The Atlanta Journal-Constitution sent questions to the candidates about five key issues. Here are the candidates and their responses (Rashid Malik did not respond to numerous attempts to contact him):
The public policy professor and former state budget official was a political neophyte when she announced her bid to challenge Woodall in 2017. She lost by 419 votes and is making another run.
The former Fulton County Commission chairman served on the board for 11 years. He recently moved from Fulton to Gwinnett.
Islam worked on Jason Carter’s 2014 bid for governor. She raised cash for Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign, and later worked for the Democratic National Committee.
Zahra S. Karinshak
The state Senator attended the U.S. Air Force Academy and served as an intelligence officer during the Gulf War. She later became a lawyer and was a legal counsel to Gov. Roy Barnes amid the fight to change the Georgia state flag.
Brenda Lopez Romero
Lopez Romero made history in 2016 when she became the first Latina elected to the Georgia General Assembly. A native of Mexico who came to the U.S. at age 5, she’s an attorney who helps immigrants become U.S. citizens.
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1. What should be done to improve the U.S. health care system?
Bourdeaux: Health care policy is personal to me. For 10 years, my father suffered from a debilitating, prolonged illness and my mother cared for him. They drained their bank accounts to pay for my father’s prescription medications. Now, every day I hear from Georgia families struggling with the rising costs of prescription drugs, health insurance and medical care. This country must do more to protect the health of its citizens, ensuring access to affordable, quality health care. I will prioritize legislation that allows the federal government to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs. Additionally, I will fight to increase access and affordability of health insurance through strengthening the Affordable Care Act and creating an affordable public option health insurance plan for individuals and small businesses. We also must protect people with pre-existing conditions and end surprise billing.
Eaves: I have a strong record of providing quality health care to residents. As chairman of Fulton County, I played a vital role in saving Grady Hospital from closing in 2008, and after the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, I led the effort to sign up thousands of residents to have health insurance.
The U.S. health care system needs improvement. COVID-19 has shown that any American is an illness away from financial ruin, and accessibility to affordable, quality health care is inequitable, depending on one’s race, income, and employment status. Many Americans lack health insurance and access to quality medical facilities. As a future congressman, I will work to pass a universal health care law that will ensure that every American will have this fundamental right. I will also work with local elected officials and health care providers to ensure a better coordinated health system in the state of Georgia.
Islam: Our health care system is deeply broken. I am currently uninsured, along with 20% of the 7th District — and thanks to a system that ties the right to health care to employment, that percentage has surely increased as millions lose their jobs. This is an ongoing health crisis, but it’s downright lethal during a pandemic.
Medicare for All is the only way forward. This will ensure that every American has access to excellent health care — while also saving our country $600 billion in annual costs. In contrast, tinkering at the edges of the Affordable Care Act will preserve unequal care across income brackets while still allowing private insurers to drive up prices of lifesaving drugs like insulin.
Ninety percent of Democrats have come to support Medicare for All. I am the only candidate running in the 7th District who will fight for this bold change.
Karinshak: It is absurd that here in Georgia, we have failed to expand Medicaid and provide health care coverage for scores of Georgians. I voted to expand Medicaid in the state Senate and will push to address this at the federal level in Congress. Beyond that, Democrats must fight to defend the Affordable Care Act and build on its legacy. I support providing a public option that can compete with private insurance markets, as originally proposed in the ACA. Finally, something has got to be done about the cost of prescription drugs in America. A crucial first step is passing (House Resolution 3) and allowing the federal government to negotiate drug prices. If enacted, all of these measures will put us on a path to ensuring access to quality, affordable health care to every American.
Romero: My parents are blue-collar workers, and despite working full time, they've never had jobs that offer health insurance. We often had to ration expensive prescription medications and put off important preventative health care. I was unable to afford health insurance as a small business owner because the reality is that our health care system is not a health care system — it is a profit-making machine. COVID-19 has shown that health care is a human right and a public necessity. As a state representative, I have advocated for Medicaid expansion that our state Republicans have denied to over half a million Georgians. In Congress, I will continue to support the ACA, protect those pre-existing conditions and work to reduce price gouging for prescription medicine. Also, to work to improve the tragic maternal mortality rates that disproportionately impact women of color. I support Medicare for all who want it to ensure health care access regardless of income or employer.
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2. Do you support the Green New Deal? If not, how would you tackle the issue of climate change?
Bourdeaux: Climate change is a crisis, and we need bold action to restore the health of our planet. While I do agree with parts of the Green New Deal, I do not believe that it is the only or most practical way to tackle climate change. I will be a strong voice to use this current economic crisis as an opportunity to invest in high-quality jobs creating solar panels, building wind turbines and revamping our infrastructure to support a 21st century green economy. We spend billions in subsidies for the fossil fuel industry. This must be reversed and invested in clean energy and clean energy research and development. We’ve failed to take action to curb climate change because special interests like big oil have spent millions to elect their allies. I have refused contributions from corporate PACs because representatives must prioritize the people in their districts — not powerful special interests.ford health care. However, price transparency would go a long way in facilitating health care reform.
Eaves: I support the Green New Deal as a means of addressing climate change globally and eradicating income equality in America. As a father, I believe it is the responsibility of my generation to protect the environment and its resources and reverse climate change for our future generations. I support embracing renewable energy and cutting emissions. I am an advocate of public transit because it will reduce the number of cars on the road.
By the same token, I believe that Congress needs to adopt environmental justice policies that will protect communities of color from illegal dumping of hazardous waste and the location of industries that contribute to air and water pollution.
Islam: My generation has grown up with the climate crisis at our doorstep. Every year, more and more wildfires, tornadoes, hurricanes and other natural disasters rip our communities apart. Experts say we have under 12 years to change course on the climate. Meanwhile, we're also facing the second massive economic crisis in a single decade. And 1 in 5 Americans who were employed before COVID-19 are now without jobs.
We must pass a Green New Deal, which will end carbon emissions and invest in green energy while creating millions of new jobs. We also need to ensure that a Green New Deal protects frontline, black and brown communities who have already suffered from climate change.
None of the other policy battles — from gun violence reform to health care — matter if our planet doesn't survive. Addressing climate change immediately and boldly is the only choice we have.
Karinshak: As a mother who wants to leave behind a world that is clean, livable and beautiful for my daughters, I support the objectives of the Green New Deal. The United States must be a leader in moving toward clean technologies that reduce our greenhouse emissions. That has to start with rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement. Retooling our infrastructure to be more sustainable must also involve creating well-paid, skilled jobs for our workers. America must also take steps to protect its existing environmental resources, which is why I have supported legislation to restore tax credits for energy-efficient vehicles and penalize companies who dump toxic coal ash that seeps into our waterways.
Romero: As a state representative, I am proud to have been recognized by environmentalist groups like 100 Miles (a nonprofit dedicated to protecting Georgia’s coast) for my support of conservation legislation that protects our state’s natural resources and treasures. In Congress, I will boldly support the Green New Deal and advocate for the United States to re-enter the fight against climate change as a global leader. I will continue to fight back against the false narrative that environmental regulation is somehow bad for business or the economy. In 2019 alone, Georgia taxpayers lost $3 billion as a result of climate change. When we aggressively invest in alternative energy and green technology, we not only improve the lives of Georgians and protect our environment, but we will also help grow our economy and encourage success for our local businesses. While the Green New Deal provides guidelines to reduce the use of fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions to be achieved within 10 years, it also creates new high-paying jobs in clean-energy industries similar to the solar panel companies that have found great success in various parts of our state.
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3. Should there be a pathway for citizenship for people who enter the U.S. illegally? If so, what should it look like?
Bourdeaux: We have lost our moral bearings as a country when it comes to immigration. We need an immigration policy that respects human dignity and rights, and recognizes economic reality. First and foremost, we need to protect our DACA recipients. There are thousands of people in the 7th District who are DACA-eligible, and we must lay out a clear pathway to citizenship for them. We must additionally protect those seeking refugee status and increase the number of immigration judges to reduce wait times for hearings. Finally, taxpaying immigrants who have been in this country an extended period of time with clean criminal records should be given an affordable, straightforward pathway to citizenship. This country has always attracted the best, brightest and most hardworking. We must continue to do so.
Eaves: America is a country of immigrants. My grandfather came to America from Jamaica, and I consider myself a product of the immigrant community. I believe immigrants who live in the United States, as documented or undocumented, should have a path to citizenship. I also support the Dreamers Act and believe that Dreamers should have the rights of Americans.
Islam: I am the daughter of Bangladeshi parents who came to this country pursuing the American dream — and I would not be here without an effective and just immigration process.
We need an expansive pathway to citizenship for anyone who is willing to work hard, pay taxes, obey the law and become a part of this country. We need to reinstate DACA to give every child in this country the opportunity to thrive. We need to redistribute unused visas to the millions waiting in bureaucratic limbo and lower cost-prohibitive barriers to naturalization.
Our district is home to one of the largest immigrant and first-generation American populations in the state. That's why I will fight for immigrant justice beyond a pathway to citizenship, including putting an end to the 287(g) program that allows our state and local agencies to act as ICE enforcement.
Karinshak: Speaking as the daughter of an immigrant, it's clear that our immigration system is deeply broken and needs serious and immediate attention. Comprehensive immigration reform has been put off for far too long by Congress and will be a priority of mine as a representative. We cannot deport our way out of this issue, and undocumented individuals need a means to be integrated into society. That process should begin with folks covered under DACA/The Dream Act. And our broken immigration enforcement efforts need to be redirected toward people who constitute an actual threat to our communities. The COVID-19 crisis has shown us how much we depend on our immigrant communities, who face daily danger in frontline occupations. They deserve answers and accountability from Congress.
Romero: As the first Latina elected to the Georgia General Assembly, I know firsthand the value immigrants bring to our state. They are our doctors, teachers, business owners and farmworkers. Indeed, many of our frontline and essential workers during this pandemic are immigrants. Through charities and my law practice, I have fought for folks who — like my family — came to the U.S. to make a better life for themselves and their families. As an immigrant and immigration attorney, I understand what is wrong with our immigration system and how to fix it. In Congress, I will work to pass comprehensive immigration reform, the DREAM Act, and permanent DACA protections. Also, support the elimination of the permanent bar and family preference categories as well as the creation of an independent immigration court system and detention alternatives that respect human dignity and support court compliance. I will also support the repeal of 287(g) programs, which only sow distrust of law enforcement, ban the inhumane and money-hungry private detention centers, and ensure that legal representation is always provided for indigent immigrants in immigration court.
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4. Do you think college should be free for certain students, and if so how would you pay for it?
Bourdeaux: I believe that cost should never be a barrier to higher education. As a professor at Georgia State University, I see the struggle too many students go through to afford the rising costs of higher education. To help make college more affordable, I support increased funding for programs such as Pell Grants and supplemental loan programs — programs that got me through college when I was a student. We also need to provide relief for those already struggling with student debt. The student loan debt crisis is growing and has potentially catastrophic consequences. I support programs that enable people to pay back their student loans proportionally to their income so that no one is paying more than they can afford. For those students who go into careers in public service such as teachers, nurses, police, firefighters and the military, I support strengthening the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.
Eaves: Education is considered the “great equalizer.” Unfortunately, the American higher education system is a multitiered system that varies in quality from elite to substandard. The rich and those who matriculate from private high schools have better access to the elite colleges and universities, and as graduates they get the better-paying jobs, thus adding to income inequality.
I am an instructor at Spelman College, and I see the value of a college education for students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. I believe that first-generation college students should be granted free tuition if they attend a community college, vocational school, tribal college or historically black college or university, and these costs should be funded by a national lottery system.
Islam: I am a proud alum of Georgia State University. But thanks to ever-rising costs of higher education and a loan system that punishes working families, I also have $30,000 in student debt. Higher education should be a right, not a privilege — and it shouldn’t come with tens of thousands dollars of debt. We need tuition-free public colleges, and we need to end the $1.5 trillion private student loan industry that profits off 44 million Americans with debt.
Free public college would replace the need for federal student loans for low-income students. And existing student debt can be canceled by asking Wall Street to chip in a fraction of its revenue for the public good, which would not impact on the taxes of working families.
Let's remember that the 2020 defense budget is $718 billion. If we can fund our military, why can't we fund our children and their future?
Karinshak: I was only able to attend college through the United States Air Force Academy, and I know the burden that the rising cost of education places on our middle class. Higher education must be affordable for all Americans. No one should be left in crippling debt because they want a college education. I support expanding Pell Grants and other federal funding mechanisms to expand access to college, and I would consider proposals that freeze student debt until graduates reach a certain income level. We should also look for opportunities to expand and better fund our technical colleges and trade schools.
Romero: I attended six different elementary schools as a result of us constantly moving as we sought affordable rent. I graduated from Cross Keys High School, an underfunded and overcrowded school. I am a first-generation college and law school graduate. The only way I could afford to go to law school was by taking on a massive amount of student debt. As a state representative, I now have the privilege to sit on the K-12 Education Committee and was presented with the Georgia Association of Educators’ Friend of Education Award. I'm proud to have proposed legislation to provide tuition equity for our Dreamers and to remove the cap for returning nontraditional students to receive HOPE. In Congress, I'll work to increase funding for our public institutions, ensure tuition-free college and technical education, and support student debt relief that is based on a graduate’s income and guaranteed for those with careers in public education, public health service and public safety.
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5. Should Congress do whatever it can to rebuild the economy no matter the long-term impact on the national debt?
Bourdeaux: The reality is that we are facing the most severe economic crisis since the Great Depression. I helped balance the state budget during the Great Recession so I know that the response from the federal government must be robust, efficient and put families, workers and small businesses first. Over 1 million Georgians have lost their jobs since the economy was shut down. I will fight to ensure that the unemployment insurance systems, food nutrition and housing assistance programs have the necessary funds to support workers and their families until our economy recovers. I also support funding for loans and grants to the thousands of small businesses decimated by the pandemic. We need transparency and accountability to make sure our taxpayer dollars go to those who need it, not corporate bailouts. Last, we must support state and local governments who provide funding for schools, police and other critical local services.
Eaves: We are experiencing the worse financial crisis since the Great Depression. The Congress should continue to allocate the necessary stimulus packages to support corporations, medium-size companies and small businesses as well as state and local governments to keep the economy afloat. Meanwhile, the economy will never bounce back unless people feel safe. Therefore, the Congress should continue to hold the administration accountable for adopting nationwide health care guidelines and best practices to control the spread of COVID-19.
Since early April, I have hosted several virtual COVID-19 town hall meetings to hear concerns of constituents in District 7. Based on their concerns, I support universal testing and establishing test sites in “hot spots” within communities with high infection rates. I also believe that testing needs to be available at work sites and all medical facilities, and results of testing need to be immediate.
Islam: The Federal Reserve and Congress have pumped hundreds of billions of dollars into the stock market and corporate bailouts since this crisis began. The billionaire class has increased its wealth by over $300 billion. Meanwhile, unemployment is at a record high, our public infrastructure is crumbling and dozens of small businesses are closing daily.
Congress should be rebuilding the economy from the bottom up — instead of funneling money to the ultra-rich. We need to pass a relief package that will jump-start the economy by creating millions of new jobs; the Green New Deal would be a good start. By reorienting our federal spending to a stimulus approach instead of corporate welfare, we can keep national debt down without abandoning working people.
The American economy flourished thanks to the New Deal almost 100 years ago. Today we need to embrace major spending that will get us all back on our feet.
Karinshak: In a time where trillion-dollar stimulus packages have become the new norm, the rapidly ballooning federal budget is not something to be taken likely. But we first have to remember that much of our debt can be attributed to the Trump tax cuts, which in effect, have been massive handouts to big business and the wealthiest Americans. The United States cannot adequately confront the growing economic crisis without deficit spending, and I would look to the example of Presidents like Franklin Roosevelt, whose ambitious, forward-thinking policies brought this nation back from the brink of economic ruin.
Romero: We must continue to prioritize our workers and small mom-and-pop businesses by offering more cash infusions, support for sick leave and the inclusion of expedited unemployment insurance. In the long term, we can grow our economy by investing in our country’s broader success while also providing a jobs program. We can start by rebuilding and maintaining our infrastructure. In part, this means repairing unsafe bridges and roads, updating our sewerage systems and water treatment facilities, and improving our railroads. I will push for greatly needed investment in our public transit systems — buses, light rail and commuter rail — as we do this, we can also help provide zero-emission modes of transportation and invest in clean energy industries that are not outsourceable jobs. I will push for the fortification of programs like Social Security by eliminating the cap on wages subject to Social Security payroll taxes. Of course, we can pragmatically and progressively make these investments while balancing our national debt and inflation rates.