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Q & A with Melody Bray, State Senate District 38 Democratic candidate

Melody Bray (photo courtesy of Melody Bray)

By Arielle Robinson

Democratic candidate for Georgia State Senate District 38 Melody Bray took the time to answer questions about her campaign with the Courier in a phone conversation.

Bray, a first-time candidate, hopes to unseat longtime State Senator Horacena Tate, who has been in office since 1999 and is also a Democrat.

Bray kicked off her campaign in October last year.

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The Democratic primary is Tuesday, May 24.

Talk about your background. Who are you and how do you think that prepares you to become a state senator?

“I am a first-generation American. I was born in Toronto, Canada, to a couple of Jamaican parents who were just trying to find a better life and more opportunity for their kiddos, and grew up in Miami, in a super diverse, pretty much middle-class life.

“When I moved up here, and I ended up going to Emory Law School here and kind of engaging in the legal system.

“That’s where the intersection between politics and people’s everyday lives really started to show themselves. When you have poor policy, or poorly written laws, or laws that don’t focus on how they play out in the day-to-day, it’s us who suffer from that. That was the beginning of it.

“But really, the major catalyst was when I co-founded an organization called the Georgia 55 project. That ended up being the largest grassroots, get-out-the-vote organization here in metro Atlanta.

“Just being able to see what happens when people come together for a common cause, a common goal — what we can achieve, it removes some of the mystique around politics. It showed me that if you have a vision and you cast it well, people are willing to come alongside and help you do that.”

How do you feel about Georgia’s economic and medical response to the COVID-19 pandemic?

“I remember the lack of communication. Communication goes a long way to easing people’s anxiety, easing people in a very tumultuous and uncertain time. The lack of communication from our higher-ups on what the plan was moving forward, how we were going to combat this, how we were going to get to a new normal, really was lacking. That would be number one.

“And then I think secondly, just the partisan nature of all of it. When we’re talking about health, we’re talking about science. We’re talking about facts, and moving everything away from that toward this you’re in one corner and I’m in another corner, and we’re going to discuss everything in a way that’s through a political lens — I don’t think anybody was served by that.”

Republican lawmakers in the state have passed laws loosening gun-carrying restrictions, also known as constitutional carry. They say it can deter crime. Do you support constitutional carry? Why or why not?

“No, I do not support that. There really isn’t — again, we’re talking about facts and science — there really aren’t facts or science that support that the increase in access to guns reduces crime. In actuality, much of the science supports that when there is a gun in a home, there’s actually an increased chance that a member of that home will be injured by that gun. Those things just don’t track and because of that I don’t support that legislation.”

The Supreme Court has recently decided that a Texas law banning abortion after 6 weeks and allowing private citizens to sue someone helping a pregnant person seeking an abortion canstay in place, but abortion providers can challenge the ruling in federal court. Many believe this ruling paves the way for more states — including Georgia with its attempted “heartbeat” bill — to enact laws restricting abortion and ultimately, the overturn of Roe v. Wade. Would you support more restrictive measures on abortion?

“No. Particularly, the law that we’re talking about in Texas is incredibly problematic. It is a direct attempt at getting around constitutional law that’s already been put out by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade and the cases that came after it. Any sort of legislation here in Georgia that mimics that law, I would not support.”

What is your view on Black Lives Matter protests and police/criminal justice reform?

“I actually have a criminology background. I worked in DeKalb County Superior Court over criminal cases for four years, advising my judge on motions, rulings, and case law and so I have a very keen perspective, a specific perspective on that.

“We do have a problem with how our criminal justice system is affecting Black and Brown Atlantans — and that’s Atlantans, Georgians, and nationwide. I think that there is generally consensus that that is a problem, the question becomes how do you actually make a change toward making sure the system is more fair and more just and a thing that we can actually trust the outcomes of?

“So I do support Black Lives Matter and I think they’ve been the folks kind of crying out in the wilderness before 2020 when it became very in vogue to join them in that same cry. But it’s clear that when I’m sitting in my courtroom with my judge, and the majority of the folks who are coming through our courtroom look like me, that even though there’s nothing baked into who we are that would make it like that, it shows that the system itself is producing that result, and we have to change that.”

There have been many stories in the news about worker shortages, but perhaps not as many stories about the reasons why millions of Americans quit their jobs in record numbers last fall, including many Georgians. Many who quit cited poor treatment and pay at their workplace. What would you do as a State Senator to improve working Georgians’ economic conditions so that they return to work?

“There is a question as to what role the Georgia Department of Labor can play in actually fielding these legitimate complaints from workers in Georgia. That’s first and foremost, making sure that we have an enforcement provision to hold employers accountable for how they’re treating their employees. But when you speak to folks about why they left their jobs — and during COVID, they had an opportunity to kind of sit and really think about their quality of life — it comes down to wages, in a lot of cases, wages and benefits.

“The idea that we still are not expanding Medicaid here in Georgia and allowing folks access to health care — that’s a biggie right there that we can do to help. Then also working toward creating a thriving economy that allows employers to pay an actual living wage to their workers would really go a long way in workers feeling like they’re being adequately compensated and want to stay at those jobs.”

What is your view on environmental issues?

“Well, I do believe climate change exists. It is not a hoax. It is a real thing and we are experiencing the effects of not taking climate change seriously. Look at the massive weather events that we experience here and throughout the country each year that gets bigger and bigger. I’m from Florida, so that’s hurricane land and I experienced that growing up. I would say along with affordable housing, climate change is one of those things that there comes a point where it’s too late and we are very quickly approaching the point of no return there.”

Many working Georgians in the metro area say that there isn’t enough affordable housing and rent costs continue to skyrocket while wages remain low. What is your view on adding more affordable housing to the district?

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“I agree, I do hear that from folks about affordable housing, not just on ‘I can’t afford to purchase a home,’ but the lesser kind of focus of folks of, ‘I can’t afford to rent a safe and affordable place,’ either. The issue is throughout the entire metro area and I think there are a couple of avenues we need to explore.

“One is that governmental entities own land, and that land can be used to build affordable housing. We need to be more aggressive about that. I’m a real estate agent, so I know that a lot of the cost of building is in just getting the land itself and so there’s a way to kind of help that along.

“We also have a problem with vouchers in the metro area. The wait for housing vouchers is very long for folks who are looking for assistance in rent. Then when they do get a voucher, it’s very difficult to get a landlord to accept a voucher. I think we need to reduce the stigma that comes with those renters and show landlords why accepting tenants with vouchers is actually good business. It’s guaranteed income for your home. I don’t think that’s being driven home and communicated clearly to landlords.”

What is your view on education?

“I think we’ve got a big problem with not fully funding education in Georgia. The governor in his proposed budget for this fiscal year — he did say that he would increase the education budget but that only gets it back up to where we were before we cut it. It doesn’t get us up to actually fully funding it. We need to update our education formula. Specifically, we need to be sure that we are accounting for the effect of poverty on students and gaps in learning due to poverty and a lack of resources. How we fund education is a big way to make up that gap.”

What are your views on SB 202, the voting law which critics on the left say will restrict voting rights for historically marginalized communities?

“I mentioned that I ran a get out the vote organization, so this work is very near and dear to my heart. SB 202 was a big motivating factor for me even jumping into formal politics. Clearly, the law is not serving us as far as making voting easier or more transparent.

“A couple examples [include] absentee ballot boxes. The idea that we are putting them inside of a building that’s only open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. necessarily excludes anyone who has a job, a regular job, from accessing an absentee ballot box. Requiring a photocopy of an ID and saying that that somehow is going to make voting safer or more secure — the idea that a photocopy is going to make things more secure, I can grab my mom’s driver’s license out of her purse right now and make a quick photocopy — it just doesn’t hold water.

“I think the third one that doesn’t get talked about enough — it did at the beginning, but it’s kind of fallen off the radar — is the state takeover provision of elections, the idea that Rob Pitts, the Fulton County Commission is almost the sole thing standing between the state taking over Fulton County’s election board. We need to be making voting easier and not harder, and there is a way to do that that still keeps it safe and secure and reliable. That is not what SB 202 does.”

How do you feel about transportation issues in the district, like the expansion of MARTA?

“There has been recent discussion on creating more connectivity between Cobb County and Atlanta, through MARTA expansion. The way that Atlanta is growing, this kind of goes back to what we were talking about with affordable housing, but folks are having to move farther and farther away from Atlanta’s city center and yet still, that’s where jobs are. We need to make sure that people in Cobb are able to get to their jobs on time and efficiently. The best way to do that is a smart expansion of mass transit.”

What is your view on healthcare issues in Georgia and what would you do to improve them?

“This is an urban and rural issue, access to affordable health care. I think that the fact that we still will not expand Medicaid is leaving money on the table. It doesn’t make money sense and it doesn’t make people sense.

“An easy example as well is our maternal death rate here in Georgia is above the national average. In particular, Black and Brown women are even more susceptible to postnatal death than their white counterparts. We can be expanding Medicaid in a way that actually saves women’s lives. Currently, it covers six months postpartum and the science shows that most of those deaths occur up to a year [postpartum]. Just that six month expansion would save women’s lives. I think we do need an overhaul, but there are also ways that we can make an impact in smaller ways now by doing something like expanding access to Medicaid for women, post-pregnancy.”

Can you talk a little about your endorsers/donors and how much your campaign has raised so far?

“We’re a young campaign, and just getting started, but starting out very strong. We’ve raised over $110,000 and that has been a grassroots raise. There are over 300 donors, and we’re talking just individual, working-class folks. We’re not doing these raises from large corporations or anything like that. It’s really people who want to support, so I’m very happy and proud of that.

“We’re currently working on endorsements. I think that showing how much we’ve been able to raise from everyday people is really speaking to the political establishment. We’re getting noticed, the campaign is getting noticed. Because of that, we’re able to start talking to folks about coming out and endorsing us. Stay tuned for those endorsements.”

How are you reaching out to voters to get your message heard?

“I’m a grassroots organizer, so it’s about getting in front of people and talking to them about what’s important to them. I just had house parties this weekend, where we were meeting with neighbors and had block parties, you know, everybody come over, get a drink, let’s sit down, let’s talk. I can ask questions, you can ask me questions. We’re doing community events as well, going out to our local parks, as spring gets going and the weather gets warmer, to be able to go out to so many festivals that are on the calendar. The main way of getting the word out is talking to people where they are about the things that really matter to them. I find that when I do that, it becomes clear to them that I’m the best person for this position.”

What makes you the best person to represent the 38th district?

“I come from kind of an interesting background. Having a legal background — which currently, we only have one Black female attorney in our legislature — being able to speak to how we craft our laws in grassroots organizing that I’ve done with Georgia 55 Project and with other groups that I’ve worked with in Atlanta, having an ability to bring a coalition of very different people from different backgrounds, races, socio-economic class, all of those things together for a common goal, that’s exactly what politics should be when it’s working well. To be able to bring that to the table, I think is incredibly important.

“I’m a small business owner, I’m a person who just loves Atlanta, and I haven’t been in the political establishment for decades. Just [getting] a perspective [from] somebody who hangs out with her neighbors and goes to community events and sees how regular people live their lives — if we could have more of that in our legislature, I think we would have more things passed that actually affect people’s day to day lives and makes them better.”

Is there anything else important not mentioned here that you would like to make sure voters know about you and/or your campaign?

“Sure. I think that it’s important to know that District 38 has not been properly represented for years. We’re an incredibly diverse district with a lot of wonderful people who have a right to have their voice, their needs represented at the Dome. To me, that’s one of the most important things about this race, is the idea that District 38 has not had a voice for years, and I want to change that.”

To learn more about Bray and her campaign, visit her website.

Arielle Robinson is a student at Kennesaw State University. She is the current president of the university’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and former editor at the KSU Sentinel.  She enjoys music, reading poetry and non-fiction books and collecting books and records. She enjoys all kinds of music and reading poetry and non-fiction books.

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