Education

Stacey Abrams urges awareness, urgency in appearance on University of Iowa campus

Fair Fight founder says she'd be happy to run as vice president

Former Georgia lawmaker and gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams pauses for the audience to take photos at the Iowa Memorial Union in Iowa City on Monday, Nov. 4, 2019. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Former Georgia lawmaker and gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams pauses for the audience to take photos at the Iowa Memorial Union in Iowa City on Monday, Nov. 4, 2019. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — In opening her remarks before a crowd of 700-plus on the University of Iowa campus Monday, Stacey Abrams introduced herself as “not the governor of Georgia.”

“I don’t find that funny,” said Abrams, 45, who famously lost the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election to then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who was accused of purging voter rolls and taking other voter suppression measures before and after the election.

And yet, despite her loss in her bid for governor, Abrams asserted, “I am very clear and very comfortable declaring that in 2018, with our mission of engagement and transformation, we won.”

“It causes consternation for folks when I say that, because they think I’m declaring that the election was invalid or that I plan to contest it, and I don’t,” she told the friendly audience. “But my point is very simple. The moment we make the right to vote contingent upon a candidate of our choice being elected, we have not won. We have missed on out the purity of our power.”

And that, she said, is what democracy is really about.

“It has always been about power,” Abrams said. “And the key to that power is the right to vote.”

Abrams served for 11 years in the Georgia House of Representatives, including seven as minority leader, and in 2018 became the first black woman to run for governor for a major party in the nation’s history. She spent more than an hour Monday evening rolling through issues of voter rights, voter suppression, and what the public can do to secure free and fair elections for years to come.

Register to vote, she suggested as her first tip for action, and get others to do the same. Read the news and correct misinformation when possible was her second tip.

And fight suppression in all its forms by any means possible.

While she’s not the governor of Georgia and instead using her name recognition and platform to push for fair elections through her organization Fair Fight, Abrams didn’t rule out another candidacy in the near future.

“You do not run in a primary for second place,” she said to a question about whether she’d consider running as vice president in the 2020 election. “However, I’m not in the primary. And you can run as second in the general election, and I am happy to do so in the general election with the nominee.”

Partisan talk aside, Abrams spent much of her time with the UI crowd talking about bipartisan issues that don’t favor one side or the other.

“If we want to get this out of politics, we have to make sure that political leaders don’t get to change the rules when they start to lose,” Abrams said. “That’s what Democrats did for a while. That’s what Republicans are doing now.

“Any time you change electoral law because you want to win elections, you are gaming the system, and that is wrong. Make it universal. Make it standardized. Make sure everyone either feels the pain or feels the joy the same.”

Abrams touched on different methods of voter suppression and said voter fraud largely is a myth. She said rules have been positioned to keep disenfranchised voters disenfranchised, and minorities with unsurmountable hurdles — even when they do find a way to vote — from seeing their ballots counted.

She said this nation doesn’t talk enough about voter suppression.

“It looks like user error,” she said, explaining many don’t know when their polling places closed or that they were purged from the rolls. “It is not your fault. It is not a bug in the system. It is a feature in the system.”

As the country celebrates the 100th commemoration of the 19th Amendment — reflecting on the anniversary of women’s suffrage and the right to vote — Abrams stressed this nation is nothing more than a question.

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“And I want Georgia and Iowa and America in 2020 to once again be the answer to ‘what is democracy?’” Abrams said.

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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