House Minority Leader James Beverly Delivers Democratic Response to State of the State

1/13, 8:59 PM (Source: GlobeNewswire)

ATLANTA, Jan. 13, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Today, Georgia House Minority Leader James Beverly delivered the Democratic Response to Governor Kemp's State of the State. The full text is provided below.

Full text of Leader Beverly's speech:

My fellow Georgians, I am Dr. James Beverly – optometrist, father, and State Representative from Macon. I serve as the Democratic Leader in the Georgia House, and I am honored to offer the Democratic Response to the Governor’s State of the State address today. 

I’d like to take a moment to remember those who have lost their lives to COVID-19. At one time a distant fear has now touched nearly everyone around us. Over 35,000 loved ones are no longer with us. Parents, Uncles, Aunts…. Beloved neighbors, long-time friends, and yes, even some of our children.
I know many of you know grief. I know grief. Time stops. Everything falls away in importance, seems small, inconsequential. For every Georgian who was touched by COVID losses in this pandemic, we feel your pain, and we’re sorry for your loss.

But for far too many of us, it didn’t have to be. So many deaths were preventable. In wave after wave, people failed to get the care they needed. And they suffered for it.  But the critical flaw isn’t just in our inability to catch up with the needs of folks who have COVID. Our state leadership has not taken the basic steps that would prevent COVID in our homes, our workplaces, and our schools. Nor has the Governor offered healthcare to our most vulnerable citizens. 

But what did we hear about today? More firearms on our streets? Even now, the Governor seems to be more interested in getting guns in hands than shots in arms. 

Innovative solutions are what he promised but not what he delivered. As a man of faith – but first and foremost as a person with a heart – I believe that we should care for the sick among us. We all deserve healthcare that allows us to see a doctor and get prescriptions filled when we need it – it’s that simple.

Right now, the funding is on the table to expand healthcare to 500,000 Georgians, and it’s been there for years. Unless the Governor acts to expand Medicaid, Georgia will once again decline three billion dollars of federal funding. Last year, Governor Kemp offered a proposal that would have covered fewer Georgians at a higher cost. Its requirements fell so far outside the intent of the law that they were denied by the federal government. Yet again, the Governor would rather play politics than see Georgians get the healthcare they need. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a self-proclaimed “businessman” leave so much money on the table. 

Freedom over government shutdown is decent campaign rhetoric, but it is not a solution. Those Georgians fortunate enough to avoid the COVID-19 virus have still seen its unprecedented impact on our Economy. Hard-working people who lost their jobs through no fault of their own were abandoned by Governor Kemp and Labor Commissioner Mark Butler. As unemployment checks continue to get lost in a failed system. A system crafted by the Kemp administration. As Georgians were unable to re-enter the workforce in the early stages of this pandemic, our Governor advocated for an end to enhanced unemployment benefits. Forcing countless people into an impossible choice. 

The Governor said this morning that our economy is strong. Let’s be clear: Our economy is strong thanks to COVID relief funds. In fact, Georgians have Senators Warnock and Ossoff to thank for our current budget surplus. One of my colleagues in the House, Chair Billy Mitchell of Stone Mountain, says it best. “The number one question I hear from my constituents: Can you help me get a job?” But when Georgians couldn’t find work – our leaders failed to have their back. Once again the self-proclaimed businessman, Governor Kemp, left our state’s most valuable resource behind. Even as hospitals across our state are filling up and our children are battling COVID, our current Governor is a man without a plan. For years, Georgia’s education system has failed students. I think the current leadership is ready for its report card. Adequate funding for our schools: F. Supporting our Teachers: F. Tuition costs: F. 

Republicans have cut over a billion dollars in public education funding over the last ten years. Even at full funding, the QBE formula by which we assess that funding has not been updated in well over a decade. 

We appreciate the Governor’s willingness to finally deliver teachers a much-needed pay raise, in an election year. Democrats have been advocating for teacher pay raises for years. But the work cannot stop there. At minimum, we have to fundamentally revamp our QBE formula to adequately fund public education and get teachers the support they deserve.

It’s clear that the Governor’s Education Program has failed us, and change is needed now. But instead of taking on these issues, the majority party has chosen to focus on banning books and censoring teachers. Let’s get serious folks. We can’t afford to fall short for another session.

College costs too have continued to rise over the last decade, increasing the barriers to a higher education as we fail to fully fund and preserve the existence of HOPE and additional needs-based scholarships. 

This morning the Governor touted the expected two to three billion dollar surplus we’re likely to find when we begin to write this year's budget. This extra funding presents us with a choice. Do we continue to pretend that Georgia doesn’t have the resources to take care of its most vulnerable? Or do we stand up and say enough is enough. No more schools with outdated textbooks. No more choosing between a meal on a table and prescription to stay alive.

We have the resources to be better, it’s time to act. 

This year, the legislature can fully expand Medicaid, multiply our investment in rural broadband tenfold, double the Rural Hospital Tax credit for this year, double our investment in Sickle Cell research, and fund Tuition-free technical college for five years. All for less than half of the $1.6 billion dollars that the Governor would rather not spend. Not to mention our overflowing rainy day fund, which could be put towards re-thinking how we fund our schools, instead of stockpiling Georgian’s tax dollars in an account they’ll never see benefits from.

And even beyond the surprise surge in funds, the budget is already there to do a lot of good. Millions of dollars, allocated for rental assistance and rural broadband, simply need to be spent. Thanks to the Biden Administration, we have much-needed relief in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act – a huge opportunity to put Georgians to work and stimulate the economy in local communities. We must ensure that Georgia’s minority business community is at the table - and has a full plate - in the implementation.

It’s clear that we have much to do as elected leaders of this great state. The issues facing Georgia today are not small. They require strong leadership. And this morning you had an opportunity to hear from our current Governor. 
Putting even more firearms on the street with no oversight, passing even more tax cuts that only benefit the well off, and wasting time in the courts in frivolous lawsuits against the Biden administration. That’s our Governor’s vision for Georgia. A race to the right to kick off his campaign while everyday Georgians need solutions.

Our Republican colleagues in the state legislature are following right along, with bills that ban books from school libraries and restrict what teachers can discuss in classrooms, all based on deep-seated fears of our past. Not to mention the majority’s recently passed map that undermines the representation of Georgia voters everywhere. 
For those that will follow along with our legislative session from home, know this: while Republicans continue to propose stunt legislation for a chance to appear on TV, Democrats are the grownups in the room.

Georgia Democrats are focused on ensuring opportunity for all Georgians, regardless of zip code, background, or access to power. 

That’s why Democrats are putting forward solutions on issues that all Georgians can agree on: tuition-free technical college, common-sense gun laws, investing in our students at record levels, and working towards a less divided future. That’s what a One Georgia Agenda looks like. 

As we enter a new year, I have great hope for what lies ahead. There is far more that unites us than divides us. I hear it from my neighbors in Central Georgia all the time. Farmers, bankers, gig workers – people don’t care what party you’re in. They want to see how you can deliver for them. 

Why are we stuck on old fights of the past, when we could be looking to the economy of the future? Attracting Electric Car manufacturing is a great start, but it needs to be just the beginning. Georgia could be the global hub for cryptocurrency, for DAOs, for the growth of web 3. Our state needs to be looking ahead, not behind. 
But the Governor has led us backwards with years of timid leadership, unable to take on the big challenges we face. 

The political tides are changing. The 2022 campaign season will remind us of the work it will take to bring us together, but we cannot afford to continue to propose more of the same. The challenges I have laid out for you don’t come with easy solutions, but that does not mean they are not worth solving. This is how we build a stronger Georgia. With bold leadership that stares this moment in the eye and refuses to flinch. This is how we work towards One Georgia. 

Thank you and God bless our great State of Georgia. 


Nekeidra Taylor
Georgia House Democratic Caucus
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