their participation in promoting voting conspiracy myths. Ironically, these three legislators are ones I found reasonable to work with last term. Only three Senate committee chairs this term are women, out of 26 committees, and these three committees are relatively minor committees that don’t receive many bills.

Senate Resolution 5: The Senate Democratic Caucus filed Senate Resolution 5 this week, condemning the disgraceful action of right wing violence and sedition that took place in the United State Capitol on January 6th, 2021.

The Big Fish: Governor Kemp’s State of the State

On Thursday, Governor Kemp gave his State-of-the-State address to a Joint Session of the House and Senate. In order to properly distance, only three members of the Senate sat in the House chamber, while the rest of us watched through video streaming in our offices. The State-of-the State address tends to establish the “tone” of the legislative session, since Georgia’s government is structured so the Governor is the “big fish” with the resources available to push through a strong agenda. The Governor’s 2021 – 2022 budget was released to legislators following the address, and next week we will focus on presentations from the executive branch on proposed departmental budgets. The state fiscal year runs from July 1 – June 30.

Here are some highlights from the Governors address:

  • No additional departmental budget cuts or furloughs have been requested (though the budget is still lean and most cuts from last year have not be restored)
  • $20 million for Rural Broadband Grants and $10 million in each year moving forward (Bringing broadband to all rural households will cost around $3 billion and would need federal intervention)
  • $76 million to GA Pathways and Access, the Governor’s Medicaid Waivers. (Please read my analysis of these waivers in my Op-Ed published by the AJC)
  •  Restoration of $647 million of the previous billion dollar cut from the education budget
  •  The Governor is committed to holding schools harmless for pandemic related enrollment reductions.
  • The Governor wants to use Federal stimulus money allocated to local school districts to provide $1000 bonuses to teachers and other school personnel (although final decision about how to spend the funds will be left to local school districts)
  • $10 million in Governor’s emergency funds for care of special needs children
  • $5 million in grants for public university Juniors and Seniors to help them stay enrolled in classes
  • Reform the Citizens Arrest Statute.
  • Legislative packages for Adoption Reform, reduce Human Trafficking, and assistance for victims.

New Office & Staff Introductions

Many of the decisions about who gets what in the Senate are based on seniority. Last year I ranked 53rd out of 56. Now I rank 42nd. This earned me an office inside the Capitol (110-D), which will make it easier to get around, rather than having to trudge across the street to the Legislative Office Building.

I’m thrilled that the same team that served me so well last year will be in place once again.

Amy Swygert, Communications Director: I’m thrilled that Amy will be continuing as my Communications Director. Amy has three decades of communications experience that she’ll be using to keep all of you informed and to help amplify my work. Amy serves as my chief aide and helps me with my legislative agenda and other duties. You can reach her at amy@sallyharrell.org.

Laurie Lanning, Political Director: Laurie, who has been a devoted volunteer since the beginning of my campaign, will again serve as my Political Director. In this role, she keeps her ear to the ground and monitors which issues we’re hearing most about from you. You can reach Laurie at laurie@sallyharrell.org.

Jay Harrell, Operations and Strategic Advisor: Jay keeps the wheels turning and the train on the track.  jay@sallyharrell.org

Administrative Assistant, Keridan Ogletree: Keridan will continue as Administrative Assistant to both me and Senator David Lucas, with whom I now share an office suite in the Capitol building. Keridan is a Georgia native and Georgia State political science graduate. I owe so much to Keridan who has been on the front lines answering phone calls, keeping my meeting schedule updated, and helping to address constituent needs. You can reach her at (404) 463-2260 or Keridan.Ogletree@senate.ga.gov.

   

Resources for Tracking the Georgia General Assembly

I always love seeing constituents at the Capitol, but during the pandemic, for the safety of members and staff alike, certain operations like the rope lines, the Senate page program, and access to the Senate gallery have been suspended. I invite you to watch our chamber sessions and committee meetings online. Here’s a great guide for how to tune in. Also, Georgia Public Broadcasting’s show “Lawmakers” is very informative.

Please look for my next Snapshot, where I will highlight pieces of my own legislative platform, as well as the legislative agenda for the Senate Democratic Caucus.

During the last month, I’ve made it a practice to sincerely look into the eyes of grocery store cashiers to ask them how they are holding up. Several times, they’ve smiled and mentioned their excitement about the vaccine (the liquor store owner smiled and said business is good)!

There’s a general feeling of hope in the air that 2021 will bring better times. That jobs will return, schools will reopen for good, and we’ll be able to visit again with family and friends. But we still have the winter to get through and all experts are pointing to continued death and suffering from this disease in the interim.

With COVID-19 cases on the rise, and hospitals struggling to provide enough workforce and beds, we must be even more guarded than before. We know this ride is dangerous – it’s not time to suddenly grab a seat because we think they are installing the brakes next week.

Our healthcare workers who are waging this battle for us — every day they walk into a patient room, every time they put a sick person on a ventilator, or remove a tumor, or fix a broken bone. As we see the first vaccines go into their arms, we breathe a sigh of relief for them, while quietly wondering when we will have our own place in line.

The “cavalry,” as Joe Biden put it, can’t come too soon!.

It’s important that all of us hold the line as long as we can. We can help our healthcare providers by choosing to limit our physical contact with loved ones a few months longer.

Can you do this with me? Sacrifice a little more, even though it hurts? Help your community members a little more even though you’ve been helping for months? Give up one holiday so more people can celebrate with their families next year?

Keep in mind that victory within sight is not yet victory. But it will be if we hold steady just a little longer.

P.S. Here’s a three minute animated video (https://youtu.be/Ut_6GInouYg) that provides a powerful reflection on how our lives have been changed by the virus, and the transformation the vaccine will bring about. Every time I watch this I tear up just a bit, because the animation so captures the trauma of what we’ve all been through. As the hope offered by the vaccine rolls out slowly, begin to release pent up grief little by little.

Crocus photo: When I was a child, the crocuses in our front yard would begin to push up through the snow before it completely melted. Eventually, I learned this was a sign that spring would arrive soon. Like the crocuses, pictures of healthcare workers getting the first vaccines remind us that the end of the virus is on its way.

Fever Dreams

Lately, I’ve been waking up wondering if what is happening around us is really real. A virus that sneaks around spreading itself without symptoms, mixed with conspiracy theories of massive election manipulation make me keep hoping that one day, I will wake up and everything will be normal again. This all just feels like we are living in some strange fever dream.

But the agonizing reality we cannot avoid is that virus deniers continue to knowingly spread a killer virus, and angry citizens are making death threats against public servants who are doing their duty by our constitution.

A Tale of Two Senate Committee Meetings

Last Thursday two Senate Committee Meetings met. Both meetings dealt with election integrity, but the meetings were as different as night and day.

Government Oversight Committee: Speakers invited to the Senate Committee on Government Oversight included Georgia Secretary of State’s staff as well as staff from various County Election Offices. Election Office staff were unable to attend because they were still busy completing President Trump’s requested recount of votes. The format of the meeting allowed legislators to ask questions of staff.

The presentation by the Secretary of State staff was an impressive description of several of their more than 250 investigations of election irregularity complaints. For example, many of these reports were made by voters who showed up to vote in-person and were surprised to be told they had already received an absentee ballot. Upon investigation, most of these voters had forgotten that they had “checked the box” to automatically receive a ballot for the next election. These checks in our system are there to prevent people from voting multiple times. These reported “irregularities” actually helped to prove that the system worked to deter and avoid voter fraud.

Judiciary Committee: Speakers invited to the Senate Judiciary Committee included members of Trump’s legal team, led by Rudy Giuliani, and several witnesses who weren’t from Georgia and appeared via “Zoom.” The two main points Giuliani made during the six hour meeting were that Georgia’s November election was fraught with extensive fraud and that the election didn’t follow Georgia election law.

Legislators were incorrectly told that according to federal law, which they claim supersedes state law, legislators can call their own special session to choose electors. They believe that they can bypass Georgia’s constitutional requirements that a special session must be called by the Governor or 60% of the legislature. Furthermore, Giuliani stated that a simple mistake such as a voter being allowed to cast a vote in a county that has not been that voter’s primary residence for at least 30 days is an example of the legislature’s election law not being followed — and that alone is enough to disenfranchise millions of Georgia’s voters by choosing a different slate of electors.

Giuliani’s team presented numbers that were impossible to believe, for example claiming tens of thousands of ballots were cast by underage voters. But the Acting Chair of the Judiciary Committee didn’t have any staff members there from the Secretary of State’s office to address these claims, or answer the questions of legislators.

Several legislators in attendance, many of whom were not actually members of the Judiciary Committee, made closing remarks that voiced support for calling an immediate special session. Sen. Elena Parent (D) pointed out how witness affidavits described seeing things that looked suspicious, but many of these concerns have been easily addressed by experts who know the entire election process. Sen. Parent concluded we lack the actual evidence for taking further action.

Sen. Bill Heath (R), Chair of the Senate Committee on Government Oversight, warned his colleagues to be careful about taking legislative action they might later regret, pointing out that perhaps some of the witnesses were not telling the entire truth.

Sen. William Ligon (R), on the other hand, who chaired Thursday’s Judiciary Committee meeting (but who is not the appointed chair), is now circulating a petition requesting that a special session of the legislature be called by Tuesday, Dec. 8th.

We are in a very serious situation. All legislators are getting bombarded with very angry emails and calls and are under tremendous pressure. Administrative assistants are being cursed. But saying something happened doesn’t mean it’s true. I’m left to wonder if they aren’t the ones in the grip of a fever dream. Giuliani, at least, was coming down with COVID-19 when he visited our Capitol without a mask last week.

Now, it is more important than ever that we are watchful, aware, and informed. We must be vocal and active in our support for our elected officials who have been threatened, and we must work hard to remove the chokehold on our democracy. We must speak up against this attempted coup because it is corrosive to our democracy.

Make your plan to vote in the run-off, and don’t just assume that other people around you are planning to vote because they voted before. There are lots of distractions right now, so spread the word to everyone you know to vote as soon as possible. Our country needs every one of us.

It’s Time to Make the Catch

The day the election was called for Biden, my daughter texted me an audio recording of cheers spontaneously erupting from the balconies of midtown apartments. A wave of joy moved through the city, followed by a collective sigh of relief. People described how four years of stress suddenly left their bodies. For many, it meant the nightmare was over.

But for those of us who pay closer attention, we know it’s not over. Not only will he not concede, but the damage of division has left deep scars. We must count all the votes again, and possibly again after that. The eyes of the nation are upon us, as the balance of the U.S. Senate depends on us to get our people out to the polls, again.

Life has been too full lately. Too dramatic. Too angering. Too joyous. Too confusing. Too sad. Too lonely. Too much.

This weekend I grabbed a set of binoculars and watched a great blue heron. If you want to see a heron do something, you must wait quietly, because they can stand still for a very long time. I admired how its neck both coils up, and stretches out tall and straight. How its feathers drape around its body like a designer feather boa. How its strong, slightly webbed toes claw into the earth to steady its body.

I saw the heron catch a fish and eat it. Then it flew off in its linear formation, with its neck tucked up and its legs straight behind.

Be still for a moment and catch a second breath.

And then let the work begin, again!

Here’s Where it All Stands

State Senate 40: Did I mention that I was reelected to serve as the Senator of the 40th distinct, with 60.5% of the vote? Thank you for all your help in this success! I am honored to serve another term.

Biden Votes: After all the votes were cast and counted, Biden won Georgia by about 14,000 votes. This is actually a larger margin than he has in Arizona, which ended up being around 10,000 votes.

The Recount: The hand recount is now underway across Georgia. I’ve been watching a live webcam of the vote counters in DeKalb county, and it looks like a very neat and orderly operation. Every vote and all of the counting is checked by a second person. Plenty of monitors are watching to make sure there are no shenanigans. We are all proud of Sabrina Rahim, Senate 40 resident and poll worker, who was hired as a vote counter and is giving us reports each day. Here’s what she had to say after Day One: “I have a lot of confidence in the process. We had observers and monitors, many from the Carter Center. No one worked alone. No one could have cheated even if they wanted to. It was quite remarkable how streamlined the entire system was.” Let’s hope Sabrina’s observations are true all over the state.

I know the idea of a hand count makes us all nervous due to potential human error or dishonest actions, and since the hand count is the final certified count. But please remember that the new voting system is also being evaluated with this hand count, and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger does not want his expensive new machines to fail. The hand count also serves as an audit of the QR code that was scanned to count your vote.

I consider Trump’s criticism of our recount an assault on all our voices and a threat to our democracy. He has called the recount, which he requested and is not paying for, a scam, because we are not matching signatures. Trump doesn’t seem to understand that our votes are secret. I also find Governor Kemp’s silence on this matter very distressing.

Run-offs and Absentee Ballots: Three state-wide races were pushed into runoffs — Warnock, Ossoff, and Daniel Blackman, who is running for the Public Service Commission. Early voting begins for these races on December 14th, culminating on Election Day January 5th. Request your absentee ballot NOW for this election, and get others to do the same. This is a race that will be decided by turnout. Don’t assume people will vote — tell them the importance of bringing balance to the U.S. Senate by electing two Democrats here in Georgia, explain how to get a ballot, and encourage them to use a dropbox.

The Georgia Legislature: Sadly, we did not get the gains we wanted in the Georgia Senate or House. We gained three seats in the House, but lost the Minority Leader’s district, Rep. Bob Trammell. Republicans targeted his district with over a million dollars of negative campaigning. We will miss Rep. Trammell. In the Senate we gained one seat. Later next year, when the legislature convenes in a Special Session for redistricting, we will need grassroots volunteers to scream loudly with an anti-gerrymandering message.

What you can do: For four years now many of us in DeKalb have been helping to build up the DeKalb Democratic Party, and we are ready for this moment, so please volunteer and donate to the DeKalb Dems if you can. There is a “Take Back the Senate ALL CALL” Tuesday night, Nov. 17th from 7 – 7:30pm. There are 500,000 registered voters in DeKalb, and the county votes 82% Democratic. DeKalb alone has the power to swing the U.S. Senate back into balance!

Remember to tell your friends to request their absentee ballot NOW at https://ballotrequest.sos.ga.gov/ 

I will be co-hosting a fundraiser for Daniel Blackman for Public Service Commission on Friday, Nov. 20th at 5pm. Here’s his website – you should check him out. If you’d like to register for the event, please do so here, and donate at https://actblue.com/donate/daniel-for-georgia-1.

Warnock and Ossoff are also accepting contributions. Ossoff, due to the national spotlight of the 6th District Congressional race in 2017, has a funding base, but Warnock is not as well known in politics, so he could probably use more local help.

Remember that blue heron I mentioned?  He quietly waited for just the right moment to catch his dinner. Thousands of people across Georgia have been working quietly behind the scenes for years, just to prepare for this moment. We are ready to make the catch! Please do what you can to help us.

Photos by John Boydston. Follow him on Instagram – @johnboydstonphoto

Photos by John Boydston. Follow him on Instagram – @johnboydstonphoto

If you are like me, you are feeling extremely anxious right now. Will voters be safe Tuesday? Are we going to win? When will we know? If we do win, how are Trump and his followers going to react?

As we fasten our seat belts for this wild ride, remember that we are all in this together. Take a moment to ponder with me your answer to one very important question —

What if we win? What if we take the Presidency, the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House?

We must not think our work is finished. We must prepare to work even harder to bring about the change our country so desperately needs.

We’ve built an incredible network of grassroots advocates over the last four years, but we need to keep our eye on the prize.

We didn’t build our network to defeat Trump, and we didn’t build it to elect Democrats.

We built it to ensure everyone has healthcare and quality public education, from cradle to career.

We built it to enact environmental policies that reverse global warming and save our earth from harm.

We built it to pass gun safety laws, to close the income equality gap, and to bring about racial justice.

Don’t expect policy changes to happen quickly just because we elected candidates with “D”s after their names. We, the People – the ones who put our leaders in power – must lead our communities to progress.

And if we are loud enough, the leaders we elected will follow us.

We must push our leaders to act decisively and boldly. We have so much damage to our nation, our processes, and our people to repair.

First, we must communicate with our elected officials that now is not the time for status-quo. The Republican party has taken a chainsaw to our government, and we cannot allow them any further opportunities to destroy our democracy. We will not turn a blind eye nor compromise on issues critical to our survival.

Second, we must insist that our elected officials respond first to us, rather than the powerful corporate lobbyists who hang out in the halls of our Capitol.

Many pundits are estimating that we’ll only have a narrow window of two years to get our most important work done. History has shown that two years into a new administration, the House can shift back. The first year, we must restore trust, get the virus under control, and a vaccine rolled out. And to demonstrate the government can work for the People, we also must enact progressive economic policies to deal with the economic impact of the virus, like enacting a minimum living wage, no-interest small business loans for entrepreneurs, especially entrepreneurs of color who have been hit hard by the pandemic. We need bailouts for daycares, and subsidies for childcare for working parents and all caretakers, to allow everyone to get back to business. We need paid leave so workers can stay home when they are sick, or need to care for sick family members. And we need healthcare for everyone.

If We the People remain focused and active in civic life, we can help make sure our politicians do the work we need them to do now, and this will in turn help them get reelected. It will help us heal the rifts in our communities. 

We know that some Trump supporters, who have believed every lie they have been told, will continue to feel fear, hatred, and anger if we win.

We cannot and will not tolerate hateful actions, threats, and violence.

We must also ignore the far right’s attempts to bait us. This may mean we walk past former friends, family members, and colleagues with whom we disagree vehemently, or who we feel have hurt us through their support for Trump.

We will have a job to do: we must work even harder than we did to win these elections. We must double down to promote and protect human rights, justice, and equality for everyone in our communities.

We will make sure our voices are louder than conspiracy theories, hate, and corporate interests. We will make sure our democracy stays a democracy that reflects the will of the People.

So first, make sure you and all your friends vote so that we have a chance at winning. Then, think about what you will do next to help us move forward if we win.

Photograph credit, Tina Gutierrez, my friend from college. Check out her social justice photography, as well as her amazing underwater photography.

https://www.tinagutierrezartsphotography.com

Kemp Doesn’t Care

Last week, Governor Kemp stood before the steps in Georgia’s capitol, with Trump’s CMS appointee Seema Verma by his side, to announce the federal government’s approval of his Medicaid Waiver Plan.

The Governor’s slickly worded presentation almost had me believing that he could cure Georgia of its 1.4 million uninsured. He spun a pretty good tale of how “millions and millions” of additional Georgians would benefit from lower health insurance premiums as a result of his plan. But the small print revealed he was selling us snake oil instead.

Gov. Kemp’s waiver only addresses a small fraction of Georgia’s uninsured – at a platinum price.

What Does Governor Kemp’s Plan Waive?

Elimination of the HealthCare.gov Enrollment Portal: First, the Governor’s waiver will ban Georgians from using the HealthCare.gov website to shop for ACA health coverage plans. Instead of one-stop shopping on the federal portal, Georgians will be required to visit the websites of numerous private brokers to compare various ACA plans. This means these brokers may offer additional non-ACA compliant plans to unsuspecting purchasers. Kemp called HealthCare.gov “simply awful,” but failed to point out that the Trump administration has been sabotaging the website ever since he took office in 2016 — by cutting marketing & education funds and removing helpful links.

Reinsurance: Second, the Governor’s waiver includes “reinsurance” for private plans on the ACA marketplace. In other words, the government will pay the big, expensive claims so private companies don’t have to. This corporate subsidy is meant to lower ACA plan premiums for consumers who purchase plans on the healthcare marketplace. This could work, but allowing brokers to simultaneously steer healthier people into cheaper plans with less coverage would negate any benefit reinsurance has to offer. And as we have seen time-and-time again, government paid corporate subsidies are rarely passed along to consumers, but instead tend to turn into profit that lines the pockets of CEOs.

Medicaid Expansion: The Affordable Care Act allows states to expand Medicaid, and Kemp’s waiver expands Medicaid to 100% of the Federal Poverty Level, instead of the 138% called for in the ACA. Although it is commonly believed that anyone can get Medicaid if they are poor enough, this has never been the case in Georgia. Currently, to qualify for Medicaid, you must be disabled, a parent receiving cash aid, or a low-income pregnant woman, child, or elderly person.

According to the Governor, his waiver makes Medicaid accessible to about 50,000 additional low-income people, but with substantial strings attached — these Georgians can only keep their Medicaid IF they document 80 hours of qualified work activity per month. Kemp not only leaves out 350,000 uninsured people who could qualify under full Medicaid expansion, but ensures that people who are too sick to work, home caring for sick family members, or who lose their jobs, also lose their healthcare.

Kemp’s Medicaid Expansion – Too Little, Too Late

A 2019 Atlanta Journal Constitution poll found that 71% percent of Georgians support Medicaid expansion. Yet, last week Governor Kemp belittled Medicaid expansion, calling Democrats’ support for this idea a “bumper sticker plan for healthcare reform.”

Then, he claimed the Democrats’ plan costs too much. He admits his waiver plan will cost $218 million, yet the legislature had a fiscal note prepared last year that said full Medicaid expansion would cost only about $200 million – $18 million less than Kemp’s plan.

Full Medicaid expansion is matched with federal dollars at a higher rate than partial Medicaid expansion — dollars that can help our rural hospitals, add jobs, and expand our healthcare workforce. More healthcare workers and solvent community hospitals are desperately needed to help fight COVID-19.

Kemp also doesn’t want us to remember that our federal tax dollars have already paid for Medicaid expansion. And right now, all that pre-paid taxpayer money is finding its way to 39 other states who HAVE expanded Medicaid, including some under Republican leadership.

Let that sink in. Kemp is so averse to helping Georgians in need that he’d rather throw your tax dollars at other states.

What Should We Do?

Over and over again, for the last 30 years, I’ve watched profit come before healthcare. I’m sick and tired of this imbalance, and millions of Georgians are literally sick because of it. Governor Kemp and his fellow Republicans insist on market-driven, profit-based healthcare because they just don’t care who gets trampled in favor of corporate interests.

Our government should work to ensure that basic human needs are met with the same energy that it uses to foster a profit-driven economy.

If Governor Kemp actually listened to all of his constituents, he’d find that not everyone is happy with their private plans. In some cases monthly premiums and deductibles are so high, people can’t afford to visit a doctor. Access to healthcare is often disrupted while insurance companies and doctors argue about contracts. And even though the legislature has talked a good game about surprise billing, they’ve stopped well short of banning the practice.

That’s why my healthcare approach is to provide for a public option, modeled after the popular PeachCare for Kids program. Under this plan, anyone, no matter their level of income or access to an employer sponsored plan, could choose to purchase the PeachCare Public Option. The cost would be not a penny higher than what it costs the government to provide the service. Which incidentally, would be up to 10% lower than the cost of equivalent private plans.

This plan provides a viable alternative for people whose private plans are not working for them. Close to 20 other states are taking a serious look at adopting a public option for healthcare. It’s time Georgia does the same.

While Governor Kemp has been spinning his wheels for 18 months, spending 2.5 million dollars “studying” what to do about the uninsured, millions of people have gone without treatment for health issues that put them at higher risk for being hospitalized or dying from COVID, especially Black people.

And since the Governor’s plan doesn’t go into effect for another 8 months (July 2021), even the small number of Georgians this plan is meant to help will continue to go without care through what is expected to be the worst surge yet of the COVID pandemic.

This is no time for Republicans’ approach to “caring,” it costs us too much. Join me in making sure we send a strong message at the polls that our healthcare belongs to us, not corporate interests. Use the remaining days of this election season to make sure the people around you who value decency and democracy VOTE!

Right Now It’s Bad.

For most of my life, I’ve heard the Republican Party spin doomsday scenarios should Democrats gain political control. They’ve claimed the economy would suffer due to higher taxes and big government. Affordable Care Act death panels would hand out death sentences to those unworthy of healthcare.  Al Qaeda would gain influence under Obama. And yet when Democrats won, none of those things happened.

Today is no different. If Biden wins, they say Communism would take root in our country. If people vote by mail, they say voter fraud would undermine our election.  We’re all sick and tired of hearing this false rhetoric.

The reality is, the Affordable Care Act has saved hundreds of thousands of lives simply by making healthcare available and affordable to more Americans. And Bin Laden was taken down during Obama’s administration. And Democrats pulled us out of the Great Depression and the Great Recession.

It seems that Republicans have found themselves caught in a “Chicken Little” loop – if anyone they disagree with is in power, a mysterious and terrible “threat” to their idea of America is at risk.

But the irony is that while Republicans wallow in the doom of what “could be,” a different dystopia is already here: our for-profit healthcare system of “haves” and “have nots” is already choosing who lives and dies. Our citizens are being kidnapped or killed by law enforcement officers and plain clothed para-military. Our economy is in the tank because of the uncontained spread of COVID-19. And right here in Georgia we elected a woman to Congress who is willing to show off military-grade guns in preparation for acting out against other politicians who simply disagree with her ideas.

These atrocities against our Constitution, our human rights, our human decency, and our democracy have happened because of Republican fear mongering.

But the future has yet to be written. 

In Georgia, Republican budgets have cut ten billion dollars from our public schools over the last decade while offering tax credits for private and religious schools. Our Governor is proposing to dismantle access to the national Affordable Care Act website, replacing it with for-profit brokers selling plans directly, including junk plans that rip-off hard working Georgians, leaving them with huge gaps in care in the middle of a pandemic.

By submitting your ballot, you can do something about it.

We can rebuild Georgia’s economy by ensuring that people are safe when they venture out to do business. We can make sure our unemployed have the money they need to live, and the training they need to re-enter the workforce.

We can make sure every Georgian has healthcare.

We can protect our school children from gun violence with gun safety reform.

We can treat undocumented immigrants with dignity, and protect their human rights.

We can end police and criminal justice system brutality against Black citizens through greater social services funding and stronger measures to hold law enforcement accountable for abuse of their power and malpractice.

Any one of these is reason enough to build a better now… and the future will take care of itself.

Give what you can. Make a plan to vote. Volunteer your time, if you are able. We have until November 3rd to save our country.

I firmly believe that we must have a diversity of voices to ensure a thriving democracy. It follows that to protect our country from tyranny, we must make voting easily accessible to everyone.

Two years ago on election night, my campaign volunteers retrieved vote counts directly from all 48 precincts throughout the district. When totaled, my opponent had slightly more votes, but we knew we still needed to add in the early votes. We did the math, and it was clear I had won. My opponent called to concede, and he pointed out that my winning totals came from early voters—insinuating that if “those people” had not voted, he would have won.

The Republican approach to voting has not changed: their constant voter suppression tactics show they don’t want you to vote unless you are voting for them. And adding to the confusion of the pandemic, Republicans are trying to sow distrust in voting-by-mail.

If Trump wins the election day vote, many democracy experts are concerned that he will try to call the election based exclusively on election day numbers. Those who voted by mail or who voted early risk being marginalized and disenfranchised. If this happens, we must call it what it is, a coup: “a sudden, violent, and illegal seizure of power from a government.”

It’s not an exaggeration to say that this administration already has employed tyranny to achieve its goals. Civil and human rights have been violated when people use their voices peacefully for change. They have been subjected to excessive force from riot squads. They have been pulled into unmarked vans by federal agents. They have been told that if they believe that Black Lives Matter then they are the enemy – simply for exercising their constitutional right to free speech and peaceable assembly.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Trump later calls all early voters and mail-in voters a threat to America.

We must use our vote even if we are worried about the sanctity of our election and its processes. We must make our voices heard so overwhelmingly that they cannot be ignored.

We cannot allow this administration and local Republican leaders to pervert the peaceful exercise of our constitutional rights into “threats” or “anti-American” actions.

Here is what you can do today to help make sure your voice and your vote counts:

Know Someone Who’s Not Registered? Maybe a grandchild, or someone’s girl/boyfriend? Get them registered to vote before October 5th so they can vote in November. I recommend registering on-line at https://registertovote.sos.ga.gov/. It takes 3 to 4 weeks to process and the deadline is October 5, so do it today!

Absentee Ballot Tips: Ballots are beginning to arrive. Now what? Here are some tips from DeKalb Board of Elections Member, Susan Motter. Please share these tips with others. Many people are voting by absentee ballot for the first time.

  1. Read the instructions before completing your ballot!!! And read them again.
  2. Use a black or blue pen.  Do NOT use a Sharpie as it will BLEED through the ballot which is a two-sided ballot.
  3. Completely fill the ovals.  Do not use Xs or check marks.
  4. Tear off the stub at the top of the ballot. This applies to ballots mailed between now and October 16 as these ballots are coming from the SOS vendor in AZ. If you do not tear off the stub, elections staff will spend hours tearing them off as the scanners are unable to scan the length of the ballots with the stubs on.
  5. Insert your ballot in the smaller white envelope and seal it.
  6. Don’t forget to sign the back of the larger return envelope (yellow). Also now is NOT the time to try some crazy new signature or be lazy when signing. Treat your signature with the same solemnity you likely had when you registered to vote.
  7. Return your ballot as soon as possible by dropping it in a secure drop box!

 

Constitutional Amendments, Referendums, and Special Elections 

You’re ready to vote, but what about those amendments and referendums? And what about that Special Election with 21 candidates?

Special election to replace Sen. Isakson: The list of 21 candidates includes Republicans and Democrats. The best chance for a Democrat to make the run-off is to coalesce around a single choice, which is Raphael Warnock. The names are in alphabetical order and he appears near the bottom of this rather long list.

Constitutional Amendment 1: Dedication of Fees.
Through the years, the Georgia General Assembly has passed legislation requiring certain fees to go into specific trust funds. Examples include the Tire Disposal Fee, which is supposed to be used to clean up landfills and dumps; and surcharges on traffic fines, which are supposed to be used for drivers’ education. However, during times of economic hardship, these funds are often diverted into other causes that are considered more urgent. So in essence, the legislature has not kept its word. Amendment One fixes this problem. It proposes a constitutional amendment that would allow legislators to dedicate fee revenue for specific purposes for up to 10 years, at which time it can be renewed. But if there is a financial crisis, the legislature could suspend the fee allocation and free up the revenue to go into the general fund to cover things like education and healthcare. Vote YES.

Constitutional Amendment 2: Waives State & Local Sovereign Immunity.
Government is generally protected by the doctrine of sovereign immunity, which says a citizen cannot sue the government. Amendment Two allows Georgia residents to sue state and local governments to stop unconstitutional laws or laws that violate state law. This constitutional amendment, if passed, reverses a 2017 Supreme Court ruling that required Georgians to seek permission from the government to sue the government. Vote YES

Statewide Referendum: Property Tax Exemption.
Exempts property tax on single family homes built by charities such as Habitat for Humanity. Vote YES

DeKalb Ethics: The DeKalb Ethics Board has been dormant since the Georgia Supreme Court ruled its appointment process unconstitutional. The first attempt to fix this through a referendum would have weakened ethics enforcement and voters accordingly voted it down. During the 2020 session, legislators went back to work and passed a bill that maintains the force of the original Ethics Board. I recommend voting YES.

Gwinnett Referenda: Schools and Transit. Gwinnett county residents will decide whether to extend a one-cent sales tax for schools (E-SPLOST) and a 30-year one-cent tax for transit (T-SPLOST), including extending the MARTA rail line from Doraville to Jimmy Carter Blvd. Vote YES.

City Referenda: Brookhaven residents will decide whether or not to remove term limits for the office of Mayor, and Atlanta residents will vote on extending the $30,000 homestead exemption to homes built on nonprofit land trusts (only a handful of properties are built using this arrangement).

If you appreciate these emails and haven’t donated to my re-election campaign yet, please consider doing so now. Today is an important disclosure deadline and Election Day is around the corner.  I must be able to fend off any attempts by Republicans to reclaim this district. Any amount helps!

From Hazel Segall in Dunwoody: “We all decided that Absentee voting was easy, convenient, secure, COVID-19 safe, and we could wear our campaign swag.

Senate 40 volunteers appearing from left to right: Debi Shendelman, Alice Wertheim, Hazel Segall, Muriel Knope and Angela Minyard.

“Do not get lost in a sea of despair.  Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime.”
–John Lewis, 1940 – 2020

2020’s Last Stand

When the pandemic started last March, we dealt with uncertainty by dividing time into manageable “chunks.” We put off making decisions, hoping a little extra time would bring the magic answers we sought. Somehow, over time, we’ve let go of certainty and settled into a new normal.

Six months have now passed. Spring heated up into summer, and now the crisp feeling of fall is beginning to creep into the air. And believe it or not, six weeks from now, all votes will have been cast, and the direction of our country will be decided for the next four years, and more.

If you’re like me, the closer election day gets, the more my anxiety level soars.

Just as everyone has made a “Plan to Vote,” we also need to make a “Plan to Cope.” The need to take care of your own mental health is very real. Here are some things I find calming.

Visit Nat Silver’s 538 Website: I don’t really trust polls, but Nate Silver came closest to predicting Trump’s win in 2016, so I tend to trust him. The website is updated daily. The predictions look hopeful.

Be good to yourself: And know you are not alone.

Get Outside and Exercise: When the pandemic started last spring, I found a daily walk refreshing. Then it got too hot, but now cooler fall temperatures are rolling in. This fall, I plan to participate in the “Face Mask Run” 5/10K. Not only does it feel good to get outside and walk, you get some really cool swag featuring the “Hope is not Cancelled” logo.

Read a Good Book or Binge on Netflix: I also enjoy escaping real life by reading fiction, and I recommend “The Henna Artist,” written by Alka Joshi, the sister of a friend and campaign supporter of mine.

Turn Off the News: If the news knocks your spirits down, turn it off. This applies to Facebook as well.

Do Something: If you need to volunteer from home I recommend the Georgia Postcard Project. Launched by Senate 40 resident Tricia Gephardt, her goal is to help turn Georgia blue by sending out 250,000 postcards with personal notes written to voters. Last I heard, they have written 200,000!

Pandemic Campaigning

I’ll be honest, campaigning during a pandemic feels like marching in a rain soaked parade. I’ve never liked making videos, and I miss in-person events. But as I’ve always said, it’s time for each of us to get out of our comfort zone, and do whatever it takes to save our country.

Despite the obstacles, we are still getting our message out to tens of thousands of Senate 40 residents.

Our first mail piece reminded voters to not wait until November 3 to vote, and to use a ballot dropbox if voting by mail. The mail postcard was a success, thanks to many of you who helped fund it. One voter contacted a campaign volunteer to say, “I was really dreading trying to figure out how to get an absentee ballot and then figure out what to do with it after voting. The postcard from Sally Harrell with the website made it easy to go to the link, put in the request, and the postcard also informed me about ballot dropboxes. Knowledge is power! Thought you’d want to know since you work with and support her campaign. She’s got our vote.

In addition to yard signs, handwritten postcards, and campaign literature distribution in apartment complexes, we have several more informative mail pieces going out to voters. We still need help raising the dollars needed for postage, so if you can make a donation, please scroll down to the bottom of this email.

After the Vote, It’s Back to Work We Go!

2021 will be a challenging year for the Georgia legislature and I am prepared to deliver the leadership necessary.

Following the November election, the Governor has said he might immediately call a Special Session. The legislature has no procedure for remote voting, so all sessions will be held In-Person.

We must closely monitor state revenues and write a budget that stimulates the economy so families and businesses can thrive again. It is possible that our regular 40-day session will be spread throughout the calendar year so we can base our budget on actual revenue numbers rather than estimates.

We must continue to work with the Georgia Department of Public Health to control the spread of the virus so schools, long term care facilities, and businesses can thrive. Hopefully this will include rolling out a safe and effective vaccine.

And finally, assuming U.S. Census numbers are ready, we will meet in another Special Session to redraw political districts, from Local School Boards to County Commissions, to Congress. How we approach this will determine the political environment for the next decade.

If there’s one thing people have learned in the last few years, it’s who we elect matters, personally. In the last six months, elected officials have determined if your kids can go to school, whether your unemployment check arrives, how we vote, and how safe it is to go out in public.

When I put my name on the ballot, I made a commitment to the people of Georgia to serve, through good times as well as hard times. We’re in the hard times now, and I remain committed to you, your Senator for the 40th district.

As the most important election of our lifetime approaches, it is critical to get this message out: “Do not wait until the last day to vote!” Request an absentee ballot now, or make a plan to vote early in-person.

I want to get this word out to 20,000 Democrats in Senate 40, but the $10,000 needed for postage and printing costs is not yet in our budget. So far, we’ve raised around $6,000 earmarked for this mailing. For every dollar you contribute, we can reach two more voters. How many voters can you help us reach with this important message?  Use this link to support this mailing: https://secure.actblue.com/donate/sd40-vote-early .

Secretary of State Releases New Absentee Ballot Request Website

If you have not yet requested your ballot for the November election, the Secretary of State’s new website, https://ballotrequest.sos.ga.gov/,  makes it easier. Just grab your driver’s license or State ID number and complete the entire process on-line. No printing, stamps, or emailing. 

If you have already requested your ballot for the November election, you do not need to request it again. If you do not have a driver’s license or state issued ID, you can request your ballot using the PDF on the My Voter Page at https://www.mvp.sos.ga.gov/

In Georgia, you must request an absentee (mail-in) ballot for every single election, unless you are over 65 or disabled, and you have checked the box to get ballots mailed to you for the entire election cycle. If you have not done this, or don’t qualify, you must submit a new request each time.

If you have any questions, call the Georgia Democratic Party Voter Protection Hotline at 888-730-5816. 

 

Why use the new website? Your ballot request will be processed by a dedicated vendor instead of your local election office. This will free up time for election staff to train poll workers.

When will ballots be mailed? The mailing of ballots will start September 15th. Please check My Voter Page to track the mailing and acceptance of your ballot. The sooner you sent your request, the sooner you’ll get your ballot.

Why Vote-by-Drop-Box? If you don’t feel safe voting in person, using a drop box ensures your ballot will arrive on time. And, since in-person voting will be crowded, Voting-by-Drop-Box helps shorten the lines so more people can vote. Drop boxes are monitored by 24-hour camera, bolted down, and emptied daily. No postage is required if you drop your ballot in an official ballot dropbox (not a mailbox). For an up-to-date list of ballot drop boxes please see the “Voter Info” page on my website at https://sallyharrell.org/vote/

 

It’s Not Too Late to Complete the Census!

Census workers are now masking up and going door-to-door in hard to count areas. Last I heard, Georgia’s total count was 3% behind the national average. And, the President bumped up the final date for door-to-door canvassing by an entire month. Visit https://2020census.gov/en/how-to-help.html, to help spread the word.

 

Virus Spread — Cautiously Optimistic

For several weeks now, I’ve been watching COVID-19 metrics improve. But with school starting back, I figured things would change. However, I still remain cautiously optimistic. The metro Atlanta area appears to be doing much better than the rest of Georgia. Based on my own observations, I find people in the Atlanta area are much better about wearing masks, so I’ve personally come to the conclusion that masks work. Now is not the time to let up on any precautions you are taking. 

 

Healthcare Workers

One of the key factors of making it through this pandemic is protecting our healthcare workforce. This means PPE, but it also means mental health. Our healthcare workers are experiencing trauma, and we must be ready to take care of them now and in the future. I will be working with the Georgia Hospital Association to enact policies to radically support our healthcare workers.

 

Students, Teachers and Parents

The lives of students, teachers and parents of school-aged children have been turned upside down. Parents are managing virtual, at-home instruction while keeping up with full-time jobs. Teachers are working long, exhausting days. Students miss their friends and their “normal” lives. Please reach out and support these families. And thank them for keeping us safe.

 

Finally, if you are able, please make a donation to help us tell 20,000 Democrats, “Do not wait until the last day to vote!”

https://secure.actblue.com/donate/sd40-vote-early