Time for Stacey Abrams To Step Aside as Georgia Democrat House Leader

House Democrat Leader Stacey Abrams

One of my favorite Georgia writers Max Blau from Creative Loafing Magazine did a wonderful and extremely thorough investigation into the New Georgia Project. This is a long article but well worth the read. For those of you not familiar with either Stacey Abrams or the New Georgia project I will try and give you a brief summary. Stacey Abrams (D) from Atlanta  is Georgia’s House Minority leader. The New Georgia Project was an attempt last year to register more minority voters. With the landslide victory by Nathan Deal and others it is now apparent things didn’t go according to plans. In fact it now seems they registered fewer than four years prior! In 2010 there was no major push with $3 million plus and paid staffers either which is even more embarrassing.

Abrams made national attention late last year with a decision by Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp (R) to investigate some irregularities and possible voter fraud. Abrams appeared on some national media shows explaining that this was nothing but a witch hunt carried out with racial underpinnings and was more about voter suppression than voter fraud. Kemp issued a very broad subpoena to look at all of New Georgia Project’s records even though he only alleged that fewer than 1/10th of registrations were suspect. Most Democrats in Georgia including yours truly fully backed Abrams in her efforts and trusted her at her word that registrations may not have been counted. We are now left with the very real prospect that Brian Kemp was right and we were misled by Abrams.

State Sen.Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, a longtime civil rights advocate inside the Gold Dome, says Abrams, as the initiative’s founder, ought to disclose NGP’s registration numbers and outline its operations.

“We need to know how much money was spent, where the money came from, and what companies and individuals received the resources,” Fort says. “New Georgia Project was a major player in voter registration last year. New Georgia Project engaged in issues of great public importance and had a great public impact.”

Stacey Abrams managed to raise over $3 million to fund the New Georgia Project non-profit along with over $800,000 to her political accounts and it was widely billed as the largest voter registration project of minorities voters ever in Georgia. People like Sen. Fort and Sen. David Lucas (D) Macon were taken aback as Abrams suddenly appeared on the scene as the new champion of voter rights. They were taken aback because “only four years ago she voted with Republicans to reduce early voting from 45 days to 21 days, effectively breaking away from staunch voting rights supporters on the issue.” Now suddenly she is the trying to become the new leader and champion of voter registrations.

“We were kept in the dark, period,” says state Sen. David Lucas, D-Macon. “[We didn’t know] how much money was raised, who they paid to go out to do the work. We literally didn’t know anything.”

In addition to New Georgia Non-Profit, Abrams also has a PAC (Political Action Committee) called Georgia Next, Inc. Since 2012, Abrams has given more than $260,000 to the Georgia House Democratic Caucus, an office working for state reps in the minority party, and the Democratic Party of Georgia which makes her an important friend to have for legislators in districts around the state where campaign funds are tight. The problem with political leaders that control the purse strings is you hope that they spend that money wisely.

Many are now beginning to question whether Abrams is the right person in her various leadership roles. She seems very stretched for time and is not doing a good job as leader of the House, the NGP, or of the PAC. But other rumors and rumblings under the Gold Dome suggest it is not a matter of being stretched for time, but rather she simply is not up to the job because she is not a competent executive.While she’s great at tooting her own horn on national media, has Stacey Abrams done anything constructive to help the Democratic Party in Georgia? Her one job was to get more Democrats elected in the Legislature and she failed spectacularly.

The Creative Loafing article goes into far much more detail, but to skip ahead it would appear that those tens of thousands of missing registrations that Stacey Abrams complained went missing were a lie. She went on the Rachel Maddow show and claimed 40,000 were missing and said they had fallen into a “black hole”. But to this date she has not produced any evidence to support those claims to either Brian Kemp, Creative Loafing or even to fellow Democrats like Sen. Fort or Lucas. Unless she provides some convincing evidence to support all her claims, she is giving the Georgia GOP a great weapon to rouse their base and lots of “I told you so” ammunition for 2016.

So what are the actual numbers of voters registered by New Georgia Project? The total number of NGP registrants falls between about 49,300, according to Kemp, and about 86,000, according to NGP Executive Director Nse Ufot. Two weeks after the voter registration deadline, Kemp reported more than 39,300 NGP registrants had made it onto the voter rolls, another 10,000 or so applications were pending, and almost 6,500 were deemed ineligible or invalid. That is a far cry from Abrams original goal of over 100,000 and over $3 Million in donations seems wasted for such low numbers. In fact, those numbers are no better than other years with no such big campaign or funding and less than 2010 another non-presidential election year. 

“One Democratic strategist and former Abrams staffer says, “[New Georgia Project] underperformed what was done in 2010. Absolutely nothing was done in 2010. It’s hard to grasp how unsuccessful her effort was, given the amount of money raised.”

Many from the Nunn and Carter campaigns that steered money into New Georgia are now joining Sen. Fort and Sen. Lucas in asking for some transparency and answers as to why NGP  was such an epic failure. That $3 million certainly could have been put to far better uses. Couldn’t all that money have been better spent to gain or hold on to Democrat seats in downticket offices?  

According to a recent article at Peach Pundit there are nine and possibly more House districts where either Jason carter or Michelle Nunn received well over 40% of the vote and there were no Democrat candidates even running at all. HDs 51, 79, 80, 101, 106, 107, 117, 140 and 145. It is hard to gain seats when you don’t have any candidates even running.

Much of that $3 million wasted could have gone to help field candidates. In two other districts Carter and Nunn won over 50% of the vote but the Democrat House candidate lost. “In HD 111, Jim Nichols received 46.9% of the vote to Nunn’s 50.3% and Carter’s 50.1% against Republican Brian Strickland. In District 151, where Democrat Ezekiel Holley ran against Republican Gerald Greene, Holley received 44.95% compared to Nunn’s 53.26% and Carter’s 53.91%.”

Had Stacey Abrams reached her goal of registering all those new voters then she would rightfully be lauded. But when she failed to even surpass voter registration in 2010 (which was also a non-presidential year) and had no massive campaign or funding behind it, then something doesn’t smell quite right. At the very least you would hope that $3M and all those paid staff would beat the 2010 numbers. 2014 was a massive fail with all those resources behind it. Just as she would have been lauded for success, so must she take blame for failure but instead seems completely unrepentant and has avoided any introspection to the part she played.

Is this the best Democrats can do in Georgia?

What is worse is Abrams is sticking to her guns and instead of apologizing is doubling down. She used NGP to gain statewide and even nationwide name recognition. She touts herself as someone fighting against voter suppression while people like Sen. Fort who have been doing this for a very long time seem very suspicious of her new claim to fame. Was the NGP all just a big dog and pony show to boost her name recognition for a possible run for Governor? If that was her goal then she accomplished a larger name recognition for herself but little else. But if the goal was to register voters it was a one way ticket on the fail boat.

She is also making a lot of former Democrat supporters of NGP that defended her positions look like they have a lot of egg on their face about now. Instead of voter suppression, it is beginning to look more like a lot of ineptness and incompetent leadership by Stacey Abrams than any nefarious work by Brian Kemp or the Georgia GOP. When you call us into battle with you Stacey you better make damn sure you are have your facts straight. Once you lose the trust and respect of Democrat supporters and grassroots workers in the state it is hard to regain.

When you start throwing around terms like voter suppression in Georgia you better be on terra firma. Brian Kemp has made some outrageous comments in the past and Stacey Abrams just gave him more credibility than he deserves. She might have done what Kemp couldn’t do on his own which is to reform his image and actually be right about something for a change. He rarely is.

If anything her failures have strengthened the GOP stronghold on Georgia and has done little to strengthen Democrat numbers or influence. She has weekend the party and what’s worse our prospects in 2016.  I don’t think anyone would argue that there aren’t legitimate concerns of voter suppression in Georgia, but the NGP isn’t one of them. At least not to the degree that Abrams asserted. Republican state legislators are pushing a bill to reduce the number of early voting days from 21 to 12 so this is now a fight that seems harder after loss credibility with false claims about the NGP.  Not that she ever puts up much of a fight even without this scandal. More often than not she capitulates and allows the GOP to walk all over her. The GOP wouldn’t have a supermajority if she had done a better job at getting Dems elected in some very winnable races. We had fewer challengers than ever before which proves Abrams sucks at candidate recruitment which is perhaps the most important role she has a House leader. All races, especially ones we can win, need to have a Democrat running for an office.

One things seems abundantly clear. Stacey Abrams doesn’t seem to be a very competent executive or manager of either NGP or of the House Democrats or even of her PAC. She failed miserably at both efforts and seems only interested in personal goals and not to helping the Democrat party in Georgia as a whole.  In that respects she reminds me a great deal of Kasim Reed the mayor of Atlanta. Those Ferguson fliers were an embarrassment and likely backfired as it caused a lot of anger among even Democrat circles.

She also seems more concerned with congeniality than standing up for any Democrat proposal in the House. Why is Allen Peake, a former prohibitionist leading the fight for legalizing cannabis oil when Democrats have supported this for years? Many people on Peake’s Facebook page actually think it is the Democrats who are against it!

Why isn’t Abrams explaining and leading efforts to abolish no-knock warrants and stop highway robbery by police AKA civil asset forfeitures? Where are her fiery speeches to stand up for our school funding and HOPE funding? Haven’t heard a peep out of her about introducing a bill to allow voter initiated referendums which is an area voters of both parties in Georgia support and could be a winning issue for Democrats to gain new voters.

Where are her proposals to protect whistleblowers, reform the corrupt Georgia Board of Regents and University System of Georgia. How about ending sovereign immunity so that the BOR & USG can’t destroy the lives of whistle blowers who have no legal recourse to fight it with that immunity. This should be led by a Democrat voice not by a Republican like Willard.

These are the types of issues that would allow Georgia to be competitive in 2016 but only people like Sen. Fort (D), Sen. Curt Thomson (D), and Wendell Willard, (R) seem interested in these types of issues that really matter to voters and would get them to the polls. Why isn’t she screaming from the mountain top that the Georgia Democrat party supports medical cannabis, ending no-knock warrants and those other examples mentioned above? Even if these bills don’t get passed, at least Georgia voters would know what the Democrats actually support and how they differ from the Georgia GOP. Right now I am not so sure there is much difference.

Stacey Abrams and DuBose Porter responded to the exposé article written by Max Blau. Democratic Party of Georgia Chairman DuBose Porter offered in a lengthy statement his unequivocal support for Abrams’ leadership as Georgia’s House Minority Leader and NGP’s founder. I would expect him to say nothing else. But as a Democrat political analyst and blogger I do not share his enthusiasm. I was once an Abrams supporter myself but all her grandstanding and self-aggrandizement with no desire to examine and learn from her mistakes leads me to believe it is time someone else ran NGP and the House as well. Maybe it is even time NGP was disbanded entirely and a new project with a different team at the helm.

We Democrats do ourselves no favors by blindly supporting Democrat leaders and politicians in Georgia who seem unable to admit or apologize for their mistakes let alone learn from those mistakes. If Georgia is to ever turn purple and become competitive it is up to the base to demand accountability and more competent leadership. If Stacey Abrams truly cares about turning Georgia blue she needs to step aside and let someone else have a turn. If she doesn’t volunteer then other Democrat voices need to start calling for a change in leadership.

Stacey Abrams is a smart and potential rising star of the party in Georgia. But I think she is not the right person to lead the House at this particular moment in time. She needs to step back and reassess her role and allow this scandal to blow over which will be difficult to do while she continues to lead both the House and the NGP. 2016 is far too important a year to allow this controversy to hurt our chances. We also need a House leader who will  advocate vigorously for Democrat positions. She seems to be far too quick to jump in bed with Nathan Deal and the Georgia GOP on far too many issues. They don’t need your help as they have a majority. Start learning what an opposition party is supposed to do which includes disagreeing and making a case for Democrat positions from time to time.

Georgia Democrat Leader DuBose Porter

I also wanted to add that I am none too pleased with DuBose Porter either. An astute commenter on the Creative Loafing article summed it up very nicely. Georgia Democrats need some new blood and new ideas.

Well DuBose and Stacey have a lot in common then…besides their own re-elections in safe Dem seats, NEITHER ONE OF THEM HAS EVER WON AN ELECTION.  In fact, they have been at the helm at a long string of electoral defeats, along with sorted histories of political financial mismanagement. As her manager in ’09 Stacey ran Lisa Borders’ campaign for Mayor into the ground and left her with a massive debt to retire. There’s been a six-figure debt between the House Caucus and the DPG that has been a festering sore on the books for years. You are not going to find one Dem candidate, for state legislature, statewide or otherwise who is pleased with either one of them. Hence the sound of crickets from anyone who matters when it comes to defending them. Seems like they are hunkered down in the Delusional Denial Bunker together.

Here are two other articles I wrote back in November of 2014. They cover a few areas not in this article.

Georgia Democrats Need a Good Kick in the Ass

Democalypse 2014 Postmortem: An Analysis of the Midterm Bludgeoning

 

 

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