By Rebecca Gaunt
Jason Esteves is running as a Democrat for State Senate District 6.
Esteves and his wife Ariel live with their two children in northwest Atlanta. A former educator, Esteves is in his third term on the board for Atlanta Public Schools and is the outgoing board chair. He is a graduate of the Emory University School of Law and serves as the vice president of legal at Equifax Inc.
He’s also the treasurer for the Democratic Party of Georgia and on the board for the non-profit organization GALEO, which strives to increase civic engagement in the Latino/Hispanic community.
The seat is currently held by Jen Jordan, who announced she is running for Georgia Attorney General.
Why are you running for Georgia State Senate?
I am running because we all deserve to live in a state where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.
As a school board member and former public school teacher, I’ve seen how opportunities that should be available to all of us are only available to a select few. I’ve also seen how these opportunities are influenced by what happens–or does not happen–at the Georgia legislature. I’m running for state senate because I have the experience to be an effective voice in the fight for a strong public education system, access to affordable healthcare, a thriving economy, and a healthy, livable state that is welcoming and inclusive to all.
You have served on the school board for Atlanta Public Schools since 2013. According to your website during your time as Board Chair, “APS followed scientific guidance on masks, testing, and school re-opening despite pressure from Governor Kemp.” Additionally, you were involved in creating an equity policy and anti-racism resolution, and renaming buildings named for people associated with slavery and white supremacy. Senate district 6 includes part of Cobb County, where these very issues are generating a great deal of controversy, with a board majority that isn’t allowing all board members to participate in discussions on these matters. Is this a matter you would weigh in on as Senator?
Yes, absolutely. As a community leader and an elected official, my biggest priority is to advocate on behalf of my constituents and neighbors. And as I’ve knocked on doors and talked to Cobb families, they all want safer and more welcoming schools for the diverse group of students that are currently enrolled in Cobb Schools. As Board Chair in Atlanta, I was able to successfully navigate these complicated issues and know that it is better to address these issues head on versus ignoring them.
I look forward to working through these issues with my constituents, students, staff, and Cobb Schools board members.
Senate Bill 319 would allow concealed carry of guns without a permit. Would you support such a bill?
Absolutely not. I support measures that promote responsible gun ownership, which also happen to be widely supported by Georgians across the political spectrum. If you need a permit to drive or even go fishing in Georgia, then you should need a permit to carry a gun.
You support expanding access to Medicaid. What else can Georgia do to improve health outcomes?
As the husband of a nurse practitioner who opened her own urgent and primary care clinic in our community, I know how important it is to increase access to healthcare. But it is also vital that we improve health outcomes by providing Georgians more critical health resources at the beginning and towards the end of life.
Georgia’s infant and maternal mortality rates are worse than nearly every other state. We need to educate new parents on best practices and provide mothers with adequate healthcare to ensure both the mother and her child are healthy.
Further, as the caretaker for my mother who has Alzheimer’s disease, I know firsthand that Georgia’s support system for senior citizens is poor. As the number of seniors in our communities increases, more resources will be needed to support a system that is already struggling to keep up. Georgia must follow the direction of states like Florida and Virginia to adopt policies and laws that ensure seniors have access to quality care so that they can age safely and comfortably.
Finally, I am glad the General Assembly is focused on mental health this session because health outcomes extend beyond physical health. And for many years, Georgia has ranked near the bottom amongst states for mental health resources. A comprehensive mental health system will not only improve health outcomes, it will improve the broader wellbeing of our community.
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?
I support a woman’s right to choose–therefore, I oppose Georgia’s Heartbeat Law and SB 351. To paraphrase Senator Warnock, I believe that a hospital room is way too small for a woman, her doctor, and the government.
If state leaders were as “pro-life” as they claim to be, there would be more focus on maternal health and wellness, repairing our broken adoption and foster care system, and providing new mothers and families more resources to care for their babies.
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, East Cobb, Vinings and Buckhead which overlap with senate district 6?
I believe the residents of East Cobb and Vinings are being rushed into a decision that may end up increasing taxes for little value in the long run. There are simply too many questions and not enough answers. As a result, those two proposed referendums should be delayed until November to give both communities the space and time they need to flesh out their respective plans.
Buckhead City, on the other hand, is different because it involves de-annexing the Buckhead neighborhood from the city of Atlanta (which has never been done in the history of the state). Because of the impact it will have on Atlanta and the state as a whole, I am opposed to the creation of Buckhead City.
What should be done to improve public transportation?
I would advocate for the state to invest more in regional transportation systems and build out a network that better connects different parts of the state. We’ve already seen with I-75 that adding lanes to a highway doesn’t improve traffic or connectivity. Only public transportation does that, and with all the exciting developments in SD6 (and the broader region), public transportation will not only help people travel more efficiently, it will boost the economy. From a policy perspective, I will advocate for GDOT to be more open and proactive in supporting public transportation. That will help spur efforts at the local level.
The Sterigenics ethylene oxide emissions and Georgia Power coal ash pits in Cobb have made recent headlines. Has the local government done enough with regard to those problems?
This issue is important to me because I live within two miles of both Sterigenics and a coal ash pit. I don’t believe any of this falls on local governments–the state and federal government have the legal responsibility to ensure Sterigenics and Georgia Power are meeting regulatory requirements. We’ve seen the federal government increase their efforts recently, but the state (Georgia EPD and the Attorney General) is still slow to act. As state senator, I will continue to do my part to support local governments and push the state to protect the health of its residents and the environment in which we all live.
As a former teacher and the immediate past APS school board chair, what is your response to the proposed legislative bills in response to the CRT debate, related to teaching “divisive concepts,” such as House Bill 888.
My response to these bills is that legislators should leave teachers and students alone, and give them the space to teach and learn. These bills are the result of a manufactured crisis aimed at driving turnout in the 2022 elections. Republican leaders have seen this strategy work in places like Virginia and Texas, and they are trying their best to increase their electoral chances in Georgia.
The problem is that these bills in search of manufactured problems have real world consequences, such as Cobb Schools dropping its affiliation with the Anti-Defamation League’s No Place for Hate program. This means that in Cobb schools where we’ve seen racist and anti-Semitic incidents, school leaders have had to scramble to fill gaps that were left behind by the absence of anti-hate programming. We’ve also seen teachers leave the profession because of the added pressure and politicization of schools, which directly impacts student achievement.
As I said before, parents ultimately want safer and more welcoming schools. Bills like HB888 do the exact opposite.
GOP redistricting efforts have been criticized as attempts to dilute Black and Brown voices. What are your thoughts?
Those criticisms are valid. During the special legislative session, we saw Republican legislators completely redraw a district to prevent the only Asian-American state senator from being re-elected. They also engaged in gerrymandering that preserves Republican, mostly White, majorities in both chambers of the legislature for the next ten years in a state that is majority-minority.
We saw this again just a few weeks ago, where Republican legislators ignored the desire of local delegations to adopt maps responsive to changing demographics at the county level, and instead chose to adopt maps that dilute Black and Brown voices in an effort to preserve Republican seats in local government.
It is past time for Georgia to create a non-partisan commission to draft fair and representative maps that ensure no community is unheard or unseen.
Can you expand on your plans for common-sense legislation to help small businesses in Georgia?
State leaders often tout Georgia as the number one state to do business, but that is mostly true for large corporations that get sweetheart deals using taxpayer dollars. The playing field has to be level to give small businesses the opportunity to grow as well. We must ensure corporations are paying their fair share of state and local taxes, which ultimately allows us to lower tax obligations across the board. The state should also prioritize small businesses, especially those owned by women and people of color, in state contracting opportunities.
Finally, by doing things like expanding Medicaid, strengthening the ACA marketplace, and incentivizing local financial institutions to further invest in small businesses, the state would alleviate the burden on small business owners who are already feeling upward pressure to adequately compensate and compete for employees in a competitive job market.
How do you plan to implement a living wage if elected?
We were able to successfully raise the minimum wage in Atlanta Public Schools to $15/hour during my tenure as Board Chair, and I would introduce legislation to raise Georgia’s minimum wage. I would also advocate for similar legislation at the federal level.
It’s also important to note that beyond increasing the minimum wage, we should be expanding access to Medicaid and working to strengthen the ACA marketplace to ensure these workers are able to access affordable healthcare.
Is there anything we have not talked about that you want to share with readers?
Thank you for the time and opportunity! I have been lucky enough to live in a state senate district that, in several ways, mirrors the diversity of Georgia. I look forward to continuing to share my vision for Georgia and my values with your readers. In the meantime, I invite them to visit jasonesteves.com or reach out to me at email@example.com.
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.