Athens’ state legislators struggle with questions from constituents at forum


Left to Right, Sen. Bill Cowsert, Sen. Frank Ginn, Rep. Regina Quick, and Rep. Chuck Williams at the Federation of Neighborhoods forum at Ciné on May 8.

Left to Right, Sen. Bill Cowsert, Sen. Frank Ginn, Rep. Regina Quick, and Rep. Chuck Williams at the Federation of Neighborhoods forum at Ciné on May 8. Photo by Tim Denson.

Athens’ state legislators came before their constituents at a Federation of Neighborhoods forum Monday night at Ciné downtown. After showing up late, the legislators– minus Rep. Spencer Frye, who was unable to attend– meandered their way through the first 45 minutes, before questions from the crowd forced them to confront the horrors of their policy-making.

On affordable health care…

Overall, the senators and representatives deflected from the basic question of health care access to talk about policy details that offer no path for expanding affordable coverage to more Georgians.

A4E member Adam Lassila asked what our representatives are doing to “ensure that your constituents have access to affordable, high-quality health care” in the context of their continued opposition to accepting billions in federal funds to expand Medicaid, and with the looming threat of the AHCA working its way through the U.S. Congress.

To row, Left to Right, Sen. Bill Cowsert, Sen. Frank Ginn. Bottom row, Rep. Spencer Frye, Rep. Regina Quick, Rep. Chuck Williams

To row, Left to Right, Sen. Bill Cowsert, Sen. Frank Ginn. Bottom row, Rep. Spencer Frye, Rep. Regina Quick, Rep. Chuck Williams. (Rep. Frye, the only democrat, had notifed the Federation of Neighborhoods that he would not be able to attend the forum.)

After looking at each other a bit in front of the microphones, Rep. Regina Quick kicked off the legislators’ response by relating the unrelated: that she opted out of the state health benefit plan for which she’s eligible as a legislator in order to put herself “in the same boat” as her constituents.

A4E’s Tim Denson asked her to clarify.

“You said you put yourself ‘in the same boat’ as those without insurance. Did you mean that you’re without insurance now, or that you were able to afford to buy private insurance with your income? Because that’s a different boat,” Denson said.

Quick said she does have private insurance, making it clear that she is indeed in a different kind of vessel from the hundreds of thousands of Georgians who have no health insurance at all because she and her Republican colleagues continue to reject Medicaid expansion.

Overall, the senators and representatives deflected from the basic question of health care access to talk about policy details that offer no path for expanding affordable coverage to more Georgians, giving little hope that they have a single-payer plan hiding somewhere that they’re ready to surprise us with when we least expect it.

On Campus Carry, which Gov. Deal recently signed into law

On the subject of Campus Carry, which Gov. Deal recently signed into law, Sen. Frank Ginn bewilderingly shared an anecdote that displays precisely the potential horrifying consequences of the law that he strongly supports.

He recounted a story told to him by a small-framed female instructor at a university. She was alone in her classroom after class one day, when a large athlete returned to the class looking very upset, which made the instructor feel quite frightened for her safety. As it turns out, the large man was just looking for his phone, which he’d inadvertently left behind. Yet, somehow, Ginn used this encounter as evidence for why the instructor needs to be able to have a gun in the classroom, apparently to be able to shoot those who make one feel threatened, even if only in their hurried search for a forgotten phone.

On living wages for Georgia workers…

Athens for Everyone Member Coordinator Briana Bivens noted A4E’s recent victory in pressuring the Athens-Clarke County Government to pay all its year-round employees a living wage of at least $11.60/hour. She asked the legislators when they would follow suit and “finally recognize the right to a living wage – both to meet one’s basic needs and to live a fulfilling life – as a human right.”

Only Sen. Bill Cowsert thought the question merited a response, saying “not gonna happen anytime soon.”

On gerrymandering…

A4E’s Alex Blacutt went for a simple yes or no question aimed at the topic of gerrymandering. “Will you support an Independent Redistricting Commission like the one proposed this session?” Sen. Ginn gave an awful and honest “no”. Sen. Cowsert, Rep. Quick, and Rep. Chuck Williams all gave hedged “yes” responses, claiming to support the policy as long as the details are done right. It’s curious, then, that none of the three were willing to sign on to the well-written and voter-supported bills introduced in both the House and the Senate this session.

On climate change…

“The kind of ignorance you’re displaying is totally inexcusable,” A4E member Bruce Menke to Rep. Chuck Williams.

A4E's 2017 Legislative Session Report Card giving Sen. Bill Cowsert a D-, Sen. Frank Ginn and F, Rep. Spencer Frye an A-, Rep. Regina Quick a D-, and Rep. Chuck Williams a D-.

This report card shows how our state elected officials performed in the 2017 Legislative Session. For a complete review of the 2017 Legislative Session, click on the image, or see our page here: http://athensforeveryone.com/legislation/2017-legislative-session/

A4E member Molly Canfield asked the legislators a pair of direct questions. “Do you believe climate change is real and what steps can we take to fight it at the state level?” Quick, Cowsert, and Ginn didn’t hazard to confirm or deny their acceptance of the scientific fact of climate change. Quick pointed out that, “I have not received any legislative proposals.”

Rep. Williams was more courageous and yet even more maddening.

“We need to find out what is happening out there. Is is fossil fuels or whatever or whatever?”

Rep Williams continued, “We need the scientists to help us find out what’s going on.”

Athenian retiree and A4E member Bruce Menke responded on behalf of the crowd with slow, controlled fire. He encouraged all the legislators to speak with the excellent climate scientists at UGA and then addressed Williams directly.

“The kind of ignorance you’re displaying is totally inexcusable,” Menke said.

That got Williams rather worked up. He challenged Menke to “pay your qualifying fee and see how it works for you!” Those in attendance rose in a cheer, knowing that the challenge applies equally as well to Athens progressives as a whole.

The time of unopposed elections is over

Together, we will run an extensive slate of candidates at the local and state level to challenge the healthcare-denying, climate-denying, living wage-ignoring, shoot-first elected officials who stand on the side of the powerful and in the way of progress.

Local elections and state and federal primaries are in May 2018 and the state and federal general election comes that November. A4E is working now to find and support great candidates who can win and enact the progressive policy change our community and our state so desperately need. Send an e-mail to contact@athensforeveryone.com to join the fight.

Learn more about the 2017 Legislative Session

View a status of the bills that passed and those that didn’t, as well as what has been signed by Gov. Deal.

Contact info for our legislators

  • Sen. Bill Cowsert (Dist. 46)         706-543-7700, bill.cowsert@senate.ga.gov
  • Sen. Frank Ginn (Dist. 47)        706-680-4466, frank.ginn@senate.ga.gov
  • Rep. Regina Quick (Dist. 117)     706-207-3520, regina.quick@house.ga.gov
  • Rep. Chuck Williams (Dist. 119)    706-255-0717, chuckw30677@gmail.com

May 9, 2017
Athens for Everyone

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