Nabilah Islam is a Democratic candidate for Georgia’s Seventh District. The district featured the closest election in the entire nation in the 2018 midterms. In that election, Republican Rob Woodall beat Democrat Carolyn Bordeaux by less than 500 votes. Earlier this year, however, Rob Woodall announced that he would not be running for re-election, spurring candidate announcements among both Republicans and Democrats. Nabilah is a first time candidate and hopes that her “unabashed progressive” campaign can edge her past a wide field of Democrats in the primary and beat out a Republican competitor in the general. A “2020 Battlegrounds” post coming next week will dig deeper into the district’s history and 2020 prospects. This interview was conducted on May 25, 2019.
The following interview has been very lightly edited. No substantial content was removed or added. The only edits were taking out unnecessary words or phrases like “I mean”, “Well”, “So” and “Um” for clarity. If you want a condensed version, you can find it in under Candidate Interviews -> Condensed within one day of this extended interview being posted.
Islam: Hey Seth, how are you?
Seth: HI! I’m good, how are you? I’m so happy to talk with you. Thanks for taking the time.
Islam: Thanks for working with your schedule. I didn’t realize you were in Rwanda. How long have you been out there?
Seth: I’ve been here since the end of December, I’m here for a yearlong fellowship so I’m here from December to December. It’s a pretty amazing place, so if you’re ever traveling around East Africa, people usually kind of skip it because they go to Tanzania or Kenya, but Rwanda’s worth a stop.
Islam: The movie probably doesn’t do it justice, but Hotel Rwanda, it was a very moving to watch that. I intend to go one day.
Seth: Good well it is a fascinating and tragic history but the country has moved forward so it’s an inspiring place to be. But I’m excited to talk to you. How is everything with the campaign going?
Islam: I think everything is going really well. I think there is a lot of enthusiasm around my candidacy, I’m running a very unapologetic campaign and being my authentic self. And it’s really exciting, especially when candidates in, say Georgia, from what I have seen, have felt the need to run Republican-light campaigns. But I think what people are hungry for is authenticity and to speak truth to power. And so, I’ve been doing that a lot and my message has been really resonating. And recently I just got some really strong endorsements. Jason Carter, Jimmy Carter’s grandson and former gubernatorial nominee, just endorsed me as did at-large Atlanta City Councilman Andre Dickens and the only county-wide elected Democrat in the entire district Gwinnett County Solicitor General, Brian Whiteside, just endorsed me as well. I think my message and inclusivity and fighting for better opportunities for the working class has really resonated.
Seth: It seems like you’ve gotten a lot of attention. When the fundraising numbers came out, obviously Carolyn Bordeaux was going to have big numbers, but I was surprised, and I think a lot of people were surprised at your large fundraising haul. So, I was hoping you could tell me a little bit about what it’s been like being a first-time candidate. I know you’ve been involved in other campaigns before, specifically with fundraising. But I’m curious about how it feels to be on the other side of that divide.
Islam: Being on the other side is a lot different. I am constantly making sure that I’m in the community listening to voters and understanding where they feel like the problems are in the community and also trying to stay competitive in this primary race and raise the money I need to, myself, to stay competitive in terms of messaging. It’s been quite the experience. I would say it will be the hardest thing I ever do in my life. But it’s definitely exciting and I enjoy it. I enjoy meeting people where they are and putting this campaign together because I feel like it’s so overdue and I really feel like the message we’re putting out there is what people have been hungry for for such a long time.
Seth: I think it’s probably important to be enjoying it because if you were not enjoying it at all, it’s a long road until next November. I know that the phone time, calling for fundraising can be draining. But it’s good that you’re enjoying it. I have a question, when you’re out in the community are people more interested in hearing about local issues like Marta expansion or like 287(g) or are people more interested in Federal big picture issues like the Green New Deal or Medicare for all. Which of those two are they more interested in hearing from you?
Islam: Local things are happening in front of their eyes. 287(g) has been a hot button issue. It was just extended by our local sheriff and it’s been a policy, a program that has wreaked havoc on our community. We have the largest number of deportations in the entire state of Georgia. Double the number of deportations in the next county over. And as far as Marta, that was a very disappointing referendum we had earlier this year. As you know, my district is in the Metro Atlanta area, we have some of the worst traffic in the entire country and our district has been largely disconnected from the city. The interesting part is, about 50% of the folks that live in my district commute to the city to go to work. Sometimes traffic will take two hours, gas prices hit the pocketbook. Also, mental health, being in your car four hours a day just to get to work. But that being said, these are just two local issues that I’ve heard a lot on the ground, but I will say that health care is pretty huge. There’s 135 thousand people in my district who wake up without health care every morning. And that’s just really disturbing. People shouldn’t be prevented from taking health care because they’re too poor to access health care. And so those are some big issues that I’ve been hearing. As well as, there’s a lot of folks in my community who work a minimum wage job and it’s hard to get by on making $7.25 and that’s something that I’ve heard over and over again. That they are looking for that change and as were seeing that actually change in different cities around the country, raising that to a livable wage at 15 dollars an hour.
Seth: It’s interesting hearing you talk about what the voters are interested in because it is a pretty big disconnect from what’s happening on the front page of the New York Times or what’s happening in D.C., so it is just interesting to hear you talk about the local issues and what voters are bringing up to you. And before I was here in Rwanda, I was working for the City Council in Atlanta and I lived by Cheshire Bridge and that traffic does really lower your quality of life. But I want to rewind a little bit and hear about, what is your general pitch to voters and your policy priorities that you’re planning on talking about as a candidate?
Islam: My general pitch is, if you’re working hard, you should have the opportunity to get ahead. And my policy platform, there’s three key platform issues that I’m focusing on. The first one is what we just kind of touched on, health care. As I mentioned, there’s a 135,000 people in my district that don’t have health care. That’s nearly a quarter who wake up in the morning without health care. I’m a person and candidate who believes that health care is a human right and that’s why I’m advocating for Medicare for All.
And the second one would be creating an economy for everyone. I believe that for too long, our government has favored large corporate interests. Small businesses and our working class are the backbone of this country and this district and I think it’s time we end the massive corporate welfare that we’re seeing. And stop giving tax breaks to the ultra-wealthy. And that starts with first raising our minimum wage to a livable wage beginning at 15 dollars. It’s the fastest way to end wealth inequality for women, especially women of color and minorities in general. And second, making sure that our small businesses have access to capital. And so, the subsidies that these large corporations are receiving right now should go to our small businesses so they can afford to pay their employees a competitive wage. So, it’s a comprehensive package and it also means investing in infrastructure as well and transportation so we can bring good jobs to our district and reduce the crushing traffic that people are experiencing. It’s a real nightmare and strain on our residents and the environment.
And then, the third one, is immigration reform. This is a very diverse county. Twenty five percent of my district is foreign born and as I mentioned, our sheriff just extended the 287(g), which can actually be ended at the federal level as well. Gwinnett County has the highest number of deportations in the state. The other reason immigration reform, that I’m really passionate about it, is last year I went down to the border to the migrant caravan and I saw there were hundreds of people living in tents, sleeping on the ground, waiting for their number to be called. And I was fortunate enough to help three families and put them up in a motel. Bought them food, medicine. And I traveled down there with two friends of mine and they sponsored the families in America. But seeking asylum is a human right. These families are running from terror and they’re showing compassion. Our current administration has decided to vilify people during their time of need so my immigration platform, which I just released is set on four simple promises that will guide our fight to form a fair immigration on system. And those four premises are, that I’m going to fight to ensure a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently residing in our country. Fight to reinstate and strengthen DACA, DAPA, TPS orders, and fight to stop the deporting of immigrants who have been in our country for decades, especially in our district without incident and focus on resettlement programs that have been proven to make communities flourish economically and culturally. And lastly, fight to block ICE’s ability to hijack local taxpayer money, which forces local law enforcement to do its bidding. We’ve already spent 10 million dollars on 287(g) when that money could have been rerouted to expanding Marta. So those are three issues that I’m going to be driving through the campaign
Seth: It sounds like, like you were talking about before, is the issues that voters care about are the ones that are going to be directly impacting them. So, it seems like those all kind of apply. I’m hoping we can maybe go one by one or hit on a few of those and just dig a little bit deeper. I’m hoping you can tell me what do you mean by “Medicare for All” because there’s a lot of different iterations of that phrase and what that means out there. So, can you just tell me what you’re Medicare For All vision is?
Islam: Yes. My flavor of Medicare For All. I truly believe that we can reach universal health care. And often people will say, “well how are you going to pay for it?” To break this down, America currently has the most expensive health care in the world. About 38 out of 39 industrialized countries that have some form of basic health care. There’s no reason that America can’t achieve that goal either. And the way that I believe that we can achieve this is by reducing the price tag on health care in the first place. Because we currently operate through a patchwork of health insurance networks, we are paying about 4 hundred billion dollars a year, over 30% of healthcare costs go towards overhead. And that’s the paperwork, the billing, paying the salaries of healthcare executives and CEOs. But once we move to a centralized system, we can use our collective bargaining to leverage our purchasing power on pharmaceutical companies to reduce drug costs. And as we are all seeing, drug costs are increasing and they are really hurting the American people. So, I think overall, moving to a centralized healthcare system would significantly reduce the cost and the easiest way to pay for it is an incremental tax increase to cover the rest of the costs and about 95% of Americans would actually end up spending less on health care a year and putting more money back in the wallets in achieving coverage for all. It’s a plan that is definitely achievable and I think that there’s growing consensus for Medicare For All in this country between Democrats and Republicans.
Seth: Are you thinking of a single payer system with the government being the only insurer? Because universal healthcare can mean, like you said, many things. And some other countries have had, like the Netherlands has created universal healthcare with private insurance companies. So, is your vision of a single payer system with the government being your insurer?
Islam: Yes, having universal healthcare, everyone would pay out of their taxes to make sure that everyone in this country will be covered. But that being said, you would have the option to get supplemental private insurance if you so choose. And so that’s the model that I’m thinking would be a strong model for America.
Seth: I think the bill that’s in the House, the Pramila Jayapal bill from Washington, it was more comprehensive and didn’t leave room for private insurers. So, I think it’s interesting that your vision would leave some room for that. People in America are projected to spend something like 32 trillion dollars on health care over the next decade and the projections are that the government would possible bargain that down so that the price tag would be a little bit lower, but the government would still have to collect that huge sum of money. I’m wondering if you’ve thought out any specific taxes or pay-fors that would be able to cover that huge amount.
Islam: I would say about 5-7%, depending on the individual. Depending on where you are and how much income you make per year.
Seth: So, a basic income tax?
Islam: Yeah, a basic income tax.
Seth: Is the vision of your single payer plan, do you imagine that there would be any cost sharing for patients? So, when they show up to the doctor’s office do you think there should be deductibles or copays or coinsurance, or is that something that the government should completely cover so that when anybody shows up to the doctor, it is completely free at point of service.
Islam: That’s a good question. I don’t want to prevent folks from taking health care. I am looking at the possibility of small co-pays to stop over-utilization of the health care system. So, you should think twice about going to the doctor. But that’s something I’m looking at right now.
Seth: I think that would significantly lower the cost, so even though some people, in their ideal world, everything at the doctor should be free and nobody should worry about that, some more practical lawmakers think that would …
Islam: The ideal world…
Seth: Another similar question is, in the system that you’d push for, what kind of benefits would be covered? Are you imagining something more like Canada where prescription drugs and dental and vision are not covered and that’s what people take additional insurance out for, or are you imagining a system where everything is covered whether it’s vision, dental, long-term care, prescription drugs?
Islam: Full comprehensive coverage. I think we have the ability to pay for it.
Seth: It’s nice to hear that you have some definitive answers because some other candidates I’ve spoken with are in-between on everything. But it’s interesting and nice to hear: yes, maybe cost sharing. But everything should be covered. And here is specifically how we are going to pay for it. I think voters sometimes get frustrated when candidates are a little mushy on those.
Islam: It’s a complex topic.
Seth: Yeah it is. Well I appreciate you going into the details on healthcare. Another question I have on one of your other priorities. I’m curious why you support the hard 15-dollar minimum wage versus something that’s more scalable or slide-able depending on cost of living? What’s your reason for saying the federal government should create a hard 15-dollar minimum wage like that?
Islam: Right now, the federal minimum wage is 7.25 and by not increasing it, I feel like we’re mandating poverty. If we to were actually minimum wage for inflation, it would be around 28 dollars or something like that. I don’t think we’d ever be able to pass a bill at that wage. I feel, though, 15 dollars is a wage that has built consensus in the House especially. We failed to pass that bill but it got about 200 votes on it and I feel like this is something that, all over the country, people have been activated by the idea that 15 dollars is acceptable and that’s a start. Right? I would be increasing it to 15 dollars and we can increase it from there.
Seth: I’m going to move on to one of your other priorities. You spoke about immigration, and specifically 287(g). You explained how you felt about it, but I’m hoping you can do that again and go a little bit deeper. Do you think that Democrats should pursue abolishing ICE, which has fallen out of the news cycle a little bit. I’m also curious if you think the federal government should have the ability to detain or deport illegal immigrants who have not committed a crime other than crossing the border.
Islam: 287(g) is in about 80 counties right now, all over the country. And as I mentioned before, we are number 1 in deporting people in our state. That’s a ranking thing that I’m more than happy to forfeit. And so, I’m passionate about making sure that we’re not wasting local taxpayer money to do the bidding of ICE. ICE already has one of the largest budgets right now and as far as abolishing, I wouldn’t go that far, but I don’t feel like we need to be wasting taxpayer dollars at the local level to do the bidding of ICE. And then, to your second point, crossing the border is not an offense where I feel like you should be criminalized, that you should go to jail for, necessarily. People who come to our border seeking asylum should go through processing, but they shouldn’t be deported. Crossing the border is a civil infraction, so I think we should not deport them.
Seth: Here’s another question. So, you’ve been a fundraiser before on political campaigns. I believe, if I’m correct, on Jason Carter’s 2014 Gubernatorial race and also on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. And obviously, you’re pretty proficient at it, given your numbers for quarter one. I’m hoping you could talk about your views on money in politics, given that inside view that you’ve had as a fundraiser.
Islam: I’ve been working for Democrats for about a decade now. I’ve worn many hats: campaign manager, organizer, and yes, being a fundraiser. And the reason I chose to learn fundraising is because I saw that this is an area where Democrat’s in my state weren’t competitive in and our voices kept on being drowned out. There’s not a lot of women that were in the state or women in the state in the field as well. For me, it was important that we engage different coalitions and different groups of people to bring more voices to the table when electing people to office. Right now, our current political system allows for corporations to be considered as individuals. My campaign is not taking any corporate PAC money. We’re not beholden to any corporate interest like a lot of elected officials and candidates are right now. And I do believe that we need to get big money out of politics and overturn Citizens United. What I’m really hopeful for and what I’ve been seeing is, we’re watching the powers of small donors rise against people who can write a big check in one fell swoop. Which is incredibly positive. And that’s something that we’re not seeing on the Republican side. For my first quarter, I did raise 102 thousand dollars. 30% of the money I raised was less than $200, small dollar donations. I would love to move towards a system where we empower small dollar donors.
Seth: You talked about overturning Citizens United. Do you think the best route for Democrats to go about that is through the Supreme Court or through a constitutional amendment? How do you imagine Democrats being able to do that?
Islam: That’s a good question. I have to think about that. Whichever way would be the easiest and most achievable way to do it. I think that there’s a way to go about doing that. I have to think about that.
Seth: Here’s a related question. Because a constitutional amendment or an addition to the Supreme Court would require consent or passage from the Senate. So, I’m hoping that we can talk about the bigger structural changes that some Democrats have been advocating for such as getting rid of the Electoral College in favor of the popular vote, eliminating the Filibuster in the Senate, adding seats to the Supreme Court. And I’m hoping that we can go one by one and I can hear how you feel about each of those.
Seth: So, the first one is the Electoral College — changing it to just a standard popular vote.
Islam: I think there are benefits to the Electoral College and the popular vote. If we moved away from the Electoral College right now, presidential candidates would only campaign in states where we had the highest populations and leave out less populated states. They wouldn’t have an opinion in the process. But I also think there’s something to be said for the popular vote. There isn’t an electoral process in any other election in the country. All statewide, all local elections, for the most part operate on the popular vote. In the House and Senate, many bills need a simple majority to pass. And I think it’s something worth looking at in more detail.
Seth: I was speaking with two candidates from Nebraska, and Nebraska is one of those states that would get overlooked — well it already gets overlooked a little bit — but would lose some of their voice. And one of the candidates was in favor of abolishing it and the other was in favor of keeping it. So, it is interesting to hear the different positions on that based on where people are in the country and how much their state’s voice is heard. The next question is not directly related to the House of Representatives, but is important for Democrats in general. Abolishing the Filibuster completely in the Senate. How do you feel about that?
Islam: The Filibuster. Yes. I think when you think about the concept alone, it’s quite ridiculous. Basically, it’s a member of Congress before you, throwing a temper tantrum until they get what they want. I think there has to be a more mature and compromising way to get legislation heard and passed. That’s where I stand right now on the Filibuster.
Seth: It sounds like you haven’t fully come down on either side of that or fully made a decision.
Seth: I think one concern that a lot of progressives have is that if you’re pushing for Medicare For All, the likelihood of getting 50 votes is a stretch, but 60 is almost impossible. So, I think a lot of progressives are advocating for that. The next question I have is how you feel about either adding seats to the Supreme Court or changing the makeup of the Supreme Court in any way. How do you feel about that?
Islam: The Supreme Court is supposed to be an unbiased body that upholds the Constitution and the law of the land. I think packing it with bias does not do any good for anyone. But the current situation of the Supreme Court, with the last Supreme Court nominee being Brett Kavanaugh is very dismaying. But I think packing or bias doesn’t do any good for anyone.
Seth: This isn’t really a structural issue, but it is the topic of the day recently, is impeaching the president based off of the results of the Mueller Report. I’m curious what your feelings are on that, given that it’s something that’s happening in the House of Representatives. That’s where the conversation is happening and it’s not a vote that you’d have to take if you get elected because we’ll see what happens in the presidential election, but how do you feel about the House of Representatives impeaching the president.
Islam: I’m open to the idea of impeaching Donald Trump. I would love to see an unredacted version of the Mueller Report. And I know that’s going to be hard to get. I think Donald Trump is clearly scared or else he wouldn’t be putting out videos of Nancy Pelosi and throwing temper tantrums refusing to move legislation forward without the investigation ending.
Seth: Do you think that he has committed impeachable offenses?
Islam: Yeah, I think so. I think he has. I think he has and I want the American people to have the ability to have the full version of the Mueller Report before we take the plunge and actually go through the impeachment process.
Seth: Okay. I have two more policy related questions and then maybe move onto more about the election. But I want to zoom into Georgia, recently the state legislature and the governor passed an abortion bill banning abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected. I’m interested to hear you talk about that and what your positions are on abortion and pro-choice, pro-life issues.
Islam: I am pro-choice first and foremost. I think the abortion bill that passed was horrific. Georgia just criminalized after 6 weeks when many women don’t know that they’re pregnant. And now they have to worry about their freedom should they have a miscarriage. This is a direct attack on women’s reproductive rights and I believe that a woman’s health decision should be left between her and her doctor.
Seth: Do you think that there should be any restrictions whatsoever on abortion at any time in a pregnancy?
Islam: I think that conversation should be left between a woman and her doctors to make sure they’re making the best decision for themselves.
Seth: The last question that I have is, I know your parents were refugees from Bangladesh, and I want to get out of the policy quickly and hear their personal history and your personal history and how that has affected you as a person and you as a candidate.
Islam: Sure. My parents immigrated to the country roughly four decades ago. And they were survivors of political genocide that happened in Bangladesh in 1971. They actually didn’t come to America as refugees though, my uncle filed for my dad to come to this country but overall my mother’s upbringing in Bangladesh really influenced me as I grew up. My mother grew up really poor. She grew up in a tin hut and mud floor home in a village. And my little brother and I grew up working class. It was not until I was seven, when my mom took me to Bangladesh with her, that I understood what poor really meant. My mom grew up with no electricity, no running water. There was one outhouse in the entire village. No doctors or hospitals. I had cousin who were malnutricious, had holes in their clothes, and for me after seeing so much suffering in this young country, it gave me such a deep self awareness at a young age. I told myself at seven that I was going to make a difference and help others after seeing how my own mother had grew up and survived.
Seth: That’s a pretty tragic and amazing personal history. Can you talk about how that factors into your political ideology at all and what kind of things you take from that and how they translate into politics and policy?
Islam: When my parents moved to Georgia, they lived in Section 8 housing in Atlanta until they could get enough money to get an apartment off of Buford Highway. They came to this country with nothing. And they moved to the district when I was and infant and I celebrated my first birthday in Gwinnett County. And to give you more background on how I grew up, my dad was a file clerk, my mother flipped burgers at Hardees for much of my childhood and then she worked at a warehouse as and order puller. My mother didn’t have a high school education and because her wages were so low, she worked longer hours. She packed up boxes, she put them on trucks and she literally worked herself to the bone and worked incredibly hard being an immigrant here. I’ve watched my mother work this job for over a decade and she eventually hurt herself on the job. She suffered from two herniated disks and because that happened, she was unable to continue her job. My mother’s story has primed me to be a fighter. Her work comp. initially covered her injury, but when she lost her job, we ended up going through her unemployment insurance. And they decided post her second procedure of her back surgery that they were not going to cover the cost. They stopped paying her benefits and she was forced to pay out of pocket. What would any human pay for their health? The answer is anything and anything. Now were tens of thousands of dollars in debt and left with no option at the time but to sue her unemployment insurance company. My mom didn’t know how to navigate the system, so I helped my mom find an attorney. I was on every call, I went to every meeting. And we sued the unemployment insurance company and won. But the point is, families that struggle should not have to go through something like that. The stress of facing the unknown of what could be the next day. And that’s why I continue to fight. My mother’s been a fighter all her life and I’m fighting as well. And I’d say that these experiences growing up here have played a significant role in my political ideology and it’s a working-class background, the immigrant story and how I was brought up. My mother’s immigrant story and those continue to influence my policy priorities.
Seth: I hope she’s healed and recovered. I don’t know how long ago that was but I hope she’s feeling better. But I’m sure helping her with that and navigating the healthcare system probably gave some insight that those of us who haven’t had that kind of direct interaction with it have had, so I’m sure you have some additional insight there into what the whole system is like. One question I’ve been thinking about that’s uniquely related to your parents’ personal history and where I am in Rwanda. I’m curious what you think the U.S. government’s responsibility should be in stopping war crimes or genocide around the world when it’s clear that it’s happening. Because, like you said, your parents left Bangladesh because the genocide that was occurring there and in Rwanda in 1994 there was a genocide and the United Stated didn’t do anything to stop it. I’m curious to hear your thoughts on when and if the United States should intervene in a situation that is clearly genocide like that.
Islam: The United States is the most powerful country in the world and we’re looked at as leaders. And when travesty such a genocide occurs, I’m believe the onus is to have a response whether that’s humanitarian aid or having a seat at the negotiating table trying to find a solution in order to stop it. I believe it is our moral obligation in being a leader in the world to do something. We need to have a response.
Seth: One last policy thing. Another big issue in progressive politics and Democratic politics is the Green New Deal and I’m hoping you can talk a little bit about your feelings on that. It’s obviously not a specific prescription for every single kind of policy but it is the general idea of tying stopping climate change to the economy and all the other progressive and Democratic policy goals. And I’m curious how you feel about 1) The Green New Deal and 2) that strategy of tying climate change to everything else.
Islam: I believe that it’s no longer climate change it’s a climate crisis and we need bold ideas to combat it. The Green New Deal has a lot of great principles in it and I’m for the principles of creating economic equity and jobs. The state of Georgia has the capacity to be a leader in harnessing natural energy and, from your time in Georgia you might remember how hot it is here. We’re the top state in the entire country in receiving sunshine. So, I would be on board with a plan that could potentially make the State of Georgia a leading force in the new clean energy economy.
Seth: One specific thing in the Green New Deal that turned a lot of heads was that they support a federal jobs guarantee in he Green New Deal and I’m curious if that’s something you support.
Islam: I have to look at that more. I don’t have a position on that yet.
Seth: To be honest, I always appreciate it when politicians or candidates can say “To be honest, I need to research that but I’ll get back to you.” You can’t know everything so I think it’s an okay thing for candidates to say. In the initial AJC article about you it said you were inspired by women and candidates like Ayanna Pressley and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. Can you talk a little bit about how those figures in contemporary politics have inspired you and if that’s the part of the party that you identify with more than some more moderate candidates like Abigail Spanberger in Virginia or Ben McAdams in Utah. Which portion of the party do you feel like you identify with and how have those women that you spoke about have influenced you in running for election?
Islam: I definitely identify with being a progressive. I was incredibly inspired by the elections of the last congressional delegation. It was the most diverse, some of the youngest people. And women, the most women ever elected. And it showed me that we’re having a big conversation of what’s electable. And I think for so long, especially in the South, in particular Georgia, there is a norm of what is electable and the perceived notion of what kind of candidate is winnable. And the last impressive delegation showed that they broke all those stereotypes. And it was so inspiring because, and to be quite frank, I’ve bet against myself for many years. I didn’t think I was the candidate that America would respond to. What I’ve realized is that what people want today is authenticity. What people want today is someone that has a shared lived experience to them. What people want today is someone that’s going to speak truth to power. I think they’re getting tired of the same stale talking points. They want leaders who aren’t afraid to speak up and I’d say that that’s the kind of candidate I’m going to be. And I’m really glad that we broke barriers last cycle.
Seth: If you’re running as a progressive candidate and a lot of people are looking at your district and saying “a lot of the people living here might be more moderate or more conservative”. So, I’m curious how you feel about the job of a representative. Is it more something that, if you are progressive, you should vote your conscious and vote for those progressive ideals even if some of your constituents might disagree with you? Or is the job of a representative to truly be a representative and vote how the majority or plurality in your district wants you to.
Islam: I don’t think we’ve ever really had a candidate with a progressive message like mine before. I put together a professional campaign where I’m really making sure that folks understand that there’s another option. I feel like, for so long, we’ve been running on Republican light and watering down who we are in order to conform to this notion that we have to be a moderate-like candidate. I feel like, what I mentioned, people are hungry for authenticity. This district in particular would be very encouraged, and what I’ve seen from my events, folks tell me that they find it to be inspiring. They find it to be refreshing. And it’s something that people are on board with. And as far as being a representative, I am running for office so I can represent my district and be a voice for them. And I’m definitely someone that’s going to meet my constituents where they are and listen to them and make sure that I’m voting the way that they feel like is in their best interest.
Seth: And so, I think if you’re going to divide the candidates in an unfair but binary way, people would look at you and say “she’s the progressive candidate and Carolyn Bordeaux is maybe the more moderate candidate” so can you talk a little bit about how you’re planning to differentiate yourself in the Democratic primary, given that she has high name recognition because of last cycle and she raised a lot of money. How do you plan to overcome that in the primary and be the Democratic nominee?
Islam: The results of this district were, you know, Stacy Abrams, who ran as a progressive gubernatorial candidate flipped the district. And the downballot candidates, state house, state senate. We flipped the Gwinnett County delegation. And the fact that Carolyn Bordeaux didn’t cross the finish line, I believe is indicative of her candidacy. That folks were not inspired by it. And like I mentioned, this is a majority-minority district and people are so ready to have reflective representation. If we look at a breakdown of the primary and general numbers, there was about 8% of Asian turnout in the primary. And in the general, it went roughly down to 6%. We need a candidate that’s going to expand the electorate. That’s going to bring voters out in the general election to flip the district. This is a district that should have flipped last year and will definitely flip this year with the right message, with the right candidate. And the Republicans are going to play hardball. Rob Woodall is retiring and he didn’t really put up a campaign last time. And I feel as though we’re facing some scary candidates on the Republican candidates on the Republican side including Renee Unterman who introduced the heartbeat bill on the Senate side and she’s going to make that a center of her platform. But they’re going to fundraise. And they’re going to make sure that message is also being heard. And so, we need a candidate that is going to cut through all that noise, that’s going to be inspiring, that people are going to want to knock on doors for and really feel like they are representing their best interests. And I already feel like the campaign message that I have put together is something that’s resonating and I think it’s a simple concept that, I’m actually the only candidate on both sides — on the Republican and Democratic sides — that grew up in this district. And so, I have a shared lived experience to the folks in this community and I think it’s so important that, if you run for office, that the people that you represent, that you have history with them. I’m a product of the Gwinnett County public education system. I’ve worked low wage jobs here. So have my parents. I grew up in Norcross and Lawrenceville. This district is me. My story is this district. And so I’m going to make sure that I communicate that effectively and people will know where I’ve been.
Seth: Running as a woman and a woman of color, have you felt any unfair attacks or any discrimination in your candidacy whether from voters or from the Republican candidates. Have you felt like that’s been present so far in your race?
Islam: Oh my gosh. Yeah. I think the candidate that’s going to get mostly picked on is probably going to be me. The Forsyth County Tea Party is already sending out fear mongering messages saying that Georgia should be careful, they don’t want the next Ilhan Omar getting elected. The Republican opponent, Lynn Homrich, she just put out a video ad denigrating and infantilizing women of color: AOC, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, saying that they should be grounded. I think they’re threatened by it. They’re threatened by strong women of color and the best way that they’re responding to it is bullying me. It’s not going to affect me, it just shows how weak they are.
Seth: I would hope that, for you and in general, voters are not persuaded by those kinds of identity and gross attacks. And sorry you have had to deal with that. Last cycle, the Democratic Primary didn’t have that kind of attacking going on, but it did have some intense allegations between Bordeaux and Kim. It got a little bit ugly. Have you noticed any of that happening in the Democratic Primary or has it been more policy focused and cordial?
Islam: It’s been cordial. I feel like the campaign cycle is still pretty young. I’m running a positive campaign on my values and I know that that did happen last cycle but I haven’t seen that happen as of yet. And hopefully we can all run a positive campaign.
Seth: I think in general, on campaigns people support that but sometimes when candidates get desperate towards the end, the negative ads come out. So, it will be interesting to follow. And I know that you’re probably busy so I just have two wrap up questions. The first is, is there any part of the Democratic platform that you disagree with or you feel does not represent you?
Islam: That’s a good question. You know what I can speak to, it’s more on the political side. The fact that our Democratic Party is telling people that primary-ing other Democratic incumbents in the field, that whoever works with them will be blacklisted. I think that’s really unfortunate that we would even put out a message like that. I think, as a representative, you earn your seat every two years. And if you aren’t representing your district, you should get primaried. And I feel like the fact that we’re discouraging that is problematic. We need to empower candidates to run, not disenfranchise them. So that would be one area that I hope we can get stronger in, not continuing that message that we shouldn’t have competition.
Seth: I think a lot of progressives feel the same way. That the Democratic Party should be encouraging competition to pick the best candidates rather than discouraging it. One related question, I’m adding an additional question in because you reminded me of it. There’s a representative named Dan Lipinski who is pro-life in Illinois and the Democratic Party was going to fundraise with him but decided not to. But Cheri Bustos, the head of the DCCC is supporting him and his candidacy. Do you believe that there should be room in the Democratic Party for pro-life voters or candidates? Or do you think that’s a line the party should draw?
Islam: I prefer pro-choice candidates. I believe that we should advocate for women’s reproductive rights. That being said, I’m going to leave that for a primary and let the voters decide what kind of candidates that they want. But I feel like we’re moving in the direction that you probably need to be a pro-choice Democrat in order to garner support.
Seth: So that was the last substantial question I had. The real last question I have is if you have any requests of me before we hang up? I can send the transcript the day before I post it.
Islam: Yeah, if you could send it to me before you post it, that would be great.
Seth: Okay I can do that. Thank you so much for talking with me and going into the details on your policies.
Islam: Thank you too for taking the time.