Participants in a racial reconciliation event at Stone Mountain on Saturday make their way to the top of the edifice. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC
Photo: Steve Schaefer
Photo: Steve Schaefer

The Jolt: Stacey Abrams on a needed Stone Mountain conversation

Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate for governor, was in Columbus on Wednesday.

She stopped by the local newspaper, the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, for a Facebook video session that touched on a number of topics, from the film industry to guns. Midway through the half-hour interview, her interrogator, Chuck Williams, asked about a Twitter message she pushed out one year ago, on the topic of Stone Mountain and its massive bas relief carving of Robert E. Lee, Jeff Davis and Stonewall Jackson:

“(T)he visible image of Stone Mountain’s edifice remains a blight on our state and should be removed.”

In her Ledger-Enquirer interview, Abrams elaborated on the subject in a way that she hadn’t in several months, explaining her position as something other than binary – carving or no carving. A quick and partial transcript, emphasis ours:

Abrams: The day I answered that question was the day after the president of the United States said that white supremacists who murdered a young woman were the same as the activists who wanted to make sure our real history was understood.

Williams: So it was in the wake of Charlottesville.

Abrams: It was in the wake of Charlottesville. And in the wake of Charlottesville, as an African-American woman running for governor, I was not going to equivocate about whether I think that a state monument to the Confederacy that was put up, not post-Civil War but post-Reconstruction by the authors of the new KKK in Georgia – my belief is that the state should never fund monuments to domestic terrorism….

I think it has to be a conversation that we have to have. Where I want to be, is that those things don’t exist. But how we get there – I’ve always worked across the aisles and across communities to figure out solutions. And so I’m open to a conversation about where we go and how we get there. But my fundamental belief is that we cannot celebrate those who celebrated the destruction and terrorism of communities of color – especially African-Americans and Jews in the state of Georgia.

Williams: So you still fully stand by what you said?

Abrams: Of course. What I wish is – no, it’s not even a wish. What I intend is to have an authentic conversation. Because here’s the thing: If I’m not willing to tell you where I stand, you don’t know where I’m going to lead you. And I cannot equivocate about something that I understand so deeply, personally. And that’s what I’m going to continue to do. I will have this conversation with anyone. I’ve had this conversation with Tommy Benton.

Benton is the Republican state lawmaker who famously suggested that the Ku Klux Klan was a worthy civic organization that encouraged discipline in local communities.

You’ll remember that, earlier this month, we asked Abram’s Republican rival what he thought about the need to shift the way history is told at Stone Mountain. Rather than quote Donald Trump, Brian Kemp cited someone else: “I have the Condoleezza Rice theory. I don’t believe we can run from our history. We need to embrace it and learn from it, and be a better state and a better country.”

***

After her Wednesday visit to the Ledger-Enquirer, Stacey Abrams hosted a town hall meeting. It didn’t take long for the Democratic candidate to field a question about the derailed effort to close Randolph County voting precincts. 

But she took that query in a different direction, wading into the debate about electronic voting machines -- and a plea to voters worried about the security of their ballot to go the mail-in route.

“I believe in trust but verify. So we have to use the paper ballots that come with absentee balloting if we want to make sure all our votes are going to get counted,” she said.

The campaign is coordinating with state legislators to mount the largest absentee ballot effort in state history, Abrams said as she urged voters to take advantage of the system. 

“If we’re waiting until Election Day, we’re waiting too long.”

***

The Austin Peay football team has been summoned to Athens on Saturday for the ritual sacrifice that will open the 2018 Bulldog season. John Barrow, the former Georgia congressman and current Democratic candidate for secretary of state, has invited all comers to his tailgate party on the North Campus. Fellow members of the Democratic ticket will be featured.

According to the invitation, the menu will consist of iced tea and ham sandwiches. And then Barrow adds this: “If you want anything else, be sure to bring it with you.”

Apparently, Barrow is using some sort of code that we’ve been unable to break. Other than iced tea and ham sandwiches, what could one possibly want at a University of Georgia tailgate party? Saltines and Vienna sausages? Good will and a hearty handshake?

We are puzzled.

***

For a few short hours yesterday, if you typed a few specific words into Google Maps, you’d come across a D.C. listing that read “McCain Senate Office Building.”

The problem is, of course, there is no such building on Capitol Hill – or at least, not yet.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell earlier this week pumped the brakes on a bipartisan effort remove the name of Georgia U.S. Sen. Richard B. Russell’s from the Senate’s oldest office building and replace it with that of McCain.

Within hours on Wednesday, Google corrected the building’s listing. The search powerhouse told the Washington Post that “we recognize that there may be occasional inaccuracies or premature changes suggested by users.”

“When this happens,” Google said, “we work to address as quickly as possible.”

The episode raises a bunch of questions, starting with Google’s nearly unparalleled power to name – and rename – places.

The New York Times chronicled the company’s influence on that front earlier this month. The Silicon Valley behemoth, according to the Gray Lady, has created neighborhoods out of nowhere and rebranded others practically overnight: 

With decisions made by a few Google cartographers, the identity of a city, town or neighborhood can be reshaped, illustrating the outsize influence that Silicon Valley increasingly has in the real world. 

....Yet how Google arrives at its names in maps is often mysterious. The company declined to detail how some place names came about, though some appear to have resulted from mistakes by researchers, rebrandings by real estate agents — or just outright fiction.

The timing of the Russell-McCain blip isn’t exactly great for Google. It came a day after President Donald Trump accused the company of rigging its search results against conservative media outlets. It also doesn’t help that Google replaced Russell’s name with a senator Trump famously feuded with. 

***

Opponents of Plant Vogtle are taking their fight to Capitol Hill. A
coalition of conservative, taxpayer and consumer watchdog groups wrote
to a trio of Georgia Republicans serving on the U.S. House and Senate Budget committees on Wednesday, asking them to investigate the pricey nuclear expansion project.

The groups told U.S. Sen. David Perdue and U.S. Reps. Rob Woodall and Drew Ferguson they were “very concerned with the risk to federal taxpayers should the Vogtle project fail.”

The feds initially greenlit $8.3 billion in loan guarantees for the first-of-its-kind nuclear project near Augusta, and last year Rick Perry’s Energy Department said it was considering another $3.7 billion in low-risk financing to aid the now-$27 billion venture. 

The additional loan guarantees, the opponents argued, wouldn’t have safeguards in place to protect taxpayers.

"We urge you to protect the U.S. taxpayer from further risky investment in Vogtle 3 and 4 by investigating the project and the risks to taxpayers from the existing and additional loan guarantees," the coalition wrote.

They likely won’t be getting much help from Capitol Hill. Most members of Georgia’s congressional delegation are fans of the nuclear project and helped steer roughly $800 million in tax credits its way earlier this year. Perdue, Woodall and Ferguson all okayed that bill back in February.

***

In endorsement news:

-- Former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn backed Democratic challenger Carolyn Bourdeaux in the Seventh District congressional race. She faces Republican incumbent Rob Woodall.

-- Attorney General Chris Carr announced a second round of endorsements from law enforcement officials, bringing his total to 82 sheriffs and 28 district attorneys. The Republican incumbent faces Democrat Charlie Bailey in November. 

– It’s not a surprise, but the Georgia AFL-CIO on Wednesday endorsed Democratic nominee Janice Laws for state insurance commissioner. She faces Republican Jim Beck. The seat is an open one.

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