Georgia 2018: Stacey Evans launches a HOPE-themed campaign for governor

State Rep. Stacey Evans, D – Smyrna. Bob Andres, bandres@ajc.com

Democratic state Rep. Stacey Evans entered the race for Georgia governor on Thursday with a pledge to make technical college tuition-free and a vow to fight for struggling Georgians ignored by the powerful.

The Smyrna attorney’s campaign sets up what will likely be a divisive Democratic primary for the state’s top job in 2018. House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams has also filed paperwork to run for governor and is expected to soon make a formal announcement.

Evans said in an interview she is putting “hope” – the scholarship and the concept – at the heart of her bid to replace a term-limited Nathan Deal. She has been one of the most forceful critics of the 2011 law he signed that slashed funding to the popular program.

“It gutted the program that was responsible for everything that’s good in my life,” Evans said. “The Stacey Evans born today doesn’t have the same opportunity that the Stacey born in 1978 had.”

The 39-year-old’s background will play a central role in her campaign. A child of a struggling teenage mom, the Ringgold native was the first in her family to graduate from college. She used her share in a massive whistleblower settlement to create a $500,000 scholarship for first-generation graduates at the University of Georgia’s law school.

She said it was her feeling of hopelessness as a young girl that helped inspire her to run for public office. When she was 12, Evans called the police to report that her mother was being abused by a man she was dating. She said the authorities dismissed her complaint, saying the man “wouldn’t hurt a fly.”

“It was a very powerless moment,” she said. “Even with the eyes of a child, I could see what was going on. It taught me it matters who is in government. It matters who is in positions of power. And it matters whether they use it to protect people in power or they use it to protect the people in need.”

Her entry into the race sets up a potentially bruising fight that Democrats managed to avoid in 2014, when then-state Sen. Jason Carter ran for the party’s nomination unopposed. It also reflects a queasiness over Abrams, a fundraising dynamo with a national profile who some party leaders worry can’t win in a general election.

A parallel struggle is happening across the aisle as some Republicans uncomfortable with Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle – the GOP’s presumptive front-runner – are searching for other contenders. Secretary of State Brian Kemp and state Sen. Hunter Hill have joined the race, and several more are exploring a run.

Evans, for her part, said she’s not concerned a heated primary could weaken a Democrat’s chances.

“The party will be fine. Choices are a good thing,” she said. “My intention is to be positive and spread my message – a message that all Georgians want to hear. I’m not running against Stacey Abrams. I’m running for Georgia.”

Her supporters hope she’ll be better-suited to reach out to independents and Republicans disillusioned by Donald Trump and the GOP field in the general election. But her first daunting task is winning the party’s nomination.

Black voters make up by far the largest bloc of the Democratic electorate, and Abrams has already captured national attention – and even stray talk about a presidential run – in her bid to be the nation’s first black female governor. Evans, who was elected to the Legislature in 2010, said she’s confident her message can transcend racial and demographic lines.

“This is something everyone understands. Everyone has felt the power of hope – and everybody has felt what it feels like to feel hopeless,” she said. “I have faith in the electorate that they will be looking at our message, and decide who will wake up every day to fight for them. And that answer will be me.”

Her initial endorsements include former state Rep. Ronnie Mabra, an African-American attorney who said Evans could build a “coalition that helps bring better opportunity to every Georgia family.” Her campaign will be chaired by former U.S. Rep. Buddy Darden, who once represented a Cobb-based district that’s now held by the GOP.

Throughout the interview, Evans darted back to the 2011 changes enacted by Deal and a coalition of lawmakers that aimed to prevent the lottery-funded HOPE program from going broke.

Designed by Zell Miller, the program once funded all public college tuition if students maintained a 3.0 GPA. Under the 2011 law, only the state’s most accomplished students, about 10 percent of recipients, get full tuition awards. For other students, the scholarship amount depends on lottery revenue.

It is an area where Evans hopes to draw a clear contrast with Abrams, who supported the 2011 changes as the only way to salvage the program and stood by Deal as he signed them into law.

Evans called that bill-signing the “most devastating day” of her legislative career.

“My story starts with the HOPE scholarship. It was the center of my success,” she said. “But it’s also about a much broader theme. It’s about having hope in your government. And it’s about having hope in yourself.”

Reader Comments 0

90 comments
Joel Rea
Joel Rea

Dems or repubs will NEVER get my vote.

Greg Maddox
Greg Maddox

FREE??? So who will pay for this free college, us hard working tax payers!!!!!

Chris Wright
Chris Wright

Dustin Ketchem what do you think of this entry in to the race?

Lee VonderHaar
Lee VonderHaar

The old hopey changey! That is why the democrats are the losing party. Promise everything and underdeliver!

Michael Barnes
Michael Barnes

Great. Another barrage of vacuous babble about hope, peace and love. Meanwhile - debt, jobs, transportation.

Graeme Jones
Graeme Jones

This always sounds great untill TAXES have to be DOUBLED to pay for it!

Vera McInnis
Vera McInnis

Why are most of the Democratic politicians so corrupt? Every week someone is being arrested and charged for embezzlement.

Michael Cardoza
Michael Cardoza

Does she live Georgia? Can she spend as much as other democrats. Was she an Obamasshole and overthehillary supporter. Which radical groups does she support and is she going after the illegal immigrants and welfare moochers votes?

Lou Edna
Lou Edna

About time republicans have misappropriated the funds for hope and have destroyed GA. Zell Miller democrat started hope. Time to fix it

Charles Jones
Charles Jones

I don't like her - she is pro-abortion, she is against fair hearings for accused male students, she is against religious freedom. Respectfully my learned sister at the Bar will not have my vote.

Howard Smith
Howard Smith

Larry Clark in fairness, she is not pro abortion, she is pro choice....she does not oppose fair hearings for male students but she does want to make sure the rights of rape victims are not jeopardized and she is not against religious freedom but she does want to make sure religion is not used as a pretext to discriminate. Those are big differences and it means she wants to protect women's rights and equality.

Charles Jones
Charles Jones

There's no such thing as pro choice, because choice is not an independent concept, it only exists in view of the things being chosen. I don't think anyone disputes whether she is in favour of choosing Chevrolet or Ford. She is however in favour of abortion as a choice that can be made.

Jc Heard
Jc Heard

Where does she propose the money will come from to pay for tuition free college? It will have to be paid!

Larry Clark
Larry Clark

It grows on trees and in the pockets of Capitalists, not a single Democrat will contribute

Bill Stoner
Bill Stoner

how does she propose to pay for it all ???

Susan Coppola Gill
Susan Coppola Gill

No Demoncrats, please. Keep Georgia American; don't let our great state turn into a third-world country.

Adam Hester
Adam Hester

Let me guess.... hope and change? #YesWeCan ?

Doug Rogers
Doug Rogers

Vote for Georgia, vote for America, vote blue.

Vivian Joanna Shurtz
Vivian Joanna Shurtz

Get another song, republicans. Your guys are a disgrace on doing the job. Let freedom ring with the Democrats.

Jim Lance
Jim Lance

I think you mean well as do many misguided people. But you understand that this country is in serious danger of losing everything and that it appears that we are already in a "cold civil war"? The Democrats gave the Vietnam War...based on lie. Remember those 56,000 dead this Memorial Day. I opposed the buffoon "W" for creating an even worse tragedy in the middle east. Truthfully, I no longer trust either party. The elites, left, oligarchs, academia have evolved into an American Politbureau. I support Trump because he opposes the corruption in Washington..

Dean Walton
Dean Walton

Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren (both Democrats) oppose the corruption in Washington. Trump is just looking out for himself.

Jim Lance
Jim Lance

Your concept of freedom is Political Correctness and Reeducation Camps, sorry, but people like you scare me with your hatred of people like me.

Larry Clark
Larry Clark

Dean Walton BURNIE is the CORRUPTION!!! HE sold out his supporters for Hillary and a new HOUSE.......read up fool

AC Slater
AC Slater

Going blue in 3,2,1 thanks Donny

Larry Clark
Larry Clark

WRONG..............again......the people have spoke

Jim Lance
Jim Lance

If you love Freedom, believe in almighty God, freedom of speech, respecting the Constitution, defend the unborn, supporting our Armed Forces, caring for veterans, you will never, ever vote for an atheistic, Marxist-Democrat.

AC Slater
AC Slater

Yeah, how's that working out for ya.

Dean Walton
Dean Walton

And if you love Freedom, believe in the rule of law, equal protection under the law, the will of the people, defending people's right to control their own bodies, end our perpetual war on terror, make peace throughout the world, you will never vote for a Christian-sharia law Fascist-Republican.

Daniel Eason
Daniel Eason

I love freedom. That's why I support groups like Innocence Project, which works to exonerate the innocent and free them from prison. There were 166 exonerations in 2016, alone. Freedom! I believe in Almighty God. His Holy Scriptures teach me about how to treat the poor, children, elderly, foreigners, refugees... basically, my neighbors. He also teaches me not to lie about even those with opposing views and motives, or anyone else. (Calling Democrats "atheistic" and "Marxist" violates the Ninth Commandment against bearing false witness.) I believe in freedom of speech. Just days ago, a reporter was arrested for asking questions of Tom Price. Yesterday, a Republican candidate in Montana assaulted a reporter over a true story the reporter had reported about the candidate. That GOP candidate has now been charged. I believe in the US Constitution; all of it, even the parts that protect the right to vote, or the parts about who becomes unfit for office because of criminal or ethical violations. I believe in defense of the unborn. Though my party and I may disagree on the right to life of the unborn, the party does much more to actually protect the unborn than does the GOP. We Democrats believe in programs that provide expectant mothers with help in maintaining a healthy pregnancy, like WIC and SNAP and Medicaid. Republicans believe in forcing births, but without an ounce of care or concern for either the mother or the child. I believe in supporting our Armed Forces. I believe that one of Trump's first executive orders was extremely harmful to our active duty service personnel, in that it caused the military to shut down on-base daycares, leaving personnel and their families with no care for their children. That was only reversed when the media (there's that freedom of speech I like) reported the disastrous effects of the order. I also believe in paying our troops better, and not reneging on their promised benefits. Republicans annually work to deny pay increases for military personnel. And they annually work to cut their benefits, as well. There is currently a Republican bill in Congress that calls for military personnel to pay for a portion of their GI bill; a benefit that they have earned; a benefit that is a big part of their compensation. I believe in caring for veterans. Under Obama, the number of homeless veterans dropped by about half. Under Obama and because of Bernie Sanders, veterans' access to health care expanded to allow those waiting for care to go outside the VA hospitals and receive timely care. Republicans (except John McCain) worked against that legislation. I believe in all you listed, except the part where you bore false witness. And in looking into the legislative goals and actions of the two parties, over decades, I cannot vote for Republicans who work so hard against all that you listed.

Jim Lance
Jim Lance

Wow, great propaganda. Lenin would love you.

John Nemeth
John Nemeth

Hold on, let me update my conservative buzzword bingo card.

Larry Clark
Larry Clark

Dean Walton Where do you get the Sharia Law connection with the repubs? That is a DEMOCRATIC THING.

Larry Clark
Larry Clark

Scott Buckingham We can, like you, way whatever we want. Just because we believe does not mean that we cannot say it. You a Facist?

Brandy Tucker Lmt
Brandy Tucker Lmt

Actually, If you believe in those things you would actually vote for a Progressive who actually believes those things and doesn't just pretend while they (Dems and Reps) fleece this country. Wake up.

Lou Edna
Lou Edna

Progressive is not a party. Justice democrat

Rocky Buldo
Rocky Buldo

There is No reasoning we the American " "Values Voter "

Sarah Bennett
Sarah Bennett

Vote Stacey Evans for Governor! Wonderful candidate w/ personal growth experiences! She started the Hope Project. She is proposing that technical school be free! She's a graduate of University of Georgia which is a plus.

Jim Lance
Jim Lance

There is no such thing as "free".

Sarah Bennett
Sarah Bennett

Yes Jim there is! Perhaps not though for you GOP money grubbers! I'm sure you have a fifty dollar word w/ another meaning! Ugh!

Stuart Nicholas
Stuart Nicholas

Remember this is just election platitudes and Dem's are dumb enough to believe it. James Carvel said he went Democratic as its easier to sway a democrat with lies then the rest of the country.

Josie Redwine
Josie Redwine

You worked for the gov't and taxpayers funded your salary and benefits, right? The irony, dude.

Randy Cannady
Randy Cannady

Democraps...always want 'free crap,' but they don't understand economics....how and who will pay for their 'free crap?' SMH, this is not Cuba, Venezuela, or any other utopian socialist pie in the sky nation...or at least we use not be!

Randy Cannady
Randy Cannady

Did i mention race? That was you who injected race here, maybe u have that problem!

Larry Clark
Larry Clark

Daphne Dail HOW is it racist, baiter???

Howard Smith
Howard Smith

You do realize that the poorest counties and states are Republican AND they also receive the most aid from the federal government...You need to read more.

Randy Cannady
Randy Cannady

Republicans don't run LA, NY city, Chicago, Detroit, read more!

Randy Cannady
Randy Cannady

Property and violent crimes are rarely done by someone identifying as a conservative.

Daphne Dail
Daphne Dail

Well that comment wins most racist of the day folks.

Dave Carlson
Dave Carlson

Randy Cannady And yet red states lead in crime rates and percentage of population in the legal system.

Randy Cannady
Randy Cannady

But as i said, it's not the conservatives from those red states doing those crimes...facts speak for themselves, but of course, some don't let facts get in the way of the truth!

Larry Clark
Larry Clark

Howard Smith LOL, you are dreaming. Link the source of YOUR FACTS............