The Board of Regents is one of the most influential – and sought after – positions in the state. And while the board's members work independently of the governor, most often share his viewpoint. Like his predecessors, Gov. Nathan Deal has stocked the board with political allies – and refused to reappoint those he's sparred with over the years.
"The reality is you don't have to be documented to be smart. You don't have to have documentation to be productive. Everybody contributes to the economy and vibrancy of our state, and I have never understood the decision-making that said it was worth it to take away that opportunity from the best and the brightest."
Here’s the backstory: The regents adopted that policy in 2010 amid a storm of controversy sparked by the arrest of Jessica Colotl earlier that year.
A Mexican native who was brought to the U.S. without authorization as a child, the Lakeside High School graduate was arrested on charges of impeding traffic and driving without a license on the Kennesaw State University campus.
The university system came under intense criticism when it was disclosed that KSU was charging Colotl an in-state tuition rate, which is about three times lower than the out-of-state rate.
In the months following Colotl's arrest, the board received numerous telephone calls and email messages from Georgians who objected to allowing unauthorized immigrants to attend the state's public universities. They were countered by civil rights groups who argued in support of their access to the state’s higher education system.
The board ultimately adopted the policy – known as 4.1.6 – based on a report from the attorney general's office that identifies education at competitive state universities as a public benefit.
"I don't care where you stand on the political spectrum. If you are a student who has the grades to get into Georgia Tech, the grades to get into UGA, I will be the governor who appoints the Board of Regents that will say you can go if you are willing to work for it. We'll work with you."
Secretary of State Brian Kemp, the GOP nominee for governor, and his allies have a different perspective. During the GOP primary, Kemp advocated for a crackdown on illegal immigration and famously aired a TV ad vowing to “round up criminal illegals” himself. And he argues that the regents’ policies were designed to deter illegal immigration.
He's tried to highlight Abrams' stance on "dreamers" and the HOPE scholarship to invigorate his supporters, saying that unlike Abrams he "won't reward illegal behavior with handouts, perks and scholarships as law-abiding Georgians work to make ends meet."