Abrams casts aside tra­di­tional ex­pec­ta­tions

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - News - BY BILL BAR­ROW As­so­ci­ated Press

Stacey Abrams broke the rules of pol­i­tics un­til the very end.

The Ge­or­gia Demo­crat who came about 60,000 votes shy of be­com­ing Amer­ica’s first black woman gov­er­nor re­fused to fol­low the tra­di­tional script for de­feated politi­cians who of­fer gra­cious con­grat­u­la­tions to their vic­to­ri­ous com­peti­tor and gen­tly exit the stage. In­stead, Abrams ended her cam­paign in an un­apolo­get­i­cally in­dig­nant tone that es­tab­lished her­self as a lead­ing vot­ing rights ad­vo­cate.

“I ac­knowl­edge that for­mer Sec­re­tary of State Brian Kemp will be cer­ti­fied as the vic­tor in the 2018 gu­ber­na­to­rial elec­tion,” Abrams said in a fiery 12-minute ad­dress. “But to watch an elected official … baldly pin his hopes for elec­tion on the sup­pres­sion of the peo­ple’s demo­cratic right to vote has been truly ap­palling.”

“So let’s be clear,” Abrams con­cluded, “this is not a speech of con­ces­sion.”

End­ing a race while point­edly re­fus­ing to con­cede would typ­i­cally risk draw­ing a “sore loser” la­bel that would be im­pos­si­ble to shake in any fu­ture po­lit­i­cal cam­paign. But Democrats and even some Repub­li­cans say she is likely to emerge from the closely fought gov­er­nor’s race with her po­lit­i­cal fu­ture on solid ground.

“There was a time when this may have been a bad look, but I’m not sure that’s where we are in pol­i­tics any­more,” said Jen Palmi- eri, who served as com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor for Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s White House and to Hil­lary Clin­ton’s 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

“For many years, peo­ple have been too con­cerned about the op­tics of their ac­tions as op­posed to the im­pact of their ac­tions,” Palmieri added, say­ing that ad­dress­ing some vot­ers’ lack of faith in the sys­tem is “more im­por­tant than wor­ry­ing what might of­fend peo­ple who may or may not vote for you four years from now.”

Repub­li­can Rick Tyler, a top ad­viser to Sen. Ted Cruz’s 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, said “botched con­ces­sions have hurt peo­ple be­fore,” but he said it’s too sim­ple to say Abrams “botched” any­thing be­cause some of her crit­i­cism has merit.

“I wish we could all have faith in the sys­tem and the process,” Tyler said. “Then we could count votes, lis­ten to gra­cious con­ces­sion speeches and all just move on. That’s not where we are.”

Abrams cited a litany of prob­lems that she said add up to sys­temic voter sup­pres­sion. She specif­i­cally pointed to ab­sen­tee bal­lots thrown out by what she called “the hand­writ­ing po­lice,” a short­age of pa­per bal­lots to back up bro­k­endown vot­ing ma­chines and Ge­or­gia’s so-called “ex­act match” voter reg­is­tra­tion rules that re­quire in­for­ma­tion on voter ap­pli­ca­tions to pre­cisely match state and fed­eral files.

While state law al­lows “no vi­able rem­edy,” she said she plans to file fed­eral le­gal ac­tion chal­leng­ing var­i­ous as­pects of the elec­toral sys­tem Kemp over­saw un­til he re­signed as sec­re­tary of state two days af­ter the Nov. 6 elec­tion. She also launched the new non-profit group “Fair Fight Ge­or­gia” to ad­vo­cate for changes.

Some Repub­li­cans re­buked her ap­proach.

“She seems to think there are only two branches of govern­ment: ex­ec­u­tive and ju­di­cial,” said Deb­bie Doo­ley, a Ge­or­gia-based ac­tivist who was among the early na­tional tea party lead­ers. “I’m just dis­ap­pointed that her im­me­di­ate ad­ver­sar­ial re­sponse is to file law­suits when there are a lot of peo­ple on the Repub­li­can side who see a need for some of the re­forms she wants.”

For starters, Doo­ley cited an ab­sen­tee bal­lot process that varies from county to county and Ge­or­gia’s re­liance on elec­tronic vot­ing ma­chines with no pa­per trail – a sys­tem a fed­eral court al­ready has or­dered changed af­ter the 2018 elec­tions.

“If they try to do it all through the fed­eral courts, it’s go­ing to end up with peo­ple re­sent­ing her,” Doo­ley pre­dicted.

Abrams said “pun­dits and hy­per-par­ti­sans” would ob­ject to her flout­ing “nor­mal or­der” for los­ing can­di­dates. “I should be stoic in my out­rage and silent in my re­buke,” she said of con­ven­tional ex­pec­ta­tions. “But sto­icism is a lux­ury and si­lence is a weapon for those who would quiet the voices of the peo­ple.”

Buddy Dar­den, a for­mer con­gress­man who chaired the cam­paign of Abrams’ Demo­cratic pri­mary ri­val, agreed. Dar­den, who is white, said Abrams proved wrong the “old di­nosaurs like me” who thought a black woman couldn’t com­pete in a general elec­tion in the Deep South. “She did it by get­ting folks out that no one else could,” Dar­den said. “Now she has their back, and that’s a good thing for the party, a good thing for the state.”

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