By Rebecca Gaunt
Luisa Wakeman is running as a Democrat for Georgia Senate District 6, a seat currently held by Jen Jordan, who is running for Georgia Attorney General.
Wakeman has lived in the community for 25 years with her husband and two children, during which she has volunteered in classrooms, as a Girl Scout leader and band chaperone.
She has also worked as a flight attendant at Delta for 30 years, but when the Great Recession hit, she returned to school to get a second job as a cardiac care nurse. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Wakeman worked with the Fulton County Medical Reserve Corps administering vaccinations.
Wakeman previously challenged Sharon Cooper for the Georgia House District 43 seat.
The primary election is on May 24. For more information on early voting and voting locations, click here.
Why are you running for state senate?
We are at a precarious time in our state. We have an opportunity to move forward or fall back. I’m excited to build on the momentum we built in HD43 and continue to prioritize the health, safety, and equity of all Georgians. In recent years, the Georgia legislature has rejected much-needed federal healthcare dollars as a political stunt, diverted funding from our public schools, and there has been an overreach on local matters in counties and cities where voters don’t align with Republicans. This election is important and I’m ready to roll up my sleeves to do the work for the people of Senate District 6.
You are a registered nurse and frontline worker during a pandemic. How has that affected your perception of the state’s response to COVID-19?
Yes! I’m a flight attendant with Delta Air Lines and am grateful for the precautions my employer took during a time of uncertainty. With a decreased flying schedule, I used the flexibility of my job to be part of the Fulton County Medical Reserve Corps. I’m proud to get about 1,000 shots in people’s arms. I was proud to work alongside employees of Fulton County Board of Health and other volunteer nurses, doctors, and firefighters to do the work to make our communities healthy.
As a Registered Nurse and frontline worker, it was infuriating to hear our Governor expend political energy to protect businesses but not workers. While legislators were required to wear masks and offered weekly testing at the Capitol, those protections and tests were hard to come by for many of us on the frontline. While Republican legislators spread misinformation about masking and vaccines, they prioritized opening tattoo parlors over a plan to get our kids back to school. This past year has proven we need more people representing us who understand science and who know what is happening in our communities at the grassroots level.
Senate Bill 319, if passed, would allow concealed carry of guns without a permit. Would you support such a bill?
I would not support SB 319. A majority of Georgians do not support permitless carry. I would like to see a focus on decreasing gun violence and restricting domestic abusers from access to weapons. Women in the U.S. are 28 times more likely to be killed with a gun than women in other high-income countries. We need to focus on protecting our kids and communities from gun violence. And when we talk about access to mental health resources, we also need to talk about how access to a gun triples the risk of death by gun suicide.
You support expanding access to Medicaid. What can Georgia do to improve health outcomes?
The focus of healthcare in Georgia has been on crisis and profit. We must focus on the health aspect of healthcare and the humanity of those who are sick. When I hear politicians yelling about protecting systems that have lined their political pockets while people suffer, I know that it’s time for a change. In Georgia, we have 1.4 million people without health insurance. Decreasing the number of uninsured through the expansion of Medicaid is an essential step in the right direction. Most Georgians agree with Medicaid expansion, the only reason it hasn’t happened is because of the politicization of healthcare by right-wing politicians. As a nurse at the bedside, my patients didn’t care about the politics of their care; they just wanted to get the care needed to get healthy and go home to their families. I practiced patient-centered care as a nurse, as your State Senator I vow to focus on constituent-centered policy.
Georgia’s Heartbeat Bill dominated the Georgia legislature in 2019. Senate Bill 351, which would make it more difficult to obtain abortion pills, was introduced in the 2022 session. Where do you stand on the issue?
The unconstitutional abortion ban is being defended in courts using our taxpayer dollars while we grapple with one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the country. Georgians are twice as likely to die of pregnancy-related and pregnancy-associated causes than the average American. Black women are three times more likely to die than white women of pregnancy-related causes. Full expansion of Medicaid would increase access to care, a critical component of decreasing preventable deaths. Legislators have no business making medical decisions that should remain between a patient and her trusted healthcare provider; that includes reproductive care, abortion care and access to medications.
There are several Cobb cityhood bills going to referendum- East Cobb, Mableton, Vinings, and Lost Mountain. The Buckhead cityhood movement is currently stalled in the legislature. What do you think about these cityhood movements, in particular, Vinings and Buckhead which overlap with senate district 6?
East Cobb cityhood is also part of this Senate District. Three cityhood movements overlap one State Senate District, and each is unique. East Cobb cityhood has had community opposition since the information was made available to those outside of the private investors who are pushing for cityhood. The feasibility study required for legislation to be passed is based on outdated maps and services. One of the two legislative sponsors is leaving his seat early for brighter pastures and sticking taxpayers with the special election bill to fill his seat. Fiscal responsibility and transparency have not been evident in this process. I’m against the city of East Cobb as it has been proposed, and I hope voters will be motivated enough to come out to vote against it.
The city of Vinings would be smaller in size than other proposed cities and have less impact on the county as a whole. However, because of the limited city services proposed, the new city would still rely heavily on county services. On both proposals, there are more studies to be done to understand the overall impact. Pushing these cityhood movements onto the May 24 ballot makes no sense other than to suppress the involvement of a majority of voters and burden our election officials with last-minute changes. I’m in favor of the people deciding, but not like this.
The Buckhead cityhood movement is not the creation of a city but secession from the city of Atlanta. Separating municipal rights, property, and seceding from Atlanta Public Schools is messy and doesn’t have the support of local elected officials or leaders of major north Atlanta businesses. I’m happy that Mayor Dickens can continue to focus his energy on running the city of Atlanta and that this effort will not move forward this session.
GOP redistricting efforts (legislature, Board of Commissioners, school board) have been criticized as attempts to dilute Black and Brown voices. What are your thoughts?
Redistricting is required every 10 years so that one elected official represents an equivalent number of people. This is supposed to be a normal process after census data is collected. What is not normal, is that elected officials manipulate district lines and draw maps to take away the power of voters. There has been a considerable bipartisan effort in the years leading up to this process to make it open and transparent. Republicans, who hold power over both state legislative branches have refused to make redistricting open and transparent. In counties where there is more diversity, Republicans have overtaken the local delegation process, and in essence, bypassed the will of voters to draw maps that benefit them. It is a dilution of Black and Brown votes. When elected, I will support legislation to make this process open and transparent so that voters choose their elected officials, and not have elected officials choose their voters.
There are multiple bills being discussed in the current legislative session in response to the CRT debate, related to teaching “divisive concepts,” in classrooms. House Bill 888, in particular, would cut funding if a school was found in violation. What is your response to these bills?
There is no parent with school-aged children who hasn’t taken a deeper look into every aspect of learning over the past two years. Many parents have juggled working from home while helping their kids learn from home, and that includes our teachers. The past years have shone a light on how difficult it is to practice safe distancing, due to overcrowded classrooms. Technology gaps cut some kids off from learning access while teachers adapted lesson plans to software rollouts, glitches, and unpredictable changes in policies. We need to focus on recovering from what our students have gone through as the pandemic dragged on. Learning gaps, health, and mental health are where our focus needs to be. Burdening teachers and schools with bureaucracy, censorship, and fines at the precise time when additional resources and staffing are most needed is an attack on our education system that will directly harm all students. I stand resolutely against HB 888.
Disability waiver waitlists are a major issue for the disability community in Georgia. Waitlists have thousands of people competing for a handful of slots, and some people wait years to get one. During last year’s budget cuts, activists had to lobby to prevent all new waivers from being cut. What can be done to improve the situation for struggling families?
The 1999 Olmstead Supreme Court decision said that segregating those with disabilities from the rest of the population is a form of discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This decision required more community-based resources and the closing of large psychiatric hospitals, some notorious for horrendous conditions. Currently, there are about 6,000 people on Georgia’s waitlist for services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In 2021 $91 million was cut from the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities budget. Budget cuts must be restored so that services can be given to those on the waitlist before any tax refunds are distributed. Georgia can and must support those most vulnerable.
What do you mean when you say you hope to “reinvigorate the HOPE scholarship program?”
The HOPE scholarship has served many Georgia families and has been the promise of the state-funded lottery program. Originally, qualifying for HOPE required graduating high school with a B average and a family income of less than $66,000. Tuition was covered at 100%, including books. A few years after the successful launch of the program, the income requirement was eliminated and academic requirements added. I would like to see the HOPE scholarship program brought back to the original intention of making higher education accessible to more Georgia students, reinvigorating HOPE for many families.
Global warming is a reality. Georgia has the potential to make a big impact with wind and solar power generation and alternative fuel vehicles. Our farmers, our communities, and future generations are depending on us to make ethical decisions regarding our environment. However, decisions related to our environment go beyond the changing climate. Unlined coal ash pits that seep toxins into our waterways and carcinogenic emissions released into the air affect the health and well-being of those in the surrounding areas. We must hold companies accountable for cleanup from damages, and protect other Georgia communities from similar environmental damage.
What should be done to improve public transportation?
More asphalt is not a solution to our current traffic problems. Investing in systems that take cars off the road benefits everyone. In 2018, the Northwest Corridor Expressway was opened at the cost of $834 million for 29.7 miles of reversible toll lanes. This investment has only sped up the commute for the average rush-hour driver on that stretch by a few miles per hour, that’s not much of an improvement. Companies factor in transportation options when looking to locate their headquarters – in order to remain a competitive market for jobs, we must address the fractured transportation strategies across metro Atlanta, building strategies for those who work in one area of the city but live in another. I support the funding for better bus systems, the expansion of MARTA rail, and more consideration given to walkability and bicycle access.
Is there anything you want to mention that we haven’t already?
Yes! The last day to vote in the primary election is May 24th. The first day to vote in person is May 2nd. For more voter information, including a map of State Senate District 6, go to the voter information page on my website electluisa.com. Your vote truly matters in this important election, I would be honored to earn your vote!
Rebecca Gaunt earned a degree in journalism from the University of Georgia and a master’s degree in education from Oglethorpe University. After teaching elementary school for several years, she returned to writing. She lives in Marietta with her husband, son, two cats, and a dog. In her spare time, she loves to read, binge Netflix and travel.