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 50
How does your background equip you for the job you are seeking?
I am a sitting Georgia state senator representing District 48, which encompasses House District 50. As such, I already have experience doing this job and representing this group of constituents. I am also a practicing physician with an advanced degree in public health, which provides a unique perspective on how our health care system can be improved to best serve Georgians. Experience in health care is vastly underrepresented at the Capitol, despite health care costs representing one of the largest portions of our state budget. It’s one of the few public policy areas every Georgian interfaces with and cares deeply about. I’ve proven to be an effective leader at the Capitol by authoring and informing health care legislation, including laws that lower costs, improve access, mitigate substance abuse risk and improve mental health outcomes. I’ve also blocked bills threatening reproductive health care.
What role should government have in the lives of Georgians? How would you apply that philosophy to the job you are seeking?
Fundamentally a government should protect, provide, and invest in its people. “Protection” encompasses support of law enforcement, legislation enhancing public safety and proactive mitigation of future harms. One way I have done this is by authoring several bills to mitigate gun violence, including a universal background checks bill to keep guns out of the hands of those convicted of felons or domestic abusers. “Provide” includes helping individuals or families access resources they cannot access alone. As a state senator, I authored a bill requiring health insurance companies to cover the costs of emergency medical care, and an iteration of my bill was signed into law this past year. “Invest” involves cultivation of resources toward growing Georgia’s future. As state senator, I have consistently championed investment in our public schools and education system, to ensure that we are helping our children to build a future worthy of their potential.
If you are elected (or re-elected), what problems will you spend the most time solving and why?
In 2020, as now, I ran for office because I knew that Georgia is one of the sickest states in the nation. We see that reflected in our high uninsured rates and corresponding skyrocketing premium costs. We see that in terms of our maternal and infant mortality rates, which rank among the worst in the nation. And we see it when we look at our long-term health outcomes for conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. As a physician I have made it my life’s work to take care of patients, provide the best care I know how, and to “first, do no harm.” I further believe that there are harms of inaction, and so in continuing to serve as a legislator, I will continue to use my energy and experience in both public health and the state senate to fight for a healthier Georgia.
Georgia is a politically diverse state. How will you work to represent Georgians whose political views differ from your own?
Though much is made of our politically polarized government, as a sitting legislator I can attest that the vast majority of legislation we vote on actually end up passing unanimously or very nearly so, with agreement on both sides of the aisle. There are, of course, a subset of bills on which the parties fundamentally disagree. However, reasoned disagreement — played out in respectful conversation and thoughtful debate— remains the basis of our political system. The district I serve is quite diverse, both demographically and politically. But as a legislator it is my job to represent all my constituents at the Capitol, not just those people voted for me. A key part of this job is to keep an open mind, to solicit input and feedback broadly on issues important to a majority of my community, and then to work to advance those interests.
Who has been the biggest influence on how you view state government and politics? What have you learned from this person?
Politics is the art of consensus building, listening, effective communication and tenacity, played out publicly under a set of highly formalized rules and procedures. But none of these skills is specific to politics, and therefore my political role model is not a politician at all, but a clinician, Dr. Glenda Garvey, with whom I trained at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. One of Dr. Garvey’s greatest skills was her keen sense of observation, which she used not only to identify solutions to complex problems, but to find commonalities between people and build relationships. Politics, at heart, is about relationships, and it’s far easier to move past superficial differences and build consensus when you trust each other. Most importantly, Dr. Garvey taught me that commitment to public service and advocacy for those who have entrusted us with their care must animate all we seek to do.
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?
North Fulton County is a quick-growing and extremely desirable area to live in because of our excellent schools and quality of life. But high housing prices preclude this choice for many. While zoning and many housing issues are under the jurisdiction of municipal governments, the state legislature has the ability to combat regulatory and market barriers to affordable housing. Some solutions might include tax incentives or subsidies to increase our supply of affordable homes near job centers and transportation hubs, create incentives and requirements of local governments for affordable housing plans and developments, as well as expand resources available for affordable housing. We should prioritize ensuring that people like our seniors, law enforcement, teachers, first responders, small business owners, and young families can continue to afford to live in our communities here.
Politics is often about compromise. How do you decide when to compromise and take small, incremental wins, and when to refuse compromise?
“Perfect is the enemy of good.” In all facets of my life — as a mom, doctor or as a politician — I’ve found there is very little role for absolutism. Taking an all-or-none approach very rarely gets as much done as keeping an open mind, being willing to engage in good-faith dialogue, and compromise. With many bills I’ve worked on in the Legislature, I did have to cede ground or not “win” on every single point in order to serve the larger goal. Sometimes imperfect legislation can still help a lot of people, and most laws are imperfect. There are, however, a few instances in which compromise cannot enter into my calculation. One is when compromise would serve what I view as an absolute moral wrong. One such law that comes to mind is Georgia’s extreme abortion ban, which I strongly feel violates fundamental medical ethics and harms patients.
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?
There are in fact two issues at play here.Do I think Georgia’s elections were secure? Yes. The candidates who earned the most votes should be recognized as duly elected. This should be the case regardless of whether we as individuals voted for those winners or not. The second part of this discussion, however, is about voting accessibility and the method and process of how ballots are cast and counted. Elections are won by those who get the most votes in the end, but if it’s harder for certain groups of voters to cast votes for the candidates of their choice, that’s a violation of our democratic electoral system, where each vote is free and carries the same weight. Therefore, moving forward, I’d like to acknowledge and address such challenges to voting rights and access in Georgia.
In light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on abortion, state law and local enforcement authority will determine access to abortion.
As a physician, I took an oath to “first do no harm.” And Georgia’s six week abortion ban, signed into law in 2019, fundamentally violates that oath. It violates the core medical ethics tenet of patient autonomy: patients get to determine how to use their own bodies and choose their own care. It actively harms patients by encouraging delayed or denied best-practice care determined by medical professional societies and experts in the field, which will lead to physical harm or death of patients. And it criminalizes healthcare practitioners for doing their job. Not only will I continue to work on legislation to roll back our current abortion ban (which by all measures was sloppily written with myriad unintended effects), I will continue to block further restrictions to reproductive healthcare, like the bill we saw in 2022 (Senate Bill 456) banning telemedicine access for medication-induced abortion care.
Are there any programs/legislation you’ve sponsored or created to help people with disabilities?
People with disabilities disproportionately face high health care costs and barriers to access to health care. The first bill I authored in 2021 makes it illegal for health insurance companies to deny emergency medical care claims sought under what is known as the “prudent layperson standard.” Essentially, if a patient with no specialized medical knowledge seeks emergency medical care on the presumption that their injury or symptoms could be life-threatening or portend serious impairment of bodily function, that care has to be covered. The harms averted by this law are twofold. First, if patients can’t even get basic emergency care covered by their insurance companies, it defeats the purpose of paying for that coverage at all. Second, it minimizes the chances that patients will avoid care out of fear of devastating unexpected costs. When health care is avoided, it leads to worse health outcomes and higher health care costs for everyone.
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?
This is a no-brainer. The best way to use our oft-touted budget surplus is to reinvest back into the future of the state and cut costs. It is absolutely imperative that Georgia finally fully expands Medicaid under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act. This is a sound fiscal argument. Georgia has one of the highest uninsurance rates in the nation — largely because of our continued refusal to expand Medicaid— and so many of our hospital systems are closing due to the cost of uncompensated care. These factors end up costing us all more in our tax bills and in premium rate hikes. Fully expanding Medicaid would infuse cash and resources into our struggling hospital systems, trigger even more federal funds to flow into Georgia to create jobs and industry.
The Legislature often votes along party lines. When would you seek bipartisan action and what issues merit such consensus?
I seek bipartisan consensus on essentially every bill I put my name on. Whether my colleagues across the aisle are open to that consensus is out of my control, but I believe the best way to get things done, particularly as a member of the minority party, is to put policy over partisanship. On the first bill I ever authored, a health care bill, all my top co-signers were Republicans. They were also the other members of the Senate who were health care practitioners, because we all recognized that the bill was good policy for patients. The second bill I authored, a gun safety bill, did not garner any Republican support. I wish it did, and will continue to try. Safety from gun violence should merit such consensus. I hope my Republican colleagues will eventually work with me on concrete, common-sense solutions to this critical public safety issue.