The responses to these questions were edited for length and clarity by the Georgia Decides team. Each candidate was allotted 150 words for each answer and some answers were trimmed in order to abide by that length requirement. Other edits were made to make sure readers can fully follow and understand the candidate responses.
Campaigning for: State House District 83
How does your background equip you for the job you are seeking?
By allowing me to directly see the impact that laws have on people. Like all lawyers, I have experienced the law as something to study and practice. But as a public defender, I also saw it as something done to actual human beings. I have testified before legislative committees, I have drafted legislation for citizen coalitions and elected officials. I have argued the language of the Georgia Constitution and the Official Code of Georgia Annotated to juries and judges across the state. I have spent over three decades studying and working in law and politics, specifically in the context of how to maximize justice. From a childhood interest in obvious historical atrocities like slavery and the Holocaust to working for and owning a law firm, to a career as a public defender; to my work on local and state issues in Brookhaven and other parts of Georgia, I have always been focused on how the law impacts lives and communities.
What role should government have in the lives of Georgians? How would you apply that philosophy to the job you are seeking?
Government exists to secure liberty and justice for all. As state representative, I would apply that philosophy rigorously and thoughtfully, making sure that all parts of that equation (freedom, accountability, equal opportunity) are honored and valued for all Georgians.
If you are elected (or re-elected), what problems will you spend the most time solving and why?
First, the problem of legislators not reading all of the bills they’re voting on. If there are too many bills to read, there are too many bills to vote on. Second, the problem of government-created/strengthened obstacles to opportunity and prosperity for all Georgians. Bureaucracy grows at the expense of the productive classes, and stifles growth and innovation that benefit our diverse communities .Free markets and free people are better than government picking winners and losers. Third, the misdirection of public safety resources in ways that put us all in danger. We have to focus on violent and property crime, which are the actual threats to our communities. The drug war is vacuuming up massive amounts of law enforcement time and money, and has created a world in which rape kits and murder evidence go untested while state labs are clogged with drug cases. Defend police by tasking them with actually protecting lives, liberties, and property.
Georgia is a politically diverse state. How will you work to represent Georgians whose political views differ from your own?
With enthusiasm and respect. I regularly represent Georgians whose political views differ from my own and continue to learn a tremendous amount from the experience. “No man is a villain in his own story” is a truth that resonates. Working to understand people’s motivations and perspectives — especially when we disagree — is a critical part of participating in community and civic life with empathy, integrity and effectiveness. Genuine curiosity about points of disagreement is key. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
Who has been the biggest influence on how you view state government and politics? What have you learned from this person?
My father, David Bernard, whose encyclopedic knowledge of history, which necessarily involves a lot of politics, helped develop my understanding of the way our world works. He served as captain of the rescue squad, on international church missions, and a variety of community projects, including a run for the Virginia state Senate as a Democrat in 2011. Learning about the complex and fascinating history of our country’s founding and subsequent politics from a lens of justice and truth has been a gift. I have learned that people can know all the same facts and have the same values, yet see individual political issues differently.
Georgia has a lot to offer current and potential residents, but many parts of the state are becoming increasingly unaffordable. Please explain your proposed approach to address housing affordability through legislation and executive actions?
Reduce regulations that do not directly ensure the safety of residents and respect for neighboring property rights. Recent studies have shown that regulations make up over 23% of the cost of new single family home and over 40% of the cost of multifamily developments. Property taxes are another factor increasing costs to both owners and renters, and government’s use of eminent domain can also increase costs while depriving vulnerable Georgians of housing. I will work to increase housing access by reducing these bureaucratic burdens and protecting property rights.
Politics is often about compromise. How do you decide when to compromise and take small, incremental wins, and when to refuse compromise?
All progress is incremental, but not all increments are progress. I keep (conservative leader) Morton Blackwell’s words in mind as I negotiate with government every day on behalf of my clients and neighbors. I always act with honesty and accountability as we navigate complicated and difficult situations with lots of different characters and motivations involved. I will consult my constituents regularly and respectfully on these difficult political calculations on a given issue, and be ready to defend whatever approach we decide to pursue. That will look different depending on whether we’re talking housing policy or police funding, so we’ve got to keep truth and transparency as the guiding principle.
There were politicians who questioned the outcomes of Georgia elections in 2018 and 2020. Do you think Georgia’s elections are secure and will you stand by the results?
It is vital in representative government that elections are accurate and voting procedures secure, so that citizens trust the outcome of elections and avoid vicious divisiveness that can destroy a country. In 2019, I was appointed to the DeKalb County Voter Registration and Elections Ad Hoc Committee, in response to perceived election issues. On that committee, I worked to ensure that the right to vote was protected for everyone, and that all processes were fair and transparent. Since 2019, people from across the state have been working hard to ensure that elections are secure and that people can stand behind the results. Like any intelligent, critically thinking person, I will stand by any elections that are fair and secure, and will work to improve any processes that lead to a perception of or an actual lack of security.
In light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on abortion, state law and local enforcement authority will determine access to abortion.
Having seeing prosecutors and police use criminal laws to violate people’s constitutional rights, I will seek to keep government out of health care.
Are there any programs/legislation you’ve sponsored or created to help people with disabilities?
As a public defender, many of my clients have mental or physical disabilities, which present unique challenges in ensuring that their constitutional rights and physical safety are protected. I often think back to previous volunteer experience with literacy programs for children and adults as I assist them in navigating difficult circumstances. I work with the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities and community mental health centers frequently. People with disabilities often have an especially hard time dealing with bureaucratic systems. I want to help eliminate any unnecessary obstacles to flourishing.
Georgia closed out its budget year with a “likely record surplus, billions of dollars in federal aid and a growing economy.” Georgia spends more than half of this money on education and health care. What would you want to see in the budget in terms of spending or taxes?
Returning it to the people of Georgia, and not politically connected individuals or groups.
The Legislature often votes along party lines. When would you seek bipartisan action and what issues merit such consensus?
As Frederick Douglass said: “I will unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.” The issues facing Georgians are much less partisan than the paid political industry often makes them appear. Good people can find common ground when we embrace cooperation and consent rather than seeking to coerce others into living their lives as we think they should. If an action is worth taking, it is worth making the case to everyone — not just people on one side. For example, when our coalition of citizens successfully opposed the legalization of no-knock search warrants in Georgia, we enjoyed support, from the Atlanta Progressive News to the Walker County Tea Party. Liberty and justice for all, as a practical matter, is a lot more popular than TV news would have us believe.