Brenda Lopez Romero 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. Romero is currently a Georgia State Representative and part of her district overlaps with the Seventh. She is hoping that her experience and relationship with constituents can edge her past a wide field of Democrats in the primary and beat out a Republican competitor in the general. Read the “2020 Battlegrounds” post on GA-07 that digs deeper into the district’s history and 2020 prospects. This interview was conducted on June 11, 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.
Lopez-Romero: Brenda speaking.
Seth: Hi this is Seth calling from Every Second Year. How are you, Ms. Romero?
Lopez-Romero: Hey I’m doing well.
Seth: Good! Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. I really appreciate it.
Lopez-Romero: Well I’m happy to.
Seth: Good. So, I guess we can jump right in. I’m curious if you can just tell me a little bit about how the campaign is going. You’ve been in it for a little while now and I’m curious how this round of campaigning is going for you for a new seat that you’ve never held before.
Lopez-Romero: Well I mean we’re obviously very excited. We’ve been basically building the infrastructure of the campaign and getting all those logistics out of the way. And quite frankly doing that engagement to the community and grassroots organizations and the people. And that’s been a big focus of what I’ve been doing this last month since I’ve announced.
Seth: Okay great. I’m sure there’s a lot of fundraising going on too because I know the next deadline, it seems like it’s always approaching. But I’m curious if you can tell me about your policy priorities on the campaign trail and if you were to be elected to the House. And also, your general pitch to voters when they see you for the first time.
Lopez-Romero: Yes, of course. Well there is five platform areas that I have for this campaign. But really to begin with, one of the things that I always talk to voters with. I have no interest in bringing D.C. talking points to Georgia. My interest is making sure that the interests and concerns that affect the constituents are brought to D.C. So, I’m bring Georgia’s voice to D.C. And I say that because, what I talk about, whether it’s in forums or directly to voters is about the issues that affect their day to day and issues that affect primarily their pocketbooks. And that’s a conversation that I’m always, even as a State Representative, have seen actually engage voters and can motivate voters to actually come out and vote. That being said, even the top issue areas that I’m covering, part of my platform, quite frankly for me, it’s very common sometimes to hear some of the same things being repeated in terms of what interest areas we have, but for me they’re not just clichés, they’re not just talking points. They’re lived experiences. They’re issues that are important to me because they have been part of my life. They have affected me directly and so I understand what that means in terms of a lived experience. That’s why one of the number one issues that I’m focused on and have focused on since I was an undergraduate myself has been supporting education access and supporting public schools. As I had mentioned, I grew up in Dekalb County, right around the Seventh. It’s adjacent to the Seventh. And went to public schools there were both overcrowded and underfunded. So, I know exactly how vital and pivotal it is to improve our schools and what it means when they’re not. Likewise, under the aspect of education, one of my interests has always been that pathway into higher education. I’ve done plenty of, basically conferences with deans of Pathways to College. They’re teaching basic things like how do you fill out a college application. What is FAFSA? Again, if it weren’t for someone helping me along the way and teaching myself, I wouldn’t’ have probably where I am today. In high school in fact, I had a high school counselor tell me that because I was bilingual that I would be a good secretary or receptionist. So fortunately, I also had a pretty good French teacher that was the one that helped me fill out my college applications. He was the one that told me what FAFSA was because I didn’t know what it was. And so, it’s always important for me, in terms of education, especially in the K through 12 side, that we continue to provide the resources and information so that our students are able to go into higher education and technical education as well that definitely something that important and necessary to take into consideration.
Seth: Democrats do talk a lot about the importance of education but I think it is rare sometimes that it is the first issue that a candidate lists on their platform or priorities. So, I just wanted to comment that it is a bit unique and that a lot of other candidates might rattle off healthcare or other things first, so you do stand out a little bit when that’s the first thing you bring up in your platform.
Lopez-Romero: Absolutely. Like I said, for me, and that has always been key because both my parents are working class individuals. They had less than an elementary school education and my father didn’t learn to read and write in Spanish until he was an adult person. And so, for me, the difference in my life, the difference that I’ve seen personally and also around my peers, the difference in being able to have social mobility is education. And there’s a lot of issues and a lot of concerns that are very important, but particularly for young folks, if we’re not supporting their education process, then to a certain extent I call it being a gerbil on a wheel. We can look at a lot of other issues but if we’re not improving the educational opportunities for people, then we’re not improving their lives generally and generationally, most importantly. That has been very key in my life. I was going to follow up with the fact that even for higher education purposes, these are lived experiences. I have student debt primarily from law school. Because that’s the only way could quote, unquote, pay for law school. So, I understand the necessity that there is to ensure that higher education stops being so unaffordable and that we get hampered with student loans that really undermine the economic gratification of higher education. And so, all of these things are interconnected because if we don’t go through the steps of going from K through 12 into higher education — and higher education that is affordable — then our prospects for the future really get hampered down. I’m education committee as well for K through 12 and so continuously had a lot of work and have a lot of work and have a lot conversation and good relationships with teachers and schools. And not just in my district but in surrounding districts, particularly on the Gwinnett County side.
Seth: And so how do you see your fight for better education changing if you were to win this election, moving from being a state representative to being a federal representative. How does the job change and which specific policies would you be focusing on if you were to win the election? And how does it change from working on the state level?
Lopez-Romero: So, the change at the Federal Government level…I can see the importance to have not necessarily a dictating way about how education processes should run. I know what the negative impacts that we had with things like No Child Left Behind where there was a lot of proscribed metrics. Now at the Federal level where we can be most useful in terms of securing good public schools is still continuing to focus on providing funding and resources, especially for schools with greater need. Whether that would be schools with Title 1 or schools that have high need students, whether those are special education, whether that is students with disabilities. That is a huge focus area where I think, from Congress, that is the kind of work that we need to do. One of the other key components that we can do at the Federal level is to ensure and protect the civil rights of students in school systems. I think that that is one of the key elements of ensuring having someone elected that is very connected to the school system. There should be no reason why we have different discrepancies on issues that relate to the civil rights and civil protections of students. And again, that cuts across the issues of making sure that we have compliance for special education for students with disabilities, for students with limited English proficiency. Usually these categories of students that I think definitely within the purview of the Federal Government to ensure that those civil rights are being focused on. The other part in terms of being elected that I would focus on is providing funding for revitalizing the infrastructure of public schools. Particular here as it relates not only just to the Seventh Congressional District but also toward the state as a whole, is the fact that, for example, our rural schools sometimes are in major need of infrastructure funding and a lot of the property taxes that are collected for these school systems go through basically the Maintenance and Operations processes and not necessarily capital investment. And I think that is something that at the Federal level I want to work with these school systems to ensure that when we need capital investment infrastructure improvement in our schools, that we can collaborate with the state and local government to ensure that we can provide partnerships in that sense with schools.
Seth: Do you support or oppose public funding for charter schools and voucher programs for Kindergarten through high school?
Lopez-Romero: Well, in the State of Georgia, there are different varieties. We have public charter schools that are a part of the local system. And those again, I think that is a state and local issue that they still have to maintain what sort of funding and money goes into those schools. They still have to comply with many of the state regulations and accountability measures. But there are also private charter schools and that is where I have my greatest concern in terms of vouchers are when we’re using vouchers to fund private charter schools that no longer have the same level of requirements to meet the state or local government regulations or accountability measures, which for me is quite frankly one of my biggest concerns with private charter schools. And so just generally, vouchers or anything that takes away money from the public-school system into other entities, definitely is something that I have opposed in the legislature. That’s something that has come forth numerous times and it’s something that I consistently stood and voted against.
Seth: That’s an especially interesting question to speak with Democrats about because it is something that some Democrats earlier in the decade have supported and it’s been something that the party has been figuring out. My last question about education is the big picture one that a lot of presidential candidates have talked about is free public college for all Americans. Is that something that you support and believe in? Or something that you might not support because it’s not feasible or too expensive? Can you explain your position on that?
Lopez-Romero: Generally, I would be supportive of making sure that we have, most definitely our technical education aspect of college being free. In fact, in Georgia, we have 12 industries that are considered high need industries and require technical school that actually are tuition free. And so, we’ve already recognized how valuable and important it is that we have industry-based needs that need to be covered and something that we have incentivized by making those tuition free. So, the issue is never for me about feasibility. That’s something that you definitely have to take a look at and, again, being in the legislature I see how important that is. For me you never start with that question. You start with about “what is a good program? What is a good idea? How is it workable and if it is, how does the cost come in or where does the funding or money go?” I think that is how you prioritize the order of how policy should or should not be implemented. So generally, absolutely, I can definitely support and I’ve seen different ideas and proposals, but the general idea of supporting tuition-free, definitely technical education and some college education, is something that I could support.
Seth: We spoke a lot about education. Can you tell me a little bit about your other policy priorities and areas of focus on your campaign?
Lopez-Romero: The other area of focus that I want here for the Georgia Seventh is that I combine both good, strong economic growth that leads to good jobs with livable wages and good benefits. And I think that in terms of once elected how I can help in that aspect is one of the things that I think a lot of people forget in terms of your congressional person. One of the most important things a congressional person can do I think has less to do with the legislation aspect and more about being present in your district and providing information and resources and helping bring funding, grants, things along the lines to the different needs that we might have in the district. So, I as an elected congressional person will do basically what I’ve done now as a state representative is be engaged with the local and state government to ensure sure that were collaborating on economic growth in the seventh. We’re a very middle-class district with different technology centers, manufacturing centers, warehouse centers, but I would want to continue working with the state and local government including the chambers in Gwinnett and Forsyth. Including the CID, the Community Improvement Districts, to ensure that we’re all collaborating to ensure that whatever economic growth we need in terms of business is being supported, and that the proper information is being provided by people in the Federal government. We do have the Federal Opportunity Zone within the seventh and I want to make sure that we safeguard some of those Opportunity Zones or we expand them because I’ve talked to some of the CIDs and discussed how it would be great to expand some of those federal opportunity zones in addition to the fact that we have Georgia Opportunity Zones as well. So definitely continuing to have that direct communication with all the applicable stakeholders. But of course, one of the other things that I want to ensure with economic growth is to ensure that women and minority owned business continue to be in the process of obtaining the contracts for a lot of the economic growth that we see here in the Seventh. And again, that’s really the concern about continuing to work with the County government both with Forsyth and Gwinnett to ensure that there is good compliance that there are good agreements — MOUs or FRPs — when we’re doing requests for contractors or vendors. To ensure that is a key component of the decision making that they have over selective women and minority owned businesses in addition to making sure that those businesses are also locally based in the Seventh or at the very minimum, in the state of Georgia. And so that is one of the key aspects in how I see it is imperative that we have a congressional person that has those relationships and understanding how important economic growth and development. In a way, also, again for me, I’ve worked so closely with local issues that one issue for me doesn’t work by itself. Because one of the things that we have to keep in mind and something that I always talk to about with our County government is to ensure that development includes making sure any economic growth does not displace residents or small businesses that have been working in the area. And also, where we do have to be more mindful of our growth in how that implicates issues of affordable housing. One of the reasons that many people who have moved to the Seventh both on the Gwinnett and Forsyth side is that we have great school systems and we still have what is, comparatively to other areas, affordable housing and the ability to have home ownership because of that affordability. So, I see the context of economic growth interrelated with all of these issues together and something that can only happen if we have someone who understands the different impacts and has those connections with the key holders.
Seth: It’s easy to tell that you’ve been involved in the nitty gritty of policy and politics before because talking to you, you talk about the specific impacts of legislation and what’s going to happen versus other candidates who are more focused on these big, grand policy ideas but don’t really dig in as deep. So, I’m curious why you’re passionate about moving from the state to federal politics when it sounds like you are dedicated to your community and the local area. What that switch will do and why it’s a move that you want to make.
Lopez-Romero: It took a lot of thought to decide to make that final decision for me personally to run for Congress. In fact, it wasn’t official until the beginning of April and that is why I didn’t announce until about a month ago because first of all I had to focus on session, there was not time to really focus on anything else. So, I had to wait until after session to sit down and take a look at different things in order to make that final decision. And it took a couple of what I call personal reasons and practical reasons on why I ultimately decided that I should run for Congress. One on the personal side is that, quite frankly, my background, especially academically is in federal issues and international issues. My policy areas that really get me excited really do focus on that national policy issues particularly as it relates to international affairs or in foreign policy. Even as an undergraduate, despite thinking that I was going to go to law school, I did a concentration in international affairs and I did the whole Arab League, Model United Nations. In law school I ended up doing a certificate in National Security and Counterterrorism because again these are all policy areas that are of high interest to me. And so, in that sense, I think that being in Congress is actually a good fit for my policy background. But on the same token, because I have grown up since I was about seven years old and was able to learn some amount of English.
I need to backtrack: I was actually born in Mexico but I moved here to reunite with my father when I was five years old here to the State of Georgia. I’ve basically been raised in Georgia since I was five years old. But I came, didn’t speak English. About the time I was seven years old I learned enough English that since I had been of those first wave of immigrants coming to the State of Georgia there wasn’t much bilingual staff and so I became what I call a sort of de-facto interpreter where teachers, parents, neighbors, students, I was kind of pulled along to make sure that I could interpret for them. And I say that that’s important because that sort of grew a sense of duty or that I had to be able to help people with something as basic as language access. Even as a young child, having had the opportunity to be able to ask questions and learn about processes and policies and how things work, particularly as it relates to government entities. And so, I basically grew up that way with that sense of duty. I’ve been heavily involved in community advocacy work since I was young. Definitely through high school and even more in college and later afterwards. So, for me, despite the fact that my policy interests are quite frankly at the federal international level, I do understand the daily lives and the daily needs of people and so that for me implies the best combination of a congressional person that you can have. Like I mentioned, someone that understand the big pictures and big issues that affect our country and that affect our country in the international word but that understands how those big picture issues affect day to day lives for the person that is just getting by or is just trying to support themselves and their family. And so, I think it’s highly important that we have someone that understands everything across the board.
As an attorney, I remember even as a law student actually, that I took a variety of different classes and did different service agencies. Whether the bankruptcy clinic, the divorce clinic, the income or taxation clinics. And I remember once talking to someone and they were like, you’re not specializing. And my answer was really basic in the sense that that is exactly my understanding in living life. In that I’ve never met a client that has only one problem in their lives. When a client comes in, usually they’re going to have different concerns throughout their lives. And so, for me it’s really important to have a wholistic view and a wholistic understanding of all concerns and all issues and how do you address the different aspects of people’s lives to try to make them as whole as possible.
So again, that is another personal reason why I know that I would make a good congressional person far beyond the legislative aspect but actually understanding how legislation and policy affects people day to day and the people that I’d be privileged enough to earn their vote from. So those are some on the personal side. It really is a policy fit for me. I think it is important to have someone who understands how policy affects the voters that is just living their lives supporting themselves and their family. And in the practical side, one of the things that I did was a review of what happened in 2018 in the election cycle and quite frankly, one of the reasons that I decided to run is because I think that this primary is about one thing only. This primary is about flipping the Seventh. And I don’t think the other candidates that we have are actually going to be able to flip the Seventh in 2020 if we weren’t able to flip it in 2018.
Seth: What do you think the problem was in 2018, where it got very close, it was one of the closest if not the closest election in the country. What do you think the problem was that made it so it wasn’t quite flipped to the Democrat? And what do you think your candidacy has that could change that?
Lopez-Romero: I did what I believe is an objective review of what happened in 2018. In 2018, in the seventh, we had for starters, throughout the state we had what I call the Abrams effect where we saw the historic turnout because of her infrastructure and her bringing out voters for the first time. So, we started off with that and I call it the perfect storm. We had the Abrams effect. Here, specifically in the 7th, because of that, we had five House seat districts flip, one Senate district flip that includes some portion of it in the seventh. We had the Solicitors office in Gwinnett. We had a school board seat flip. We had a Commission seat flip. All of Gwinnett County went blue.
Quite frankly, you said ‘almost’. And I heard this word too many times. There’s no almost. In elections you either win or you lose. These are the only two options. Almost is not an option. And I say that because, considering the fact that we had such great turnout. The fact that we had so many seats flip in the Seventh. The fact that even the Sixth Congressional District was actually considered slightly more Republican than the Seventh says that the problems boil down to other things that have nothing to do with our voter base here in the Seventh. And quite frankly, for me, that fact that the prior nominee wasn’t able to reach out to the voters the way that she needed to to get them motivated to come out and vote. So basically, she could not bring any more votes on her own than the votes that already came out for the other candidates whether it was a statewide ticket or a local candidate. I want to add that the fact is that in 2020 it will be that much harder to win and I say that because for starters, we won’t necessarily have Abrams as the top ticket. It will be a presidential year; therefore, turnout is going to be higher. We are going to have Trump on the ballot or a Republican nominee that will continue to increase that extreme conservative turnout.
And so, in terms of how I see what our campaign can do differently. I see it twofold. One is the fact that I have been working within the district and throughout Georgia on what we’ve already discussed. A lot of the community, grassroots outreach. I do a lot of work talking to different high school and college students and so there is already a trust factor that is built in with a lot of voters within the district and I don’t mean that as an elected official, I mean that even before I was elected, I have built these relationships over the last five to ten years. And so, I actually mean that from my community advocacy work in addition to as an elected official I come in with greater name recognition and so that is one side. And the other is I have always been able to connect well with people because I connect with people based on what work we can do together and so I haven’t had to come in and ask people to vote for me some random person who woke up one day and said, “Hey I’m going to run for office”, but rather to vote for someone who has worked beside them for many years and that they know personally and that they know the type of very localized and personal relationships that I have built. That is on the personal quality side.
On the campaign strategy side, when I first ran, we ran by reaching out to first time voters. We ran by reaching out to all voters and I think that that is one of the things that we haven’t learned yet generally in terms of the playbook of campaigns. We haven’t learned how to reach all voters, particularly here in the Seventh Congressional District, it’s a very diverse district. It’s one of the most diverse districts in the Southeast excluding Florida. And again, on the personal side and as a campaign strategy, we intend on reaching that diverse set of voters. All of them. And giving them reasons and incentives to actually come out and vote. And I think you do that by having that personal connection and building that trust with voters. And I think we can do both things and have a strong strategy of reaching every voter we can with no exceptions and also bringing a conversation to them that’s going to make it relevant to their lives so they come out and vote.
Seth: When you say reaching out to all voters, does that entail more of voters who have not turned out in the past for any given reason or is it more reaching out to moderate conservatives who you think that you could flip to Democrat with the right argument? Which of those two, or what combination of those two, do you think would lead to success for the Democrat in the general election?
Lopez-Romero: Here in the Seventh it’s both. I definitely, from a campaign strategy, reach out to voters who have not voted before or as you mentioned may not have voted frequently. Having them vote again for the first time or since they last voted. You also reach out to all the diverse voters that we have. And we also are part of that suburban arch of City of Atlanta proper and that particularly some of the issues that we see here in Georgia as it relates to health care and the abortion ban that we have, the right of folks to privacy and the right to physical autonomy. I think that resonates a lot with particularly suburban women. And that is an area or demographic within our district that is a demographic that we should all focus on. And so, when I say all voters, I truly mean all voters.
Seth: You said a big part of the Democratic primary will be who can win the general election, who can flip the district. And I think the candidate last cycle, Carolyn Bourdeaux, might say, “Listen the district in 2016 went 20 points for the Republican and then last cycle it was almost even. The trajectory of the district is getting more diverse and there are young people. With those trends, I’ll be able to flip it.” Why do you think that argument is not necessarily correct? Because the district does look like it’s trending blue. Why do you think that argument of, “We were almost there last cycle, just a little bit more time and we’ll be there?” Why do you think that is wrong?
Lopez-Romero: It’s not that the district is turning blue. The district turned to blue already and it turned blue before 2018. So, the fact that we’re talking that specifically as a nominee you weren’t able to flip it in 2018. And the fact that in 2020, the general election is going to be that much harder, there’s a disconnect in that. And everything you said in terms of the district and reaching out to young folks as well, when we discussed reaching out to all voters, and so again, my question is about the candidate. The issue here is about the candidate. Which candidate is going to have the turnout necessary and to engage and reach and connect to the young voters, to the new American voters, to those first-time voters that no one has really come to them about what their daily life concerns are? And again, for me, that is what I bring to the table as a candidate. I bring to the table being able to have that connection and that trust with voters across all of those demographics that need to come out and vote. That’s the kind of candidate we need to make sure that we flip the Seventh now in 2020, despite the fact the 2020 general election cycle is going to be that much harder.
One of the key other things that I forgot to mention in my analysis of what happened in 2018. In 2018 we had Woodall who did zero attempt at fighting for his seat. He actually told the media he had no reason to campaign. In 2020 we are going to have a Republican nominee that is actually going to want to fight to keep their seat. So, you add all of these things and the real issue here is, who is the candidate that’s going to connect and reach all of the demographic points that we mentioned and more and motivate them to actually come out and vote. And I think I’ve made that relationship with those voters already.
Seth: I think you’re right that a lot of voters do focus on the issues that we spoke about and you’re passionate about. Maybe a bit more esoteric and specific to your district. But I think there are also some voters who are going to want to hear your position of the big issues of the day that are being discussed in the primary and presidential elections. I’m hoping that we can go through some of those bigger policies that are dominating the national news cycle these days. Specifically, we can start with your position on Medicare for All as it has been proposed by Senator Sanders and been signed onto by several other contenders in the presidential primary.
Lopez-Romero: Sure, I’d love to talk about that. For me, I can only pull back to what’s really affecting our people every day. Again, I’ve been at the legislature, fighting for full Medicaid expansion under the ACA and so I will continue to do that work here in our State. Using the platform of Congress to continue to work with our state government to ensure and see where we go, because under our current governor, who’s probably going to go into Medicaid expansion with wavers and we want to see how that works out.
So again, I will never disconnect myself from the issues that are affecting us locally whether it’s at our state or local government level. Because that makes for a bad congressional person. I’m going to continue on where that is. In addition to that I bring up the ACA. Part of what we can practically begin with being in Congress and being elected is ensuring that we continue to protect the ACA as it stands because that is what we have right now. And protect it and also improve it. One of the things that I think we definitely need to work on is generally the aspect of how do you do universal health care. And one of the things that I would consider is with the ACA, during its negotiation, at some point we had a public option. And I think that also could be something that could work. Because the issue here in the question about Medicare For All isn’t the title Medicare For All. That’s just the messaging talking point. The issue behind that is how do we get affordable and quality health care to those that are either uninsured or underinsured.
I would be willing to look at all policy proposals that provide for affordable and quality health insurance whether it’s improving the ACA, whether it’s revamping the health care system all together. I am more than willing to take a look at all of those policy issues and analyze them. My hierarchy of how you do things. You get a good idea then you analyze it then you make it workable then you look at feasibility. And so, I would do that in any context of any policy decision that seeks to provide the quality affordable healthcare that we need for people that are underinsured or uninsured.
Seth: It sounds like you’re open to more options than just a single payer government funded healthcare system. Because there are progressives who say, “This is the message that the Democratic party needs to be putting forward. We should not have private insurance and we should have a single payer government system.” But it sounds like you’re open to more options than that ideological one if it can get more people healthcare. Is that correct?
Lopez-Romero: If we can cover more people and provide it… Because one of the other things that’s important to the healthcare discussion that is vital is how do we reign in prescription cost and the billing and cost of medical procedures. Where sometimes what we have seen is an increase when we’ve had things like Medicaid and Medicare as we’ve had them. Sometime you will see some hospital facilities have pricings that are overinflated from what they would charge a privately insured or uninsured person that would be able to pay out of pocket.
When we talk about health care, you’re correct, I’m very open to options that actually provide universal healthcare that we need that’s quality universal healthcare. That, again, focuses on the issue of cost. We do have to take a look at cost especially prescription costs. The fact that other similarly economic developed countries have prescription costs that are sometimes twice or ten times or a hundred times cheaper than we have them here in the United States is a big problem. So yes, when I look at how we are going to improve health care and healthcare access I look at it holistically and I’m not willing to exclude any policy idea so long as we’re getting to our goal.
Seth: Moving onto another policy area that is both national and important locally is immigration. I know that Gwinnett County recently extended the Immigration and Nationalities Act section 287(g) that allows local law enforcement to hold people for federal immigration enforcement. I’m curious if you can talk about that and what your position is specifically on 287(g) and then your larger vision for immigration in the United States.
Lopez-Romero: I can talk about that for a long time since that is my background in terms of the legal work that I do. Fighting against 287(g) programs in Gwinnett County and the other three counties, Hall County, Whitfield and Cobb County, that also have 287(g) is something that I’ve fought against since 2009 when we got the first wave of 287(g). I understand it both from its legal implications and how that has affected our locality. Yes, right now the sheriff in Gwinnett county decided to continue the 287(g) program which, however he’s going to rework his budget, is how he’s going to do it. I’m still waiting to confirm, because June 30 is when the MOU for 287(g) actually expires with the board of Commissioners and the expectation so far is that the Board of Commissioners will not renew it, which is important because 287(g) programs in Gwinnett County if it’s going to be promoted by the sheriff, that’s one thing. He’s an elected official and something we can work on via the election side. But from our county commission side, it’s important that they do not renew it and basically give it an approval of the county commission. So, although the expectation is that they will not renew it and officially it does not end until June 30th, I will wait to confirm whether our county commission did or did not renew the program. That has had such a negative effect. Particularly here in Gwinnett since 2009 to 2011 there was a huge enforcement in 287(g) when it was first introduced. And I lived through that and it was devastating to the economy of this county. We had several businesses basically close and just had a reduction in amenities from a lot of small businesses that ended up closing because of the impact. That’s on the economic side for the county. On the people side of 287(g) we saw so many issues of egregious racial profiling. We would see sometimes “check points” being put out on Fridays around people’s places of worship, around shopping centers that were primarily consumers from immigrant backgrounds. And so, we have a very high both Latino and Asian population particularly here in Gwinnett County. And so, it was very difficult.
On the legal side I wasn’t an attorney yet, but was working with attorneys and it was so blatant, the racial profiling, that we would have clients come in with tickets for driving without a driver’s license. It was only so interesting to try to rationalize how they saw somebody driving and knew they were driving without a driver’s license. Eventually they got more sophisticated and giving contextual reasons for pulling someone over which included a broken taillight or more improper lane shift. Some of these contextual reasons that we constantly see when we have issues of racial profiling. This is something that I’ve been with community members fighting for the last, it has been now 10 years, but slowly I think that as the Seventh is changing, not just Gwinnett County, but the Seventh as a whole, I think little by little you will see that the Commission is not likely to renew the MOU are good indicators of where we are. The police department for Gwinnett County which is separate from the sheriff’s department has tried the best that it can, and it’s a very slow process, to rebuild that trust in the immigrant communities in Gwinnett County. But unfortunately, as I’ve talked to the police chief many times, this fight, whatever relationships they want to have, if a person is arrested, even for minor things like traffic citations, they end the process in our county jails which are ran by the sheriff can nonetheless end up with the process where people have been detained. The Stewart Detention Center which is the largest detention center in the southeast and I think probably nationwide, 60% of those detained in Stewart actually at some point, it varies the percentage, but close to 60% of people that are detained in Stewart actually come from Gwinnett County and so the disproportionate number shows you how much of this is really implies the racial profiling issue.
So constantly working on that at the local level. In terms of at the federal level that you mentioned, I’ve been working on advocating for comprehensive immigration reform and the Dream Act or some variation of both probably since 2004. Both going to Congress and advocating there and also here as well on the ground particularly with the youth. A lot of that push for comprehensive immigration reform and for the Dream Act has really been by the immigrant youth that is both personally affected in terms of they themselves are undocumented or have close family members or neighbors who are affected. So, we’ve been working probably way over a decade on pushing for comprehensive immigration reform. And so, I think it’s vital that I bring both those personal stories and experience of being and immigrant here in Georgia but also the legal knowledge of immigration law.
And that being said, what I want to push at the federal level once in Congress is that I want to have the conversation back to where we were in 2012 when this had bipartisan support. And we do have bipartisan support, we just need someone that’s able to talk about it both from a personal story context and from the practical legal obstacle side of it. I’ve had the fortune of being invited to go throughout our state, not just in the Seventh, but throughout Georgia, and I will tell you major industries: agriculture, textiles, warehousing, as long as these industries are supportive of comprehensive immigration reform and I have those relationships and connections that I want to make sure that their voices become louder and we get away from the divisive rhetoric that we’ve experience these last three years and go back to when this was a bipartisan issue. We had in 2012 and 2013 legislation that basically had comprehensive immigration reform and Dream Act kind of all in one. That included border security funding. It was comprehensive immigration reform as we should have it. And I think that I will want to continue to push the dialogue to make sure that we’re actually proposing something very similar that was voted on in 2012.
Seth: Okay great, thanks for going in so much detail. The last real policy area that I want to dig in is similar in that it’s something that’s been focused on locally and nationally is abortion. I know that Georgia recently passed and the Governor signed a bill that would restrict abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected in many cases. And I know that you’ve spoken out against that. But I’m curious if you can elaborate on your position around abortion, specifically if you think that there should be any restrictions on abortion in any point in a pregnancy or if it should be completely a decision between a woman and her doctor.
Lopez-Romero: My position is most definitely valuing two things. The right to privacy and the right to body autonomy. And I think that those decisions in terms of pregnancy and when and if a pregnancy can be carried to full term is a decision of the woman and most definitely in consultation with medical needs. It’s important to highlight, that particularly if we’re talking about pregnancy terminations that are not early on, most often that has to do with medical situations and medical treatment and I think that we do a huge disrespect to women that have to make some of these decisions because they’re experiencing very difficult times in their lives. So absolutely I will continue to support whether be it via Federal statue to safeguard against potential future Supreme Court decisions the right that was enshrined not only in Roe, because we talk about this being an issue of Roe. It’s not. We’ve had Supreme Court decisions since and so as an attorney, I take a look at where our constitutional rights lie in terms of the Supreme Court interpretation. And we’ve been up to the case of Casey and quite frankly, I’m willing to support and put into statute that the places where we are with our Supreme Court decisions to make sure that we continue to have this right to privacy and the right of women to make their own medical decisions of what’s best for their bodies. To enshrine that in statutory law and so that is one of the most important at a federal level as a congressional person we can continue to support some of these issues that are happening on the State level.
Now in Georgia specifically, we do have that bill. The reality is that even the ban as it stands, with the Supreme Court, assuming it would hold its precedent, will and should rule the abortion ban itself unconstitutional. Both as an attorney and as a legislator, one of the things that I’m more concerned about that can happen at the Supreme Court level is the fact that our legislature was one of the few that also included issues of personhood. And I think that unfortunately, that detail gets lost as we’re only talking about the abortion ban itself. And that is one of my concerns about not just our case but any of the cases where we have concerns of personhood whether the Supreme Court, with its current makeup, will allow States to have restrictions based on personhood issues. And so, with that at the Federal level, one of the things that we have to communicate with voters is the importance about why all elections matter.
Why our U.S. Senate elections matter as well and making sure that we retake the U.S. Senate if not this election cycle, next election cycle because not just at the Supreme Court level, but even any Federal level, we have had our judiciary with federal lifetime appointments, being appointed under this current administration by individuals that may not necessarily value that right to privacy and that fundamental right to physical autonomy as we wish. And I really think that is important that we highlight that as being crucial to what we need to be concerned about to the voters.
Seth: The one question that I have that is very important right now is regarding the president and impeachment. I know that at least one of your competitors has specifically called for the House of Representatives to begin impeachment proceedings and I’m curious if that’s something that you support: 1) impeaching the president and 2) beginning impeachment proceedings in the House.
Lopez-Romero: The way you separated it is something to consider. For me, it’s what is the conversation with voters? Have we seen a large disregard for even the ethical processes of what we would consider our president and presidential candidates to abide by? Of course. We have seen the fact that even within the administration’s campaign aids or campaign individuals that supported them and all the indictments that we have seen through Muller’s investigation. Would we have allowed any other presidential candidate in the past to have done this without any repercussions? I don’t think so. We’re in an unprecedented situation. And so, I say this: I would be supportive of what you mentioned. And we have to clarify that to voters and I think that’s important.
For me it’s very important to explain to voters what the process is like. There’s one thing that I would be supportive of starting impeachment inquires and the impeachment process. On the House side it is very likely that we would be able to impeach on the House side. The reality is that most impeachment process that we have had come down to partisan votes. And therefore, in the House, we may have that ability. But the reality is that that is unlikely to be the case on the Senate side. And so, I find it very important to clarify to voters that when we say we could start the impeachment in the process the House, that that would not necessarily imply an approval of the impeachment on the Senate side.
The other thing that we also need to be very aware of is that we have to be willing to understand, which means we have to put in that much more work, is that there will be a backlash if that is done. And I say backlash in the sense of the more extreme voting base than the current president has. And so, we have to be willing to put in a lot of work to ensure that our voters come out and vote to negate, at a minimum, or if not, ensure that our voter base comes out to vote to try and negate that sort of backlash that might come from the extreme right. So, I think that is the conversation that we need to have with our voters, that I am having with constituents of the Seventh and as always, we have to see if that is where sentiment is and we understand the situation that that implies, then I think that should be our course of action.
Seth: To clarify, are you at the point where you support an impeachment inquiry or do you feel like you still need to speak to more constituents to find out where they are?
Lopez-Romero: I think right now I still need to continue to have that conversation. Obviously, unlike the other issues that we discussed, this is not something that has been readily in the conversation. So just as I have done with the other ones, I want to continue talking to people throughout the Seventh and having conversations and that understanding to make a final decision.
Seth: Well, thank you so much for speaking with me. I know that you’re probably very busy so I don’t want to take up more than an hour of your time. I’m happy to send the transcript of our interview over to you or your assistant before I post it.
Lopez-Romero: Thank you for reaching out, and yes, if you could email the transcript or recording, I would really appreciate that. And if you have any questions down the line, give me a call or send me a text message and let me know if you have any future questions.
Seth: Thank you very much. If things go your way in the primary, I would love to speak with you a little later in the election cycle.
Lopez-Romero: Sounds great.