Georgia WIN List recently posed a few questions to HD 141 Rep. Carolyn Hugley who has represented Columbus for more than three decades in the House. She has served as a mentor to many younger legislators and is a respected voice on many issues important to Democrats. Below are her responses to our questions.
Rep. Hugley, you have served in the Georgia House for three decades beginning in 1993. Back then, Georgia government was controlled by Democratic leaders, but now Republicans have been in control for two decades. What difference has this shift from Democratic Blue to Republican Red made for Georgia citizens?
From my perspective, the shift has led to more restrictions on individual access to the voting booth – we have more restrictive voter ID laws and SB 202 restrictions which include unrestricted challenges to registered voters’ access to the ballot.
We also have less health care options as our state remains one of the few that refuses to expand Medicaid even in the face of hospital closings and poor outcomes for maternal mortality. Large numbers of our citizens are uninsured, even with the Georgia Milestones program. Medicaid and PeachCare recipients are facing even more challenges in this redetermination effort.
Our daughters have less bodily autonomy in the era of Georgia’s “Heartbeat Bill”.
Until recently, we have underfunded our education system on all levels and severely reduced the opportunity for our children to participate in the promise of the HOPE Scholarship.
Federal Court Judge Steve Jones recently ordered new maps for several of Georgia’s congressional and legislative Districts. What are your thoughts about the special session which begins November 29 and the impact new maps might have for the 2024 election cycle?
I look forward to the upcoming special session in hopes that upon completion, our citizens will have a more equitable map which allows them to elect State Representatives, State Senators and Members of Congress reflecting their choices. In terms of the impact on the 2024 election cycle, we may see some minor shifting of dates so that citizens can understand the impact of the changes on their respective areas. Also, I expect that the changes mandated may provide for some more competitive districts and more opportunities for black voters to elect their representative of choice.
With the possibility of several newly created Senate and House seats, what advice would you offer to women who are considering a run for one of these “open” seats?
My advice to women is: don’t wait to be asked! We need your voice at the table where decisions are being made! Make a plan; know your worth; and get in the game!
When you first took office in 1993, Georgia ranked 32nd in the nation for the percentage of women legislators, with 40 women or 16.9 percent serving. To compare, Georgia now ranks 22nd in the nation, with 81 women or 24.3 percent serving. What difference does it make to have more women serving under Georgia’s Gold Dome and do you believe greater numbers of women bring unique perspectives to committee meeting rooms or budget negotiating tables?
I am certainly happy that we have more women in the Legislature, and it is extremely important to have the perspective of women at the tables of power. However, I believe, we really need more! Unfortunately, studies still show that women are just as unlikely as 20 years ago to express interest in running for office. We must fix that! Women have not achieved the numbers to really influence policy as effectively as we could if we were leaders in the majority influencing major policy and budget considerations. Women are needed on Appropriations, Rules, Ways and Means, Education and other important committees. Currently Republican and Democratic Women are disconnected and culture warfare keeps us that way. However, our voices are invaluable. The challenge is to focus on those things which unite us rather than divide us. If we do this, women could make a real difference in Georgia Public Policy!
In October, newly released CDC infant mortality rates ranked Georgia as one of the fourth worst states in the nation. Black babies have the highest death rate and maternal mortality rates are equally horrifying. To your mind, is Georgia currently doing enough to combat these two problems?
This situation is devastating for our community, African American mothers and their babies facing these horrible outcomes when we know that 60% of pregnancy related deaths were preventable. As a state, we are certainly not doing enough when 1 in 3 counties in our state don’t offer proper maternity care. What we really need to address this issue is to expand Medicaid so that women can get coverage and needed medical care before, during and after pregnancy! We need to make sure women can get access to medical care wherever they happen to live in our state – we must eliminate the maternity care desert.
However, I am encouraged that we have made some progress in terms of expanding Medicaid eligibility for pregnant and postpartum women. The Department of Public Health is working on a perinatal health program, and I look forward to what it will do to improve outcomes. Our success as a state will depend in great measure on how we protect our families.
How important are women candidates in the Democratic strategy for FLIPping control of the Georgia House and do you have predictions for when this might happen?
Women candidates are essential to the future growth of the Democratic coalition. Flipping the House is a marathon, not a sprint. We’re building serious momentum towards getting there and the work that the Georgia House Democratic Caucus and our members are putting in is what’s going to put us over the top.
In your opinion, which Republican backed policies have been the most harmful for Georgia citizens in the last 20 years and are there Republican policies which have been more detrimental for rural Georgia and cities like Columbus as opposed to the metro Atlanta area?
The really missed opportunity under Republican leadership has been the failure to expand Medicaid, a policy which would have such an important impact on the lives of so many Georgians. Republican health policies have been more detrimental to rural Georgia. We have seen hospitals close and health care providers disappear from the landscape in many areas as a result of the refusal to expand Medicaid.
The Georgia Supreme Court has allowed the currently enforced six-week abortion ban passed in 2019 to stand while constitutional questions are being considered by a Fulton Superior Court Judge. Do you believe Georgia’s six-week abortion ban could be repealed by the General Assembly? How might voters best show support for such an action?
A repeal of the six-week abortion ban is very unlikely under the current Republican majority in the Georgia General Assembly. Of course, any member can introduce a bill to do so at any time. If voters would like to have such a repeal, my advice would be to articulate this as a priority. Make it an issue on the campaign trail in every election and work for candidates who share your views. Elect more Democrats, elect more women, elect more representatives and senators who will support a repeal!
As you and your fellow House members prepare for the 2024 legislative session, what do you see as the major legislative priorities in the House?
The 2024 Legislative Session will challenge us in the following areas: tort reform, health care – including Certificate of Need reform, affordable housing, affordable childcare, workforce development, public school vouchers, tax breaks oversight, and election law changes, specifically to include a paper ballot option. Some of these debates will reflect the serious issues of our time while others will be designed to mobilize the Republican base as we prepare to run under newly drawn district maps in the 2024 election cycle. As the GHDC, our goals will be to defend the rights and concerns of our constituents in all these areas and work to establish an equitable budget.
The current first term legislative class is the largest in Georgia history. With so many new members, do you see room for movement towards increased bi-partisan agreement on any particular issues?
We are fortunate to have an outstanding freshmen class filled with energetic and thoughtful leaders who have a wealth of experience in many areas. They are ready to tackle and solve problems facing our State. The one bipartisan piece of legislation that you will see each year is the budget. I am hopeful that this new generation of leaders will start with the budget and move outward to many other important policy areas.
Rep. Hugley, as our last question, what do you now know about public service which you wish you had known three decades ago before you first ran for office?
Public Service is all about putting constituents first. It’s also about timing and opportunity so never miss a chance to make a difference even if it’s just for one person. Success requires patience, persistence, collaboration, and great faith!