Georgia 2020: Where U.S. Senate Democratic candidates stand on the issues

The U.S. Capitol Building is visible as a jogger makes their way across the National Mall, Wednesday, April 22, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The U.S. Capitol Building is visible as a jogger makes their way across the National Mall, Wednesday, April 22, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The Democratic primary to challenge U.S. Sen. David Perdue was shaped from the start by who didn’t decide to run: Stacey Abrams, U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath and Sally Quillian Yates all passed on the chance to challenge the first-term Republican, leaving a range of other contenders racing to stand out. In the opening months of the campaign, they largely focused on Perdue, though as the June 9 primary nears, Jon Ossoff has come under increasing attack.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution sent this survey to all candidates in the Senate race. The candidates below, who are the top three in terms of fundraising and endorsements, are the ones who responded.

Sarah Riggs Amico, Marietta

Sarah Riggs Amico

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Jon Ossoff, Atlanta

 Jon Ossoff.

Credit: Bob Andres

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Credit: Bob Andres

Teresa Tomlinson, Columbus

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1. What should be done to improve the U.S. health care system?

Amico: No one should be poor because they're sick, or sick because they're poor. That's why I believe that quality, affordable health care is a human right, and no one in this country should go without treatment or access to care.
As senator, I will protect and strengthen the Affordable Care Act. The ACA made huge inroads to reforming our health care system, but the Trump administration and its enablers have worked to dismantle the law and throw away protections for millions of Americans with pre-existing medical conditions. I'll protect those Americans and restore funding for the ACA exchanges that provide health care to more than 20 million Americans.

Ossoff: My priority will be ensuring every single American has great, affordable health insurance and health care. I'll fight for Medicaid expansion, and I'll stand up to drug companies to lower prescription drug prices. I support achieving universal insurance coverage with a strong public health care option that is affordable and optional for all. For Americans with private insurance, I support strengthening the Affordable Care Act's protections for women, young people and pre-existing conditions. I'll deliver federal resources for new and expanded clinics across Georgia so everyone has convenient access to care — especially in rural and underserved communities. I am pro-choice and will defend Roe v. Wade in the Senate. My wife, Alisha, is an OB-GYN doctor in Atlanta. When 79 Georgia counties lack any OB-GYN doctor at all and we already face a severe maternal health crisis, extremist abortion bans like Georgia's House Bill 481 only make matters worse.

Tomlinson: Georgia has five of the top 10 counties in the country for per-capita deaths from COVID-19. The failure to build on the ACA has resulted in our most vulnerable citizens being disproportionately subject to public health threats. I propose that we:

  • Immediately open the ACA exchange to the 30 million citizen who have become unemployed. 
  • Have the federal government take over the cost of Medicaid expansion so that no citizen living at or below 138% of the poverty level will be denied basic health care, thereby expanding health care in rural America particularly.
  • Expand Medicare to 55 years of age.
  • Provide a public option on the ACA exchange.
  • Adjust the Medicare/Medicaid reimbursement rate to encourage provider participation.
  • Partner with medical training facilities to retrain large numbers of our unemployed to high-demand health care industry roles. 

2.  Do you support the Green New Deal? If not, how would you tackle the issue of climate change?

Amico: I support the principles underlying the Green New Deal, as climate change is an existential threat to Americans' health, safety and prosperity. Too many politicians have failed to listen to scientists and security experts when it comes to our changing climate. Rising sea levels and increasingly powerful storms threaten Georgia's coastal residents and their economies, critical infrastructure and military bases.

Enabled by Perdue, (President Donald) Trump has dismantled protections for clean air and water, imposing greater suffering on poor and marginalized communities. These issues of environmental justice and inequity will be front and center of every policy I support. By centering facts, science and data in environmental policy, I’ll help reverse Trump’s devastating rollback of these protections.

Climate change is a threat that will require an all-of-the-above approach with the support of workers, the business community, scientists and climate change activists. As the mother of two young daughters, facing this crisis will be a priority of my work.

Ossoff: I'll push for a historic and ambitious American infrastructure and clean-energy program that includes big, overdue investments in renewable energy, energy efficiency, transit and transportation, public health, emergency response and environmental cleanup. These investments will create job training and employment opportunities for millions of American workers and demand for products made by American businesses. They will revitalize our economy and lay the foundations for decades of prosperity, environmental sustainability and health. The COVID-19 outbreak is a case study in what happens when politicians ignore science. We cannot afford to keep making the same mistake when it comes to fighting climate change and protecting our environment. In the Senate, I'll listen to scientists — not lobbyists for polluters.

Tomlinson: The first scholarly paper regarding the connection between carbon production and the Earth's temperature was published in 1896. We have wasted time denying the reality of the climate crisis, so, yes, I support the Green New Deal. We are already paying for the effects of global warming in the form of trillions of dollars in cleanup and rebuilding after fires, floods, and intensified hurricanes and tornadoes resulting from rising global temperatures. I support a new, clean economy because it will create millions of jobs as we:

1) Construct a new power grid.

2) Manufacture turbines and solar energy equipment.

3) Expand rail lines and energy-efficient transportation infrastructure.

4) Develop programs for replacing lead pipes and weatherizing homes, among other opportunities.

The GND allows us to stop the worsening impact of climate change, create a new economic sector and become more competitive for our future.

3. Should there be a pathway for citizenship for people who enter the U.S. illegally? If so, what should it look like?

Amico: America's broken immigration system has only been made worse by this administration. I support protecting Dreamers from deportation and believe that strong border security has to be accompanied by comprehensive immigration reform.
As the proud wife of a naturalized American citizen, I know our immigrant communities have been a vibrant part of our nation — and our economy — for centuries. As a senator, I will be a champion for fixing our broken immigration system. However, we cannot allow the conversation to be dominated by hate-filled rhetoric from politicians who are doing nothing more than inflaming divisions in our nation — especially in a moment when we need leaders who will bring us together. As Leviticus 19:34 says, "The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God."

Ossoff: I'll support an immigration policy that strengthens our borders, puts American workers first, respects human rights and creates a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants who are already here and otherwise follow the law. Deporting 13 million undocumented immigrants is simply a nonstarter. Our country, like any country, must know and control who crosses our borders, and strong border security doesn't require us to sacrifice our moral principles, our commitment to human rights or our American identity as a haven for people fleeing persecution and striving for opportunity. Ripping children from their parents and disappearing them into federal custody is an atrocity. And instead of making life hell for migrants, immigration enforcement should crack down on the employers of undocumented immigrants, like The Trump Organization.

Tomlinson: Sixty-two percent of undocumented residents have overstayed lawful visas because of an onerous, outdated visa renewal system. We can restructure the visa renewal process and invest in technology, converting so-called "illegals" to lawful temporary residents.
It is not illegal to seek asylum. We must reinstate Obama-era asylum processing from foreign consulates while asylum seekers stay in their homes. Further, we must invest in a prompt judicial review of asylum claims and end child separation. 
Dreamers should be made citizens immediately because (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program) requirements are high and their commitment to this country evident. Other undocumented residents should be allowed to seek visas and other temporary status as they apply for formal citizenship through a process that takes into consideration their contribution to our country.

Individuals who are threats or engaged in felonious criminal activity must be deported.

4. Do you think college should be free for certain students, and if so how would you pay for it?

Amico: I support fully funding Pell Grants and other financial aid for college tuition, as well as lowering interest rates on federal student loans. Students should be able to attend and graduate from a four-year college without a lifetime burden of debt. We must also expand opportunities for students to attend two-year colleges, community colleges, and training and apprenticeship programs, including via labor unions.
My father was able to go to college because of a work-study co-op at General Motors Institute (now Kettering University). The program — in which students alternate between work-study internships and college courses — allowed students like my dad to attend college debt-free and graduate with meaningful work experience. Engaging in our labor unions, civil service infrastructure and private businesses to create more opportunities like this could be a path to make college debt-free to both students and taxpayers.

Ossoff: I support making vocational training and trade school free, and making public college debt-free. We all want and we all deserve the basics in life: a steady job that pays a living wage and helps us save for retirement, great health care, a nice home and a great education. But in America today equality of opportunity isn't a reality — and in so many ways that inequality starts with unequal access to training and education. We tend to focus in political debates on four-year college degrees, but we need greater focus on vocational training. For someone currently making $10 an hour, a commercial driver's license or a welding certificate can be life-changing. That's why in the Senate I'll work to make trade school and vocational training free for every American. And I'll work to make four-year degrees at our public colleges 100% debt-free.

Tomlinson: I propose extending our current education system to k-14, with a two-year Associates Degree as part of the basic public education system. Free four-year college policies can have unintended regressive effects resulting in taxpayers funding the college education of upper-middle-income students. Ideas to make college accessible to all citizens, include:

1) Stop for-profit institutions with predatory lending affiliates.

2) Recommit federal funding to post-secondary institutions to aid in the reduction of costs being passed on to students.

3) Increase Pell Grant funding for students in need.

4) Expand public service opportunities to offset student debt, including increasing the amount of debt that can be offset.

5) Allow tax credits to offset college loan debt.

6) Legislate for targeted stimulus to forgive college loan debt as an economic growth effort to enhance the middle-class backbone of this country.

5. Should Congress do whatever it can to rebuild the economy no matter the long-term impact on the national debt?

Amico: Our next senator will shape whether economic security and justice move forward for all Americans, or we regress to the same systems that left poor and marginalized communities on the sidelines of the American dream. Correcting structural inequity based on class, privilege, gender and race in America's economy is essential to both our economy and our nation's ideals.
To rebuild our economy, America must unleash economic opportunity for all citizens: equal pay for equal work, affordable child care and paid leave, exceptional public education for children in every ZIP code and protecting workers' rights. And as the former chief executive of a certified Woman-Owned Business Enterprise, I'll prioritize equitable access to capital for women- and minority-owned businesses.
Our federal budget has both inflows and outflows. Rebuilding our economy need not worsen our national debt crisis — if we both grow our economy and eliminate the Trump tax cuts for corporations and the wealthiest 1% of Americans. Many working families today pay a higher effective income tax rate than corporations and billionaires. Correcting that is fiscally smart and the right thing to do.

Ossoff: Our country's borrowing capacity is not unlimited, and the federal government has to set priorities with limited resources. That's just one of many reasons emergency economic relief should prioritize working- and middle-class families and small businesses, and not just the largest and most powerful corporations. As COVID-19 struck, the federal government rushed $4 trillion to Wall Street virtually overnight so investment banks and huge corporate borrowers could cover their costs, but ordinary people had to wait a month to get $1,200 while facing layoffs, foreclosures and evictions. Meanwhile, many small businesses have struggled to access (Paycheck Protection Program) funds while huge corporations blatantly exploited the small-business relief program. Businesses of all sizes are the vital creators of jobs and wealth. But rather than giving limitless cash to Wall Street and hoping the benefits trickle down, in a crisis Congress should prioritize fast and generous and direct emergency relief to families and small businesses.

Tomlinson: As mayor, I led Columbus out of the Great Recession, reformed its budget and submitted the first balanced budget in 16 years. If we rebuild the economy correctly post-COVID-19, we do not have to worry about the long-term impact of the national debt. It will be reduced as it was after the Great Recession by revenue from the recovery. Now that we have infused high-levels of liquidity into the market while the economy is frozen, Congress must act to partner in and invest in growing economic sectors, such as health care and clean energy. This will create millions of good-paying jobs, provide for economic growth and make the U.S. more globally competitive. The resulting increased revenue will reduce the deficit. We must also revisit the Trump tax cuts to instill a more traditional progressive tax system where no large corporation pays zero federal taxes as a matter of course.