In the Georgia jungle primary to fill the last two years of the Senate seat vacated in 2019 by Republican Johnny Isakson, Reverend Raphael Warnock stands out amidst a crowded field of 21 candidates (8 Democrats, 6 Republicans, 5 independents, 1 Green Party and 1 Libertarian).
Leading in polls among the Democrats, Warnock follows in famous footsteps: he is pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta’s Old 4th Ward. Warnock preaches from the pulpit once occupied by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was the church’s co-pastor.
The October 2015 edition of Atlanta magazine’s “55 Most Powerful” calls Warnock a “rousing orator” who holds an “influential position in one of Atlanta’s most important Black churches.” Like King, Warnock has used his pastoral position to be a moral voice for social causes, both from the pulpit and in the community at large.
“We are no better as a country than the depth of our commitment to the least among us,” Warnock said in a recent podcast interview for Crooked Media, which produces “Pod Save America” among other programs.
Healthcare and Workers’ Struggles
Warnock supports many progressive issues and backs his support with action. “I’m entering the race to translate my work of activism and creative agitation into legislation,” Warnock said in an interview with The LaGrange Daily News.
Take healthcare. Advocating for an expansion to the healthcare system to cover more people isn’t just a campaign slogan to Warnock. In 2014, he participated in a sit-in at Governor Brian Kemp’s office to demand that Georgia expand Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act and was arrested along with dozens of others.
Kemp’s refusal to accept the Medicaid expansion left 400,000 Georgians uninsured. Warnock noted that all Kemp had to do was “say yes” to money Georgians had already paid through taxes.
The coronavirus pandemic has brought the issue into sharper view for Warnock. He sees it in light of what he calls the “1619 struggle,” a reference to the year Blacks were first brought as slaves to Virginia’s Jamestown settlement.
Warnock has called slavery its own virus that mutated into the Jim Crow era, then further morphed into the mass over-incarceration of Black men. The mass incarceration is “a scandal on the soul of America” and the nation’s most pressing civil rights issue, he said during a discussion on race at Harvard’s Memorial Church. He believes the country has a “moral imperative” to stop this system.
Other issues Warnock is focusing on include rebuilding the economy. He believes that “Georgia deserves a senator who understands that it is a contradiction to call workers essential but refuse to pay them an essential wage, provide for them essential benefits,” as he has told union workers. As part of his platform, Warnock has pledged to end the “Right to Work” law of Georgia, which really guarantees the right of an employer to dismiss an employee for any reason, no matter how spurious. His position on this has earned him the endorsement of the Georgia American Federation of Labor. Other high-profile endorsements have come from Jimmy Carter, Stacey Abrams, Eric Holder, Elizabeth Warren, 30 other U.S. Senators, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) and the AAPI Victory Fund.
Environmental Justice and Women’s Rights
He also has the endorsement of the League of Conservation Voters for his commitment to fighting climate change and environmental racism. The marginalized bear the brunt not only of the natural disasters that result from climate change, but also the daily costs of electricity and natural gas to power their homes. According to Warnock, “everyday problems” like access to clean water and air must be a focus, along with returning the U.S. to the Paris Climate Accord, investing in renewable energy in minority communities and preparing these residents for well-paying jobs that will come from creating a greener infrastructure in Georgia and the country.
Warnock also supports a woman’s right to make her own reproductive choices. His position is “consistent with” his religious beliefs, he told The Christian Post. He further explains his stance in the Crooked Media podcasts, when he notes that his faith has its roots in a church tradition that emanates from a faith “born of fighting for freedom” and “centered on the importance of human dignity.”
He believes that reproductive healthcare is a human right and questions why there is not more “outrage about rates of infant and maternal mortality in the country.” These are right-to-life issues the left and right could work on together, he says.
A Crowded Field
Right now, Georgia Democrats are working to get fellow Democratic candidate Matt Lieberman to drop out of the race so more support coalesces around Warnock. This seat is also sought by high-profile Republicans, Senator Kelly Loeffler and Representative Doug Collins. (Kemp appointed Loeffler as a placeholder in January, while President Donald Trump preferred Collins.)
Due to the sheer number of people running for Isakson’s unfinished term, there will likely be a run-off race in January. Warnock believes support for his candidacy can propel him into a strong position for that race. If he receives more than 50 percent of the vote Nov. 3, he wins the seat outright.
For Warnock, though, winning this Georgia Senate election is not the finish line. Politicians shouldn’t be “so focused on the next election” that they don’t look to the future and future generations. “If you’re not doing the work, what’s the purpose of getting elected?” he asks.
Photo courtesy campaign website.
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