A red state that could turn blue. A Republican incumbent that previously went unchallenged. A first-time candidate who nearly won an unlikely uphill race in 2018, now back to finish the job… if the GOP doesn’t away with massive voter suppression once again.
Does that sound familiar? As we’re seeing, a lot of the most crucial legislative races we’re looking at across the country fit the same profile. Last week we spoke with Jessica Harrington in Florida (who is running against Jim Crow 2.0 in khakis) and earlier this year, it was Luisa Wakeman in Georgia. Now, we’re focusing on another candidate in Georgia who is running a campaign we absolutely have to win if we want any chance of ending the state’s rampant voter suppression, attacks on women, and deadly mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic.
The moment you start talking with Shea Roberts, the Democratic candidate for the state House of Representatives in Georgia’s 52nd district, you know that she’s going to be an effective, badass legislator from day one. Roberts is a land use and small business lawyer, so she’s long been enmeshed in the community in and around Sandy Springs. Working every single day with people and small businesses in her district has provided her a deep understanding of the issues its residents face and the relationships required to begin solving its long-lingering and newly emergent problems. I know this because it took approximately one minute into our conversation last month for us to get down to the nitty-gritty issues.
But first, a little about her campaign. Roberts, like so many people, was politically activated by the 2016 election, but she still never planned on running for office. When a friend forwarded her an email about her district needing a candidate for State House and suggested she think about running, Roberts says she laughed at what seemed like a ludicrous proposal. But a seed was planted in the back of her mind.
“The more I watched the atrocities that were on TV every day, I just appalled by what I was seeing come out of the federal government and state legislature,” she says. “Parkland was what threw me over the edge. I couldn’t sit on the sidelines anymore.”
The incumbent, Republican Rep. Deborah Silcox, ran unopposed in 2016 and was a week away from clinching another free ride when Roberts decided to jump into the race. At that point, Roberts was underfunded, understaffed, and behind the curve on building any sort of campaign infrastructure. But she recruited volunteers, knocked on doors all through the hot Georgia summer, and ran like a scrappy underdog. In the end, she lost by less than 1300 votes — and remember, this was in Georgia, where elections were marred by massive voter purges and other suppression tactics.
It didn’t take long for Roberts to decide to run again. Newly elected Governor Brian Kemp (who likely stole his election from Stacey Abrams) and his Republican majority immediately began pushing an extreme right-wing agenda, including an abortion ban that drew national outrage and further voter suppression. Roberts is running to tackle both those issues and more local matters, like transportation and gentrification, which is pushing out working families who have lived in Sandy Springs. She wants sustainable public transportation and living wages for the residents working in both public service and for the big businesses that have cropped up in the city.
— Shea Roberts for GA HD52 (@sheaforgeorgia) November 21, 2019
The coronavirus pandemic has taken center stage in every campaign across the country and Georgia’s pitiful governmental response illustrates just how urgent it is to flip the state blue. Gov. Kemp has waffled on shutting things down, made ridiculous claims about the virus, and has largely deferred to Donald Trump, who couldn’t care less about what happens to anyone but himself.
“To say that Governor Kemp has failed to keep Georgians safe is an understatement. Without full Medicaid expansion, our families were already uninsured, sick, and without support before this crisis began,” Roberts told me in an email this weekend. “The impact of that failure is evident as our case numbers grow and our resources shrink. We are ranked in bottom five in the country for testing. There is no doubt that his delay in issuing a statewide shelter-in-place resulted in the unnecessary loss of lives and an extension of the ever-growing economic crisis.”
Kemp also became a laughingstock in the process, further displaying the ineptitude that Republicans are enabling.
“When he defended his delay in issuing the order, claiming it was because he had just learned 24 hours before that asymptomatic people can transmit the virus despite that trait having been reported in February, he once again made national news for what could only have been ineptitude or dishonesty,” she says.
Roberts, on the other hand, was fast to act. She suspended all her in-person events on March 12th, transferring to a digital and at-home campaign. They send postcards to voters, call to check in on community members, and help lead an effort called #FeedTheFrontLines, which involves ordering food from local restaurants to be delivered to fire departments and hospitals. Roberts called on Sandy Springs to declare a moratorium on evictions, too, a crucial step in a city that is continuing to get more expensive.
And as Roberts points out, Rep. Silcox has been MIA — she hasn’t tweeted since March 9thand isn’t addressing the community otherwise. The difference in leadership couldn’t be more clear, which is why Roberts has earned a slew of national endorsements in recent weeks, including a coveted one from Sister District.
Georgia is flippable this year, but if we want to have any chance of pulling that off, we have to help Roberts win this race. And if we do, all bets are off. The GOP’s southern firewall will be broken, gerrymanders and voter purges will be stalled, and Democrats will win the White House. Helping candidates like Shea Roberts is a crucial way to make that happen.