Another Democratic debate for governor, another clash over the HOPE scholarship.
The biggest chunk of Thursday’s Cobb County Democratic forum focused on the roles that former House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams and ex-state Rep. Stacey Evans played in the 2011 debate over HOPE that’s dominated the party’s primary.
Evans has centered her campaign for the state’s top job on a promise to boost the merit-based scholarship – and a claim that Abrams betrayed the party by working with Republicans to cut the program’s awards.
And Abrams, who is also the target of a new a 30-second attack ad on HOPE, began the forum by saying she “fought for that program and won” by preventing deeper cuts.
Evans, an ex-state legislator, swung back by claiming that Abrams “cut off access people needed to education for families to get the education, the job training and the skills they needed to get good paying jobs.”
Then came the Abrams rebuttal. She called it a “false and misleading attack” and said that Evans worked hand-in-hand with her to negotiate for fixes to help restore some of the awards that were cut.
“My name has been on every successful bill she put out there, and that’s because I understood we had to do the right work to save pre-K, technical colleges and access to HOPE for all students,” said Abrams, who cited emails that showed she and Evans traded updates and insights about the legislation.
Evans shrugged off the claim, saying that “nobody had to tell me how important it was to fight for HOPE.”
“That’s why I would not go in on a deal that would cut HOPE. You don’t expand HOPE by cutting it,” Evans said. “And the truth is 97 percent of African-American high school students lost access to full-tuition HOPE scholarships and 40,000 students had to leave our technical colleges.”
The back-and-forth was so prolonged that the moderator, Cobb Democratic chair Michael Owens, drew laughter when he quipped that he had to move the focus to another topic before the 30-minute forum ended.
Some other tidbits:
* The candidates repeated their support casino gambling so long as the legislation requires a significant portion of the tax revenue be set aside for a needs-based scholarship.
* Abrams accused Evans of voting to “auction off our public schools” because of her support of Gov. Nathan Deal’s failing school initiative. “You can’t just read the top of the headline, you have to read the fine print,” said Abrams.
* Evans said she has never voted for vouchers or supported privatizing schools. “I want to invest in a community school model” to benefit all students, she said.