Senator Butler, as Senate Minority Leader, you are the most senior voice for Democrats in the Georgia General Assembly. Democrats have been out of power for more than two decades. When do you see the tide turning?
I see the tide turning every day. Georgia has already voted for two Democratic United States Senators and a Democratic President. Georgians have added Democrats to the General Assembly for several consecutive cycles. Republican gerrymanders are the seawall holding back our Democratic tide. Their maps were designed to dilute Democratic voting power. They’ve done their job. While the ongoing federal court cases might add some seats, it will be very difficult to reach 29 through court decisions alone.
Why is it so important to FLIP one or both chambers from red to blue?
Flipping one chamber allows Democrats to stop the worst Republican legislation. Democrats running just one chamber means no six-week abortion ban, no ban on gender affirming care for minors, no gerrymandered maps to protect Republican power, and no censorship laws for teachers. Flipping both chambers totally ends Republican control of the legislative process, giving Democrats a louder and more powerful voice in policymaking than we’ve had in two decades.
Is there a single policy issue where you believe Republicans are the most “out-of-step” with average Georgia families?
All of them! Most Georgians support abortion rights, Republicans stripped them away. Georgians support well-funded and quality public schools, Republicans tried taking money out of our public schools to create a disastrous voucher system. Georgia is one of the worst states for health care, Republicans refuse to pass Medicaid expansion. Medicaid could have enrolled up to 500,000 people under the Democratic plan, the Republicans’ alternative enrolled 265. Two hundred and sixty-five people! This is why Republicans focus on culture war issues. It fires up their base and distracts Georgians from their out of touch economic agenda.
Could you describe the long-term ramifications of this disastrous Republican majority?
Imagine a child born when Republicans took power. The child attended school that Republicans inadequately funded. Their family struggled in an economy that works for the rich but nobody else. The child now takes out student loans for college tuition that Republicans refuse to cap. If the child lives in rural Georgia, they’ve seen the Republican refusal to expand Medicaid close their hospitals, take away their doctors, and force their neighbors to struggle to get basic medical care. If the child is a woman, she has less freedom than a woman in 2002. Thinking through how Republican policy affected every stage of one person’s life shows the total failure of their time in power.
As you and your leadership team prepare for the 2024 legislative session, what are the top legislative priorities for the Senate Democratic Caucus?
Our focus is expanding Georgia’s educational opportunities. We want to fully fund Georgia’s PreK program. No four-year-old who qualifies for PreK should be put through a lottery. We will also introduce a first generation scholarship program that helps first generation students attend the college or technical school of their choice. And we will once again ask Republicans to help us stop guns from flooding our streets. It’s time Republicans take public safety seriously and do something about the proliferation of guns in our state. Georgians should not have to worry about being a victim in a mass shooting every time they leave their house.
The current first term legislative class is the largest in Georgia history. With so many new members, do you see any movement towards increased bi-partisan agreement on important issues?
Our new members of the Senate Democratic Caucus injected the Georgia State Senate with energy, excitement, and ideas. They reported for duty ready to serve and eager to help make Georgia a better state. Unfortunately, Republicans make meaningful bipartisanship impossible. They ignore our input on legislation. They stripped our Leadership members off the Rules Committee. They prioritize bills that Democrats could never support. Until Republicans change their behavior, there will be no movement toward meaningful bipartisanship.
Do you believe Georgia’s currently enforced six-week abortion ban can be repealed? How might voters best show support for these efforts?
I eagerly await the Georgia Supreme Court’s decision on the six-week abortion ban. But Republicans will continue restricting abortion rights even if the Court rules against the ban. We must stop them, which is why I introduced SR 136. This legislation enshrines the right to abortion in Georgia’s Constitution. SR 136 must pass both chambers with a two-thirds majority. It would then go on the November 2024 ballot for a popular vote. Republicans spent decades saying voters should decide the abortion issue. SR 136 lets voters decide. If Georgians want Republicans to stop attacking abortion rights, they should call their Senator and ask them to support SR 136.
Women legislators have grave concerns about Georgia’s high maternal mortality rates and in particular higher fatality numbers for women of color, especially African American women. Is Georgia currently doing enough to combat this problem and what improvements are needed?
Any state that refuses to expand Medicaid isn’t doing enough to combat any health care issue. Medicaid expansion has been shown to be an effective tool to combat maternal mortality rates, especially for Black women. Expanding Medicaid also expands the customer base for doctors and hospitals. We wouldn’t have 82 counties without an OB-GYN if we had expanded Medicaid. While I commend the General Assembly for expanding access to postpartum Medicaid in recent years, we are still doing too little.
Senator Butler, you are a great role model for other women. What is the advice you most often give younger women who are thinking about running for office?
We need more women in the decision-making process. Don’t wait to run for office. Government needs more women. Men make up the majority of government bodies, and that means most policy and legislation is written from their perspective. You see this most clearly on issues like health care, and education – kitchen table issues. Often our voices get lost in these conversations while men snicker or laugh about the subject matter. You also see the bias toward male perspectives around issues like guns. With these issues still unresolved after all these years, I repeat my plea: we need more women in government now more than ever.
As our last question, what do you now know about public service that you wish you had known 25 years ago before you first ran for office?
Democratic majorities matter. A lot. 25 years ago, we became complacent about that fact. We’d been in power so long that many Democrats just took legislative power for granted. I’ve now watched Republicans run the show with awful results for 20 years. Women have fewer rights than they had 25 years ago. The General Assembly passes legislation devastating to the LGBTQ+ community. Our schools don’t get the funding they should. The economy still doesn’t work well for anybody other than the rich. And we still haven’t expanded Medicaid. Until we get Democratic majorities, those sad facts will remain true.