By Arielle Robinson
Wednesday afternoon, the Courier spoke over the phone with Michael Carson, a Democratic candidate for Georgia’s State Senate District 38 seat, about his campaign.
Carson is one of three Democrats challenging State Senator Horacena Tate, who first took office in 1999.
District 38 covers parts of Cobb and Fulton Counties.
The primary is Tuesday, May 24.
To check out other candidates the Courier has spoken to, please click here.
Talk about your background. Who are you and how do you think that prepares you to become a state senator?
“My name is Michael Carson, I’m a U.S. Air Force veteran and a 30-year paralegal. I currently work for the YMCA of the USA’s corporate office. I’m a dad, I’m a husband of nearly 30 years, and I’m a community advocate.
“For me, [being a community advocate] began when I was at the age of seven years old. I had the fortunate opportunity to serve my family and help save my sisters from an apartment fire. We were born to teen parents. Our parents are what we now call essential workers, they had to leave me alone with my sisters to babysit them while they go out and work. I was seven years old, my sisters were five and four, and our apartment caught on fire while we were in it.
“I was able to navigate them to another room and help basically save all of our lives by putting a towel at the door and stopping the smoke from coming in. Luckily, people downstairs saw it and called the fire department. They saw the blaze coming from the apartment and came and we were rescued.
“But from that point on, I have had the opportunity to serve our country as I mentioned as an Air Force veteran, I served the faith community for a number of years. Throughout all of that time, I served the community in different capacities, particularly those who are underserved and underrepresented. A Senate seat for me is a people’s seat — it’s an opportunity for me to serve the community at a higher level. And that’s really what I’ve been about my entire life.”
How do you feel about Georgia’s economic and medical response to the COVID-19 pandemic? Can anything be handled better?
“COVID-19 is a global health crisis, and I think when it happened and when we were told that it was before us in 2020, it became a political football and our governor treated it like a political football instead of a global health crisis.
“Instead, he focused on his political party and put businesses above worker safety and really pitted the two against each other, as well as teachers and schools and children in schools. COVID has become and it’s still a political football and not treated as a global health crisis.
“I think it highlighted for us as a community our hospital crisis, our healthcare crisis, and put our first responders and doctors and nurses in harm’s way. The better way it could have been handled I think is for it to be treated as a health crisis, that we follow the science, follow the mandates and rules from the CDC, and if we had to lock down for whatever period we need to lock down so that we can control it, we do that. And again, provide our doctors and our healthcare professionals with the necessary equipment.
“But I think a better way it could have been handled is to treat it as a health crisis and not something from an economic standpoint. I think the economics, as we have seen over the last few years, it’s fluctuated and people still haven’t come back to work or some people decided they weren’t going to work anymore, so things have changed. Some businesses might say that they’re doing better but there are a number of businesses who are still searching for employees to bring back to the fold.”
Republican lawmakers in the state are in the process of passing 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?
“I’m a gun owner and I have a concealed carry permit. Nonetheless, I do not support this constitutional carry law. I am for stricter gun laws that include background checks and safety measures and perhaps possibly an age restriction to own a gun.
“There’s a proliferation of guns in the U.S. already and gun violence is still what it is. Politicians and mayors, councilpersons, people in the community talk about gun violence all the time. There are already enough guns, and to give people an opportunity just to walk around brazenly and carry a gun or conceal a gun that they may have on them I think is irresponsible.
“What I’m even more concerned about is our schools and how that will play out and how gun violence can affect our schools and our children. To me, loosening gun laws will not deter crime.”
The Supreme Court in December decided that a Texas law banning abortion after 6 weeks and allowing private citizens to sue someone helping a pregnant person seeking an abortion can stay 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, I would not. I don’t support any restrictive measures on abortion. I’m a pro-choice candidate and I believe that a woman’s reproductive decisions should be between her and her doctor, not me as a legislator, not oftentimes males who are deciding women’s reproductive rights.
“The Supreme Court has said that Roe v. Wade is the settled law. I don’t think we should allow state laws to undermine that. Right now we have someone who’s been nominated to be a Supreme Court justice and all you hear throughout the nomination is ‘follow the Constitution, follow the Constitution, follow the law, what does she feel about the law?’
“Well this is the law, and these same individuals on a federal and state level are trying to undermine the very thing they’re wanting people in the judiciary to follow. They want to make sure that [she follows] the Constitution, yet they want to continue to change it. I’m pro-choice and again, I think it should be up to a woman and her doctor and not legislators.”
What is your view on Black Lives Matter protests and police/criminal justice reform?
“I’ve been a criminal justice advocate now for more than 30 years and I still support criminal justice reform. I support the Black Lives Matter protesters and I’ve participated in marches and online campaigns to bring awareness to police misconduct.
“However, I do not support defunding the police. I think some of the premises behind it were okay, but the messaging was wrong. I’m not for getting rid of police. However, I do support the tenets of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which hold law enforcement personnel accountable for misconduct.
“I’m for doing away with qualified immunity. I think we need to improve transparency through data collection about police misconduct, and I think we need to reform police training and policies to get rid of things like no-knock warrants and chokeholds.
“In 2016 and 2017, I volunteered with the Cobb County Public Safety organization within the district to help the Cobb police review and offer recommendations for improvements to their police training guide around things such as implicit bias and how they should deal with mental health and people with mental health challenges. So yes, I support Black Lives Matter. I support police reform in the way that is described in the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.”
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?
“We give a lot of tax breaks to corporations and companies, but those tax breaks don’t necessarily filter down into equitable and better opportunities for their employees. I think we need to hold them accountable, I don’t think it should just be if you get a tax break upfront that you get a tax break throughout your ability to operate here in the state.
“If you’re getting a tax break and your employees are standing in line because they have to get money from the state because you aren’t paying them enough or the working conditions are such that they can’t work there, then I think that’s a problem. We should not just give blanket tax breaks to corporations.
“The other thing is Georgia’s an at-will state, which means workers can be fired without any reason. Because of that, workers are therefore at the mercy of an employer. They’re subject to possible unfair treatment and being underpaid associated with what that employers’ mandate is. I will support and help to write any and all laws that will provide more protections for working families and support any laws that will protect unions and workers’ rights to form a union.”
What is your view on environmental issues?
“There have been so many scientists, so many studies have been done that say climate change is a real thing. Climate change is real and I believe them.
“I think our responsibility as legislators and as just good citizens is to make sure that we do what we can to change the policies and measures that will help to reduce something as simple as vehicle emissions.
“We have to reduce our dependency on oil and gas and we have to control waste. Whatever measures that we can put in place to support the EPA and other environmental agencies that are saying these are the things that will help to control climate change, then we must do it, we must work hand-in-hand. Because without this planet where would we be?”
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?
“Affordable housing in most communities across the country is a critical need. Wages are stagnant while housing costs continue to go up. I support adding more affordable housing within the district, but I think it has to be coupled with community development as well.
“I’ve recently attended meetings within a district [featuring] developers who want to bring what they call affordable housing but there are no wraparound services there. There are no shops, there are no restaurants, there’s barely any transportation. So just putting up quote-unquote affordable housing for the sake of putting up affordable housing simply will not benefit the community. We have to make sure that there are measures and there are things around the community such that the community can grow and thrive.
“We can also do it in a way where you have a mixed-use community, whereby you have some individuals in the community who have to follow the AMI model of what they’re able to afford according to the standards set by HUD and then we can couple that with having fair market value properties within the community as well as some opportunities for seniors.
“I think if we look at models whereby we can incorporate some or all of that, then we have the affordable housing we need. We help to keep the community sustainable in such a way that it will be a long-lasting community. I think it bodes the community well and the district well by having a mixed-use community and not just having a quote-unquote affordable housing community with nothing around it.”
What is your view on education?
“I support public education and believe that it must be fully funded. I do not support public funds going to private schools or school choice. When you underfund a public school and you end up closing that school — and I’ve seen it over a number of years — it’s a detriment to the community.
“Then the people, that community doesn’t thrive all because you’ve now taken a viable resource out. I think we ought to fully fund our public schools, we ought to support them, we ought to provide the wraparound services we need in the community such that the community thrives, the children who go to school thrive, and ultimately, overall, it’s a better place for everyone. I completely support public schools.”
“SB 202 and similar laws across the country are simply what they are — they’re voter suppression laws designed to restrict voters’ rights. One of the most egregious aspects of that law is for the state to take over a county board of elections if the body doesn’t agree with the outcome. I think we really have to pay attention to this. This must never happen.
“The will of the people, the will of the voters must always out rule the will of individuals who are operating on conspiracy theories or are desiring to steal elections. I will vehemently support any law that will make voting equitable for all people.
“What I mean by that is same-day registration and no excuse mail-in ballots. [SB 202 is] the law now, and I say now. We can always change that law if we get the right people in office. I think it’s incumbent upon us to educate and inform the constituents within the district of the pitfalls and to make sure that they understand what they are and how to navigate around them.”
How do you feel about transportation issues in the district?
“Transportation issues have been going on for a long time within the district. Transportation should and could improve with the expansion, in my opinion, of MARTA. There are communities and pockets within Cobb and the City of South Fulton, which is within the district, without any viable transportation at all.
“I would support legislation that would expand transportation options with more involvement from GDOT. But in order to improve the community and economic development that I talked about a little bit earlier, there have to be viable transportation options, in my opinion, that will not contribute to polluting the community.
“And, of course, it will probably be put to a referendum and voters and other counties have said they don’t want to pay increased taxes, even a penny or half a cent tax. But we have to look at it not just from an increased tax purpose, but we have to look at it from a community development and economic development perspective such that our communities can continue to thrive.”
What is your view on healthcare issues in Georgia and what would you do to improve them?
“We’re in a healthcare care crisis in District 38 and I would venture to say in a number of counties within this state there are not enough quality hospitals, urgent cares, and medical options to service the community, especially in pockets of Fulton County.
“In most cases, if an ambulance was needed, those in need would one have to wait for them to get there, and then transport them a long distance back to Grady. That’s just unacceptable.
“I think one way to address it on a state level is to examine our certificate of need process for hospitals and possibly streamline it more.
We must continue to fight daily to expand Medicaid. We just have to so that everyone in every economic background will have some access to quality health care. Part of that, for me, also is championing ways to lower prescription drug prices to help relieve the financial burden of our constituents, especially our seniors. I definitely believe that we need to expand Medicaid, but we need to also do some other things in addition to it.”
Can you talk a little about your endorsers/donors and how much your campaign has raised so far?
“We’ve received endorsements from city council persons within the City of South Fulton and surrounding communities. We have legal and public safety professionals who are endorsing our campaign. We have community advocates and constituents alike who desperately want a change who are supporting. I also have some people from the faith community who are supporting our campaign.
“With respect to how much we’ve raised, we have a budget, we’re raising money, and we’ll continue to meet the challenge that was set before us with our budget as we continue this campaign. There’s still a number of days left to go and we’re continuing to raise money on a daily basis.”
How are you reaching out to voters to get your message heard?
“We place signs, we’re using social media, we have phone bankers, we have canvassers, text message, email. We’re using all tools that are available to us to reach the voters.
“We’re also showing up in the community. I think it’s important not just to be someone on the outside, someone in the community to vote for, but also showing up, I had a meeting earlier with a constituent from the faith community who’s very much interested and will be supporting our campaign because he believes it’s time for a change in our district.”
What makes you the best person to represent the 38th district?
“This is the way I’m looking at it. I have served in both Cobb County and Fulton County, within the district for the past almost eight years. I have been visible and I have a viable footprint of service within the community — some would say more than the incumbent.
“No public servant can effectively serve his constituents if he or she is not engaged and active within the district. It’s a void that I’m filling and it’s one that I hope to fill as the next state senator. There’s some tough things that need to be done. There’s some tough conversations that need to be had. I’m already having those conversations, I’m already in the room with our local leaders. I think this is what’s important. This is what will set me apart, I think, and make me best to represent the community.
“It’s not about the 40 days that you’re in the legislative session. Those days are important, but it’s about those other 325 days where you’re actively engaged with the community from the bottom up — where you’re meeting people in the HOAs, you’re meeting with the county commissioners and the mayors and the council persons to see how collaboratively we can best make the district better. So it’s not just about me. It’s about what am I doing year round to make sure that constituents hear from me, see me, and know that I’m working on their behalf.”
Is there anything else important not mentioned here that you would like to make sure voters know about you and/or your campaign?
“Servant leadership is at the core of who I am and what I will bring to this district. I’ve been about that my entire life. State Senate District 38 is the people’s seat and any seat that any elected official holds is the people’s seat.
“The people deserve a visible and viable leader that they can count on, someone that they will see, someone that they know that was working hard for them on a continuous basis. That’s what they will get from me — nothing more, and nothing less.”
To learn more about Carson, you can visit his website.