Politics & Government

One of Georgia’s rising stars would use lessons from Coast to govern

Stacey Abrams announces her run for governor at Chehaw Park in Albany, Georgia, on June 3.
Stacey Abrams announces her run for governor at Chehaw Park in Albany, Georgia, on June 3. For The Washington Post File

The Coast’s best chance of getting someone elected to statewide office could be unfolding in Georgia.

That’s where Stacey Abrams is in the mix for governor.

Abrams hasn’t lived on the Coast since 1989, when her parents, Carolyn and Robert Abrams, were admitted to Emory University and the family of eight moved to Atlanta, leaving a working class background behind. She had just finished her first year at Gulfport High.

Since then, she’s had success after success. She was valedictorian at Avondale High School and went on to earn degrees at Spelman College, the University of Texas LBJ School of Public Affairs and Yale Law School. Before she was 30, she had become a tax attorney so effective for nonprofit organizations she was appointed deputy city attorney for Atlanta. In 2006, she was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives, where she became minority leader in 2011, the first woman and the first African-American to hold that position. She gave up that job to run.

Amy Poehler made her one of her Smart Girls.

Some people know her best as romance-suspense author Selena Montgomery.

She’s written eight of those novels — “Rules of Engagement,” “The Art of Desire,” “Power of Persuasion,” “Never Tell,” “Hidden Sins,” “Secrets and Lies” and “Reckless Deception” — which have sold more than 100,000 copies. It’s a profession that has an unusual perk. You can exact a bit of revenge against an old boyfriend. She wrote one into “Rules,” and promptly put him in prison.

About President Trump

She’s unabashedly liberal and unflinchingly honest about her desire to make Donald Trump a one-term president.

“If Republicans vote for me, mazel tov,” Abrams told the Marietta Daily Journal. “Welcome aboard. But I am running for every Democrat in the state of Georgia. Every person of color, every progressive white person, every person who doesn’t know quite what they are and is ready to be convinced that they should be over here with us. Because if we pull our coalition together, we take our state back, and if we take our state back, we take the South back, and if we take the South back, we take the country back, and if we take the country back, Trump doesn’t stand a chance in 2020.”

But growing up in Gulfport, life was less about politics and more about service. Her mother was a librarian at William Carey, her father worked at Ingalls. Three tenets guided their lives, the candidate says on her webiste. Go to school. Go to church. And take care of each other.

The Nation covered one of her rallies where she told this story:

“Abrams rallied the crowd with a moving story of her father having to walk home, miles, from his night job, though on rainy nights her mother would wake her kids, pile them in the car and go look for him. One night, they found him walking in the cold rain without his coat. He’d given it to a man without one. ‘He told us, ‘That man didn’t have anybody coming for him, and I knew you all were coming for me.’

“Abrams then pledged, ‘I’m coming for you, Georgia,’ she promised.”

Her parents also helped in public housing and the prison ministry.

And along the way she saw the value of building coalitions.

“The most effective and permanent change happened when you had good people doing public service who were able to work collaboratively with people in government,” she said. “People got the action they needed.”

If she succeeds, she will become the first African-American woman to lead a state in the history of the United States. And race, she said, has to be a factor in the campaign.

Talking about race

“Race has always been a complicated conversation in the South,” she said. “It will continue to be. We can’t ignore it; we also can’t pretend to be surprised by it.

“I think the responsibility is to look for ways we can consistently get together in our communities and to acknowledge the concerns raised by racism.”

It’s a conversation, she said, made even more complicated by Trump.

“The challenge we see on the national level is we have a leader who refuses to acknowledge the existence of racism as a motivating factor behind some of his actions,” she said. “But I think on the state and local level we have ample opportunity to lead in the right direction. To try to acknowledge we’re a very diverse country, particularly in the South. And that our legacy is ... when we’re willing to work together we move everyone forward.”

Equal treatment for all comes up repeatedly on her site as she explains her vision: a government that serves everyone, a Georgia where every child believes their future should be limitless, a state where the economy works in every county, for every Georgian.

“It seems that race is always going to be part of the conversation,” she said. “The goal is to make certain it is the beginning, not the end, of the conversation. And that when people see me, they understand that I’ve had to overcome a number of barriers. But it’s also a signal that it is possible, that these are issues we can work through. I want people to understand we can make it work but we have to honest about what the challenges are if we ever want to find solutions.”

She said she’ll be able to guide a state as diverse as Georgia partly because of the experiences she had in Mississippi.

“I understand urban, rural and suburban because of where I grew up,” she said. “I’ve been on farms, I’ve seen chicken slaughterhouses, so I know, I understand the complexity of Georgia because I grew up in a state like Mississippi where you value the land and we celebrate our story and our history. That means something to me. And it’s why I’m so eager to see Georgia move forward because when the South moves forward, America moves forward. I’m proud Mississippi native and I’m proud to be standing in Georgia.

“Here’s the thing. I love Mississippi. It’s where my family still lives, part of it, I have a brother in Mississippi and have brothers and sisters in Georgia.”