Democrat Stacey Abrams said Friday said she was disappointed that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh “devolved very quickly to partisan attacks” during explosive U.S. Senate hearings as she praised the professor who accused him of sexual assault for coming forward.
Abrams, her party’s nominee for governor, said she was proud of Christine Blasey Ford’s “response and demeanor and more importantly her courage” in testifying Thursday that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were both in high school.
“What the national conversation is putting into sharp relief is the importance of having a governor who sees women in particular – and those who are survivors of sexual violence regardless of their gender – as people whose values and humanity should be supported.”
Kavanaugh has denied the allegations and accused Democrats of a “calculated and orchestrated political hit.” Both of Georgia’s Republican senators, David Perdue and Johnny Isakson, have not definitively said whether they would vote for him.
Republican Brian Kemp, Abrams’ opponent, faces pressure from Democrats and advocacy groups to “immediately retract” his support for Kavanaugh. He earlier said he agrees with Republicans who called for a “timely” hearing, but did not comment further.
It’s not yet clear when the U.S. Senate could vote whether to confirm Kavanaugh. On Friday, U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake - a key Republican swing vote - said he would withhold his support for the judge unless there’s an FBI inquiry within a week.
Abrams connected the increased focus on sexual assault survivors with her pledge to expand the authority of a state agency, which she’d rename the Georgia Commission on Human Rights, to oversee investigations into harassment of state employees “who do not fall under federal purview.”
That could include some private employers, such as businesses with fewer than 15 employees, that are not under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
“We’ve been talking about this from the very beginning: I want us to make certain we remove the stigma of reporting,” Abrams said in comments to an editorial board meeting of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“It’s part of a larger construct of how do we create a pathway of reporting, of retribution, of making sure it does not repeat itself.”
Kemp’s campaign has said he would issue an executive order on his first day in office that would overhaul the state’s sexual harassment training program and designating the state inspector general as the “ultimate recipient and repository for unlawful harassment claims.”
Both candidates also support expanding Georgia’s sunshine laws to some sexual harassment complaints involving state lawmakers that are now shrouded in secrecy.
An AJC investigation this month showed the state allows individual departments and agencies to investigate sexual harassment complaints without oversight. This method has produced disparate treatment for victims and perpetrators, the AJC found.
While state officials defend giving departments flexibility to address complaints, no government official has any idea how complaints are handled or how many they are.
Abrams said her proposal would help solve that problem by creating an independent and “unassailable” repository for complaints.
“We have to have a fail-safe that says that if you do not feel you can report to your supervisor – because it may be your supervisor who is the predator – there has to be a place you can go to bring your concerns.”
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