Interview with Deborah Gonzalez

This year, both of Oconee County’s two districts for the Georgia State House are up for special elections: both Rep. Regina Quick and Rep. Chuck Williams (both Republicans) have accepted other positions, as a federal judge and as head of the state Forestry Commission respectively.

Athens attorney Deborah Gonzalez is running in the 2017 special election for the 117th district, hoping to claim Regina Quick’s former seat.  She recently gave us an interview covering her background, her views on state government, and many of the issues facing the state house today.

Deborah told us of her life as an Army child, her first job in a factory, and the challenges raising her daughter as a single mother.  She went to law school to be able to give her daughter more, running her law practice as a small business.  Running for office she describes as “an responsibility, instilled in me by my father”… but also one that is worthwhile and rewarding for the people she meets, and for their stories.

Asked about the district she hopes to represent, which includes portions of four counties (Oconee, Clarke, Jaskson, and Barrow), she described the district as “gerrymandered” and said she had originally been worried the various constituencies would have different needs and concerns.  Instead, however, she has found that across the district, people largely want the same things: affordable care to keep themselves and their families healthy; a good education, whether college or technical training, and K-12 education before that; jobs that pay well enough to support themselves.  In that very basic sense, she finds the district very unified in its desires.

When discussing plans to keep in touch with voters after the election, however, she did acknowledge some separation, describing a need for county-specific contact people, and plans to keep her office available late at least once a month, in locations varying across the four counties.  This would make her accessible to citizens whose schedule might not allow them to see her during “business hours:” she promised that anyone in the office by 9:00pm would be seen.  This is an idea she borrows from former Atlanta Mayer Shirley Franklin, which she hopes will augment more traditional hours, as well on on-line and social media resources.

Like many candidates, Deborah has announced positions on many national issues on her campaign website.  However, we wanted to ask her about her views at the state level, since that is the office she is contending for.   As Deborah noted, we are nationally very divided today, but what divides us is known.  That creates an opportunity to find what will bring us together—a process which she believes government, and particularly the state government, has a large role to play.  It is also an environment in which her experience at mediation may be particularly helpful.

In Deborah’s view, elected officials have information, collected by aides or provided by lobbyists, that citizens do not have access to, nor time to understand.  She views it as the officials’ job to gather as many viewpoints as possible, consider all of them, and then to communicate accurate, reliable information to all stakeholders.  She cited the recent Campus Carry bill as an example of the system not working properly: the governor received over 14,000 calls against from citizens’ voices across the community, but passed the bill in response to about 1/100th as many supporters, many of them lobbyists.

And Deborah pointed out that the state government is relevant even on those national issues.  Healthcare, for example, is not only the ACA and its repeal and replace efforts: it includes expansion of Medicare, which  is a state decision.  So are school privatization decisions, livable wage and minimum wage laws, and other examples.  Asked about the top challenges facing Georgia specifically, Deborah lists representation as one: which voices are heard, who gets to vote, and how those votes are apportioned during redistricting.  All are issues addressed at the state level.

Deborah also brought up Internet privacy and accessibility issues during our interview; these are issues she feels strongly about, and has expertise in, from her previous work.  When I pressed about why she emphasized those, and why voters should care about issues that may seem abstract and technical, she reminded me of how deeply the Internet has penetrated our lives.  The issue for her is not only about bandwidth costs for large corporations like Netflix, but about Internet service costs to consumers, and costs to smaller entities: schools and on-line education offerings,  technology entrepreneurs, and “mom-and-pop” companies hosting their websites.  If Internet costs for those enterprises rise sharply, that causes a loss of access to what has become a necessary resource in modern business and modern life.

And, despite viewing the district as having been gerrymandered, Deborah sees an opportunity to flip the 117th.  The district voted for President Trump, but only by a 3% margin; her challenge, as she sees it, is ensuring turnout in the special election, particularly by those who are supporters, but hesitant of her chances: she feels she can win, but only with all of those voters’ votes.

Why We Fundraise

Oconee County Democratic Committee is a a supportive network of volunteers and advocates who work together to organize for a better Georgia and Oconee County. OCDC runs on due and donations received locally, and does not receive funds from either the state or the national Democratic party.

OCDC provides the overall leadership for the Democratic Party in Oconee County on issues like election strategy/ who to endorse in elections, community outreach and local Democratic fundraising.

  1. Candidate Development – The one and only reason we exist is to vet qualified candidates to run for any office.  in Candidate Development, we meet with individuals, assist in training and provide financial support. It is so important that we have funds to help our brave candidates. If we want to win elections we need people to run and if we want people to run they need to feel supported.
  2. Community Outreach – This is to get our name out there.  It is hosting events, going into neighborhoods to support local programs (i.e., neighborhood clean up, First Friday’s, school functions, etc.). We have lots of ideas to grow our presence in Oconee County and having funds will allow us to reach our goals by hosting and participating in a wide variety of events.
  3. Operational Expenses – Cost of buying campaign materials (signs, stickers, buttons).  Cost of rent, supplies, food for events, postage, media and our website.

Please consider making a contribution today or commit to a monthly contribution.  Click the “Donate” link on the menu above.

Also, please remember that our candidates also need support for their individual races: the committee can help and support them, but candidates need to buy their own yard signs and advertisements, run their own websites, feed and hydrate canvassers, etc.  Please remember to give to support our candidates as well.

Preventing Charlottesville

At a recent event about the racist and counter-protest events in Charlottesville, organizers asked how we could prevent similar events from unfolding here.

It’s a good question: nobody wants a repeat here, but nobody should want to deny First Amendment rights either.  And while it’s great to talk about standing in united opposition (and we should)… the counter-protesters were doing that, and it helped to produce the terrible images we saw in Charlottesville, and contributed to the loss of Heather Heyer’s life, as well as two Virginia state troopers whose surveillance helicopter crashed.

So, yes, we should stand united in opposition… but exactly how?

First, the city should enforce the limits of its permits: the marchers had a permit to demonstrate in the park, and that was and should have been allowed.  They did not have a permit to march throughout the town, and that should not have been allowed.  With such a controversial gathering, for either left or right views, establishing and enforcing boundaries is key.

Second, there have been various reports suggesting Charlottesville police were and felt out-gunned.  Nothing credible suggests that caused them to stand aside… however, there are suggestions that changing to riot gear from street uniforms may have caused some delay in response when the situation deteriorated.  We should be prepared.  And, although Georgia law prohibits stopping anyone to ask about their firearms permit, once stopped for something else–such as disturbing the peace outside the permitted bounds of a demonstration—such an inquiry is allowable, and violation carries penalties.

Third, although the government may not infringe on free speech, the civil society itself can and should regulate hate.  We do not condone violence, and even a counter-protests can escalate, as we saw two weeks ago.  However, there have been several examples of strategies to shame, embarrass, or just befuddle these movements.

For example, if we were to collect pledges now, pledges for donations of whatever amount from citizens and businesses around Athens, to organizations like Black Lives Matter (or, dare we suggest, Democratic candidate committees and PACs) on a per-attendee, per-minute, or per-foot-marched basis of any such demonstrations here… then let them come.  Cheer them on, even.  Dress up to mock the occasion.  Embarrass them, and make their actions also provide support to their opponents.  Peaceably, and in cooperation with responsible policing, we can bring all the social pressure we can against them.

In Memory of Heather D. Heyer

Our hearts are saddened by the senseless loss of 32 year old, Heather D. Heyer. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends during this sorrowful time. Heather was killed by a domestic terrorist while counter protesting against Neo-Nazism and white supremacy.  She courageously put her life on the line to stand up for social and racial equality. We must continue to honor her and the many others who have lost their lives in the pursuit to fight against hate and prejudice. 

How Medicaid Cuts Affect Us Here

It seemed a simple question: how would the Republican healthcare bills’ proposed cuts to Medicaid affect us here around Athens, GA?  And how would the various proposed amendments affect us?

It’s been a moving target, and the most recent Senate vote was literally to try to pass an almost unknown and unevaluated bill… but in short, in any variations to date, the bills would cost Georgia money, jobs and the health of many of its citizens.  The bills proposed so far do not directly affect the care people need, or the cost of that care… they only change how much of the total of Medicaid care is paid by the federal government. Using the government’s estimates, under the original Senate plan, by 2026 Georgia would have received $3.7 billion less federal money to pay for Medicaid care.  By 2030 the cumulative estimate is $10.7 billion. This is because the bills include place a lower cap on federal payments that grows less than the expected costs.   So while the government projects the growth rate for total Medicaid costs will be 4.4%, under the senate rules, payments can only increase by 2.4% annually.  The House plan was better in that regard, growing at medical inflation, estimated at 3.7% (but still less than 4.4%).

That’s cost for needed care, and Medicaid patients are, by definition, the poor, the elderly, low-income children, and the disabled; they can’t be expected to pay that much more out of pocket.  So either Georgia would have to come up with that money itself, foregoing other benefits in education, public safety, and infrastructure, or Georgians would have to go without care.  The explicit availability of waivers for coverage of pre-existing conditions, for example, provides one tempting path to resolve the gap… but, one way or another, people would lose coverage.

These people would have to live with chronic conditions and a lower quality of life—until something that hadn’t been a crisis became one.  Sometimes that would be fatal (higher mortality rates from preventable heart attacks, for example), sometimes it would require an emergency room visit.  Hospital emergency rooms cannot legally turn those in need away, but with the proposed changes to Medicaid, they wouldn’t be paid for the care. Increased “indigent care” means hospitals cannot maintain their staff, or update their equipment and services, and may eventually risk bankruptcy and closure. That has ripple effects economically as well as in public health.

What that means for the Athens area

We have two major hospitals in Athens, as well as many individual practices, laboratories, clinics, long-term and elder care facilities, and so on, most of which serve patients on Medicaid across much of northeast Georgia.  Using 2013 numbers, Clarke and its surrounding counties (Oconee, Barrow, Jackson, Madison, and Oglethorpe) contain about 3% of the state’s Medicaid enrollees.  Assuming costs follow that same proportion—which is a risky assumption, I admit—under the Senate plan, the region would lose about 3% of $3.7 billion by 2026: $112 million dollars less spending in the Athens economy.  By 2030, it’s a cumulative $321 million less in Athens.  That is a loss of medical employers investing in their businesses, hiring staff, offering raises; it ripples further to a lack of spending by healthcare workers at other, non-healthcare businesses.  Beyond the economic costs, there would also be a human cost in unmet care for low-income patients, including children and elders. In net,  the region would be sicker overall, and we would suffer losses to the local economy, compared to today’s law.

Looking specifically at the two hospitals, ARMC is Athens’ third largest employer, behind UGA and the county government; St. Mary’s is fifth.  (If you break the school district out from the government generally, they’re second and sixth.)  So, a big cut to Medicaid expenditure in the region is a big loss of revenue for two of our biggest employers.  Assuming we see a resulting increase in unreimbursed emergency care, it likely also results in cuts to other services.  For example, some rural hospitals, required to provide emergency care but underfunded overall, close obstetrics: you might have to go to Atlanta to deliver a baby, or for any of a myriad other non-emergency services we now get locally.

Revisions

Under the Cruz (R-TX) amendment, substandard plans are allowed.  That suggests a dangerous misunderstanding of insurance: any of us might get cancer, or be in a severe car accident, and need ruinously expensive care.  Allowing a tiered system, with a cheaper plan for healthier people, hurts us two ways: the less healthy can’t afford care, and the healthy-but-unlucky can’t either, because their “plan” doesn’t cover their suddenly increased requirements.  The recent Portman (R-OH) amendment does offer some assistance to those losing Medicaid through the loss of Medicaid expansion… but it’s not nearly enough to cover private insurance.

The repeal-only option, also rejected, is irresponsible because it provides no predictability for the insurance market; that can’t help but raise costs.  And in two years or so, should we expect Congress to agree on a replacement, when they’ve proven unable to do so already?

And today’s vote, to debate and then attempt to pass an unknown, un-evaluated variation of bills that already?  That’s irresponsible, too.  Even setting policy aside, if your bill has to be passed in a cloud of secrecy and dark of night… you’re doing something wrong.

Conclusions

Almost nobody likes the House or Senate bills, and they haven’t improved.  Keeping them hidden is worse.  We do have a serious problem with healthcare… but pushing the costs around doesn’t help; we need to address the rising costs themselves, head-on.

None of the Republican do that; they only reduce the federal payments, and would eventually force Georgia to either cut benefits, or to cut other services.  In Athens, that’s hundreds of millions of dollars by 2026; that reduces employment, as well as making people live sicker, unable to afford or unable to access treatment.

There is work we can do to address the actual problem of health care costs directly.  Sadly, many of the most obvious approaches are politically anathema to somebody.  So, rather than addressing the actual problem, Congress is merely passing the buck.  Literally.  And if the states don’t pay it, and patients can’t pay it… then we all go without.

But there is work we can agree on.

  • Medicaid helps patients avoid high-cost care, by offering reliable medication and preventative care.  Paying that “ounce of protection” makes more sense, as public policy, than leaving people sick.
  • If we stop changing the rules, then insurers can plan more accurately; according to those companies, the uncertainty, more than the market itself, has lead to the premium rises and exits from market we here about in the news.
  • Prescription drugs are more expensive in the U.S. than elsewhere.  They’re only about 12% of total medical costs, but the U.S. costs are often about 2-3x, or more, the costs in other developed nations.  So that’s about 6% of our annual medical costs that could probably be saved.  The companies do need to recover their R&D costs… but the U.S.A. doesn’t have to pay so much of it.
  • We can look at unhelpful state regulations.  For example, obstetrics care is expensive, and many pregnancies could be served at home by a midwife… but in Georgia, that is only legal in a hospital setting.
  • Medical insurers, including Medicaid, get negotiated pricing, often half or less of “retail” pricing.  So the uninsured both pay out-of-pocket, and pay higher prices.  Could we cap retail pricing, say to two or three times Medicaid’s (admittedly low) rates?  Doctors should be paid fairly for their time, expertise, facility costs, and risks (including malpractice suits)… but there’s clearly some room between today’s retail pricing, and the practice taking a loss.

A bill that used some of those ideas, or others, to reduce medical costs… that would offer some improvement.  It is, sadly, not to be found in Congress today.  Or at least there’s no reason to expect it, in the mystery box currently proposed.

Leaving Paris Accords: A Bad Idea

Early this month, the president announced that the U.S. is pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement.  We have now joined Syria and Nicaragua as the only three countries in the world who have not signed this agreement.  

The Paris Agreement is a non-binding agreement that asks countries to set goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  The signing countries agreed to a goal of limiting global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius.  The goal the U.S. set for itself was a 26% emission reduction from 2005 levels by 2025.  

These goals are well within sight for the U.S.  But here’s the thing: these are voluntary goals.  There is no punishment for failing to reach these goals.  Therefore, there was no practical reason to leave the agreement.  

In pulling out of the Paris Agreement, we have forfeited our role as a global leader.  Our entering into this agreement was a show of confidence, a means to encourage other countries, particularly high-emitting developing countries such as India and China, to commit to lowering their emissions as well.  It worked.  China and India (and 195 other countries) signed the agreement.  China has now emerged as a global leader in renewable energy.

The president has cited jobs as a major factor in his decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement.  What he did not address is the hundreds of thousands of jobs emerging in the renewable energy sector.  These are growing fields, and the potential for growth in these fields is enormous.  Just last year in Georgia, solar energy jobs grew by 23%, adding 3,924 jobs to our state.

In his speech announcing our exit from the Paris Agreement, President Trump stated that he was not elected to represent Paris, but Pittsburgh.  In response, Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto replied, “I can assure you that we will follow the guidelines of the Paris Agreement for our people, our economy & future.”

Peduto is not alone in vowing to work locally to reduce emissions, despite a lack of federal support.  In fact, 187 mayors from across the country (including Kasim Reed of Atlanta) and 10 governors have vowed to uphold the goals of the Paris Agreement.

It is notable that many high-ranking officials in the president’s administration, as well as those in industry (even the fossil fuel industry!) advocated remaining in the agreement.  Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, as well as industry leaders of Shell Oil, GE, IBM, and Google, among others, have argued against leaving this agreement.  

As we look at the decision to leave the Paris Climate Agreement, what stands out to me is that we have taken ourselves out of the picture.  We have taken ourselves out of discussions about solutions.  We have taken ourselves out of planning for new renewable energy-based industries and jobs.  We will be left behind if we do not act as towns, cities, and states.  We must do this ourselves; it looks like our president will not.

Time to Speak

Wouldn’t it be nice for a political candidate to start by knowing what the district actually wants from their representative?

Deborah Gonzalez is running for the GA House of Representatives District 117 (which includes parts of Oconee County). Deborah wants to know what the residents in Oconee County are concerned about so she is inviting you to come to a forum so she can listen to and learn exactly what is on your minds.

Join us on Tuesday, June 27, 2017 in the Main Auditorium at the Oconee County Library from 7:00 – 9:00 pm.

This forum is open to and welcomes the public.  Oconee Democrats are sponsoring it, but the goal is a non-partisan discussion.

Deborah has some questions she’d like to ask you, such as:
• What do you like about living in Oconee County?
• What are the most significant issues facing our county?
• What should be the role of citizens related to legislation in the State?

Most importantly, she would like to hear your concerns and questions. As a candidate Deborah really wants to know what can she do for you.

The forum will be moderated by Oconee County resident, Margaret Holt, who has worked with the National Issues Forums since 1981. The process is designed for our community to have a conversation, not a protest. Ideas shared will be captured to help Deborah shape a legislative agenda that matches the concerns of the District. She’s a candidate who will speak to you clearly and honestly. She is also a candidate who will listen to you attentively and authentically. So stop by and share your thoughts, your story, your voice.

Non-partisan. All are welcome.

Website for Deborah Gonzalez:
votedeborahgonzalez.com

Oconee Democrats at Deborah Gonzalez’ Launch

Deborah Gonzalez
Deborah Gonzalez at her launch event

Today at Bishop Park, Deborah Gonzalez official launched her campaign for Georgia State House Representative for District 117, composed of parts of Oconee, Clark, Barrow, and Jackson counties.  She is challenging Regina Quick in November 2018.

 

Deborah Gonzalez
Deborah Gonzalez speaking at her launch

We’re excited to have a strong candidate to support, in a district which has been identified as one of the likeliest for Democrats to flip.  Ms. Gonzalez spoke of her father’s service in the U.S. Army and his Puerto Rican heritage, of her own career spanning from computer networking to entertainment law, and of her philosophy on the importance of “borrowing” the present from future generations: how can we ensure we not only give to our children all that we enjoy today, but more?  She also stressed her support for local entrepreneurship, environment, and education issues, all dear to the hearts of those of us who attended her launch from Oconee County.

Thank you for running, Deborah!  Those interested in volunteering to assist or, or merely in learning more about the candidate, can visit her website at http://votedeborahgonzalez.com/.

Oconee Democrats at Gonzalez launch
Oconee Democrats with Deborah Gonzalez after her campaign launch

Call for Candidates!

We’re looking for candidates to stand for a number of local elections.  Elected officials are just regular people—people with jobs, families, and all the rest—who are willing to do the work to keep our towns and county working smoothly.  If you even might be interested, we’d love to know, and to help you learn what would be involved.  In fact, that’s the subject for our June meeting.

If you’re interested in learning more, either for yourself or someone else, there’s a form you can use to let us know, and we’re going to have a workshop at our June meeting to help answer people’s questions, featuring existing office-holders to speak about the process.  Send questions to ocgadems+candidates@gmail.com or (706) 705-2516.

Generally speaking, you need to “qualify” (that is, register so your town or the county knows you’re running) in August.  In many cases at the local level, that’s it: there may not be any opposition at all, and come the November ballot, you win.  In any event, the party is here to try to help you, and to help you understand the process and the steps.

Coming up for election in 2017 are:

Watkinsville

  • Mayor
  • Council Posts 1 & 2 (these aren’t district-based, just 2 of 5 posts, split by even/odd year elections)

Bishop

A full slate!

  • Mayor
  • Council Posts 1 through 4

Bogart

  • Council Posts 2 & 3

High Shoals

  • Council Posts 3, 4, & 5

Blood Drive 5/17 at Oconee Veteran’s Park

The Red Cross is collecting blood donations in the Community Room at Oconee Veteran’s Park, Wednesday May 17 between 11am and 4pm.  Walk-ins are welcome!

Each pint donated can save up to three lives.  Most people over 18 are eligible to give blood… if you have questions, follow these links to the Red Cross for answers to frequently asked questions and a special page for first-time donors.

This drive is co-sponsored by the Rotary Club of Oconee County and by Oconee County Parks & Recreation Department.