Q & A with Titus Nichols, Democratic candidate for Georgia State Senate District 37

Titus Nichols in suit and tie, headshotTitus Nichols (photo courtesy of Titus Nichols)

By Arielle Robinson

The Courier spoke over the phone with Titus Nichols, a Democratic hopeful for Georgia State Senate District 37, about his campaign and background.

Nichols announced his run early last month.

Sen. Lindsey Tippins is the incumbent and announced that he will not seek reelection.

Five candidates, Democrat and Republican, are running for this seat.

Among them include current Republican Georgia House Rep. Ed Setzler, whose term in District 35 ends at the beginning of 2023.

Senate District 37 covers the northwest portion of Cobb County and extends into southeast Bartow County.

The primary is Tuesday, May 24.

Talk about your background. Who are you?

“My name is Titus Nichols. My wife’s name is Stephanie and my daughter’s name is Harmony. We live here in Marietta. I grew up in a single-parent household and that kind of shaped the issues that I think are important to the people in Georgia and my district.

“Professionally, I’m a lawyer. I own my own law firm, Nichols Injury Law. I also serve in the Army. I’m a captain in the Georgia Army National Guard, where I’m a JAG officer, or a Judge Advocate General. I’m a legal advisor to senior military commanders. And I also serve as an adjunct professor at the University of Georgia School of Law.

“I’m running because I believe that Cobb is changing. I first moved to Cobb when I was in undergrad, I went to Morehouse College for undergrad and I lived in Mableton. The Cobb of today is not the same as the Cobb of 20 years ago, and so Cobb is changing and we can either embrace that change or we can be consumed by it. I’m running so I can help make the change positive for Cobb, particularly west Cobb.”

How do you feel about Georgia’s economic and medical response to the COVID-19 pandemic? Could anything be handled better?

“I think what Georgia could have better handled is just not being so quick to open back up and to just recognize that this is a deadly pandemic and that it should not become a political battle over something as simple as wearing a mask. I feel like that whole back and forth between politicians was unnecessary. The science is very clear — wearing a mask helps. So why would you pass a law saying that the government could not tell someone to put on a mask?

“And then the fact that Governor Kemp had to withdraw his lawsuit against the city of Atlanta kind of demonstrates that it wasn’t a good strategy to begin with. So I believe that it became a politicized issue when it should not have been. The focus from both sides should have been what is in the best interests of the people of Georgia, not trying to score political points.”

Republican lawmakers in the state have been able to push through constitutional carry. It allows for concealed carry without a permit and proponents say it can deter crime. Do you support constitutional carry? Why or why not?

“As a former prosecutor and as a soldier, I take gun rights very seriously. I have taught gun owners about the gun laws of Georgia so that they would be able to know what their rights are. I’ve even stood up in court and fought on behalf of people who exercised their Second Amendment right and defended themselves, so I take gun rights very seriously.

“However, I feel like the problem with the various gun issues in Georgia is the fact that the real problem comes down to irresponsible gun owners and people who aren’t supposed to have guns in the first place. The constitutional carry issue — not requiring anyone to go get a permit before they have a concealed weapon — that’s not going to stop crime.

“It really isn’t, because if that was the case, people having guns would have stopped crime a long time ago. What we need to focus on is, are we making sure that the people who do have guns — are they responsible and law-abiding gun owners? That’s what the emphasis should be. I don’t understand why there is this negative view of the responsibility of getting a concealed carry permit. It’s not a burden to get, it’s not as if the government’s trying to hinder you from exercising your right to protect yourself, your home, or your family. I just see it as a political ploy that’s not really going to solve anything.”

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 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?

“I don’t support the abortion bill that was signed into law by Governor Kemp that would have outlawed abortion after six weeks. In fact, I’ve spoken to local news channels about the legal issues with that law. I didn’t support it then and I don’t support it now.

“And I don’t support more restrictive laws because what will end up happening is that the more restrictive laws that are created — it’s not going to decrease the number of abortions — it’s going to decrease the number of safe abortions. Women are still going to have abortions, the problem is if they can’t go to a legitimate medical provider, they’re going to go to an illegitimate medical provider. I believe that the decision to have an abortion needs to be between a woman and her doctor, not a bunch of old men down at the state capitol.”

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

“As a former prosecutor, I believe that reform is important, whether it’s criminal justice reform, whether it’s police reform. I believe that the peaceful protests that we all saw across the country after the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery was the country’s response to the murder of unarmed individuals, unarmed Black people and just the refusal to address this ongoing, systemic problem of racism and police brutality.

“I support law enforcement, I don’t believe that defunding them is the answer because all it’s going to do is lead to good police officers leaving law enforcement, and we’re going to be stuck with the bad apples that caused the problems in the first place.

“I think here in Cobb County we have a great example [of criminal justice reform]. We have the sheriff’s office that is working with the community and is integrating mental health professionals into their responses to different calls. So instead of it being a situation where an officer might think use of force is appropriate, they will have options of ‘okay, well, this person obviously has a mental health issue, how can we address it so that we keep the community safe,’ and also keep the officer safe?”

There have been many stories in the news about worker shortages, but perhaps not as many stories about the reasons whymillions of Americans quit their jobs in record numberslast 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?

“One issue that I think is very important that has led to a lot of people leaving the workforce is childcare. If you are the primary caregiver you have to decide, ‘am I going to spend what really amounts to a rent or mortgage payment in daycare? Or is it going to be cheaper for me to stay home and care for my children?’

“I think as a state if we really want to empower workers and employers we will do more to expand affordable childcare, we’ll expand universal pre-K because number one, the state benefits because our children will be educated much earlier. Number two, workers will benefit because they now know that there’s someplace for their children to be educated while they return to work, versus ‘I have to pay a lot of money for daycare and it’s much cheaper for me just to stay home.’ So while at first blush, it might seem like what does childcare have to do with the workforce in Georgia, if you look at a lot of the reasons why people do leave the workforce, childcare is one of the main reasons.”

What is your view on environmental issues?

“I believe that climate change is real. The consensus is pretty obvious. The question is what can we as a people do to address it? Realistically, there’s no way you can get people to stop driving cars or get factories to shut down, that would devastate the economy. But what we can do is take different steps that will help the environment or that will encourage the use of resources that are not as taxing on the environment.

“I talked about how the Cobb of today is different than the Cobb of 20 years ago. Twenty years ago, you never saw electric carports at Kroger or anything like that. I think 20 years ago, one of the newest technologies was a hybrid vehicle. Now we’re seeing more and more manufacturers producing electric vehicles, which I think is going to be very important as far as helping to reduce the demand and consumption of traditional fossil fuels for transportation.”

What is your view on adding more affordable housing to the district?

“I think we have to define what affordable housing is. Unfortunately, there’s this negative connotation that when you say affordable housing, people think of low value apartment complexes with violence and drugs and all the types of things. When I think of the phrase ‘affordable housing,’ I think of housing that’s affordable for say, a school teacher, or a police officer, or firefighter.

“I think that it is a very significant problem that you have men and women who put their lives on the line every single day to serve in law enforcement to protect Cobb County, but because of housing prices they can’t afford to live in Cobb County. I live near Cheatham Hill Elementary. Let’s say there’s a school teacher there that lives in Paulding County. How dedicated or how willing is that teacher going to be to stay after school and go the extra mile to help the students if they’ve got like a 40 minute drive to go back home because they can’t afford to live in Cobb County?

“So the issue of affordable housing isn’t just for low income people. It’s for the people that we depend upon every day to educate our families and to protect us. I think that while the government cannot be the entire solution, there needs to be more emphasis on government and private partnership that can help provide opportunities for like I said, housing that’s affordable for government employees so that you can live next door to a police officer or a firefighter.”

The incumbent for the seat you’re running for, Sen. Lindsey Tippins, sponsored HB 826, for the creation of a “city-lite” in west Cobb known as Lost Mountain. One of your rivals for this seat, current Rep. Ed Setzler, signed on as a sponsor of this bill as well. Proponents of Lost Mountain say that there will be no tax increases and seem concerned about crowded schools and crime. Opponents of the referendum say taxes will increase, the cost of the city is grossly underestimated, and even went so far as to file a lawsuit claiming that the city charter was unconstitutional. Where do you stand on the issue of creating the city of Lost Mountain?

“I think the problem with Lost Mountain is that the entire issue has been based upon misinformation and just a plain lack of facts. The proponents for Lost Mountain have not provided clear information. They have not provided reliable numbers. They have not provided this community the information they need to make a good decision. I understand that proponents are saying that they can run everything on a budget of $9 million, but the reality does not support that.

“If created, the city of Lost Mountain will have a population of 72,000 citizens. That will make it the 11th largest city in the state of Georgia. Where else have you ever seen a city covering 72,000 people that was ran on a budget of $9 million? That feasibility study that was created is pure speculation. As a business owner, there is no way I would make a long term business decision based off a feasibility study of one year — a feasibility study that when you look at the specifics, it repeatedly says we don’t know how much this is going to cost.

“Peachtree Corners, which is a city that’s referred to repeatedly within the feasibility study, is not a good example. When Peachtree Corners was suggested, it was suggested that the city could be ran on a budget of about $760,000. After the vote passed, the proponents came back and said, well, actually, it’s going to cost $2.7 million to run the city.

“The problem that I have with Lost Mountain is that number one, it’s being rushed to be placed on the May ballot when there’s a much lower turnout than compared to November in the general election. Number two, the numbers are not realistic. And number three, there’s just a lot of private, undisclosed financial support pushing this project. So I for one cannot come to any type of support for this until there’s just been more transparency and more realistic numbers presented.”

What is your view on education?

“I think here in Georgia, we are not meeting our obligation of fully funding our public schools. QBE has only been fully funded maybe a handful of times since it was created in the 80s and the fact that we’re running off the formula from the 80s is a problem in itself. Of the budget of Georgia, we spend roughly about $10 billion a year on education. Here in Cobb, we have a great public school system, however, Cobb is growing. We have to ensure that our school system and our teachers continue to be fully funded so that the quality won’t drop as the population increases. I feel like there’s more that we can do to ensure that our school system here continues to be fully funded.”

What are your views onSB 202, the voting law which critics on the left say willrestrict voting rightsfor historically marginalized communities?

“Quite frankly, SB 202 is the modern version of Jim Crow. It is designed to frustrate and to make it harder for people to vote. The biggest problem with the bill is that it’s not just going to hurt people of color or young people, it’s going to hurt all voters. If you look at one issue in particular — the absentee drop boxes — between Cobb, DeKalb, and Fulton, SB 202 has decreased the number of drop boxes from about 87 down to about 23, give or take a few boxes.

“That is a significant hindrance to free and fair elections if the number of boxes has been reduced to one box for every 100,000 citizens. Here in Cobb, we have over 700,000 citizens, so that means there’s roughly only about seven drop boxes in the whole county. What it used to be is you could go drop off your mail-in ballot at any dropbox very easily and very conveniently. Now, you have to travel to one of the few dropbox sites, park your car, get out, go into the building, wait in line, and then hand it to someone to be placed in the box — and you can only do it during the hours that the facility is open.

“So if you’re one of the people who works non-traditional hours, you’re just out of luck, because you might not be able to access that ballot box. And some people are saying, ‘oh, well look at how SB 202 is extending certain days and giving more time.’ It is cutting in half the amount of time that people have to vote early. It is cutting in half the amount of time people have to register to vote and it’s making it much more difficult. So I believe SB 202 is doing nothing but frustrating the free and fair elections of the citizens in Cobb and it’s going to hurt all voters.”

There have been debates throughout the years of expanding MARTA throughout Cobb. How do you feel about transportation issues in the district?

“I don’t see a MARTA train expanding out to Mars Hill Road or Dallas Highway anytime soon. I do think that we can look for solutions that can expand the access to bus systems or things of that matter. I think we have to have a very deliberate and directed approach to expanding transportation because the transportation needs of west Cobb are totally different than the transportation needs of say south Cobb or east Cobb. So you can’t just use a one size fits all approach. I do say that we should continue to work with the regional transportation authorities on what solutions we can provide to those of west Cobb but no, I don’t see a train ending up in west Cobb any time soon.”

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

“Georgia needs to do better in regards to healthcare. We are last in mental health service treatment. That’s pretty much a well known fact, that Georgia ranks last in access to mental health. But more importantly, we have over half a million Georgia citizens that could be covered if we expanded Medicaid. In fact, 25,000 of those citizens live here in Cobb County alone. All we have to do is accept the $3.2 billion the federal government has provided to us and we could expand access to those citizens.

“When I was growing up, my mother never had to make a decision between either taking us to the doctor or paying the light bill. That’s because she had affordable health insurance. We as a state need to do more to provide access to affordable health insurance. And that’s the key. Every Georgian deserves access to affordable health insurance. There’s no reason why we as a state just sit by and see people unprotected and then just say, ‘well, if you don’t have health insurance that’s on you.’ So there’s absolutely more that we can do.”

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

“People need to know who their elected officials are. People need to know who their state senator is. An unfortunate reality is that as I go around the district and I ask a lot of people ‘do you know who your state senator is?,’ most people have no idea. They get the state senator confused with the state representative confused with the county commissioner. [In my experience], more people know who their county commissioner is than they know who their state senator is and that’s a problem.

“To get my name out there to the community, I have reached out to traditional media to let people know that I am running for office, I’m on just about every social media platform. I have also gone to where the voters are. I have gone to the Big Shanty festival, I enjoyed spending time there speaking with voters. I’ve gone to Democratic Party events.

“I’ve also gone to public townhall forums, the most recent one was a town hall held by Commissioner Keli Gambrill to discuss the issue of Lost Mountain. I went there and I was able to talk to voters to hear what they had to say. And I think as politicians, that’s a problem we have, is that we’ll go to a public event just so we can give a speech. We need to go and just simply sit there and listen — listen to what the people have to say, listen to what they’re angry about, as opposed to well, let me walk on up to the microphone and give my speech and then run out of there.”

What makes you the best person to represent the 37th district?

“I’m the best person to represent this district because number one, I didn’t come from a privileged background and so I understand the issues that Georgians go through when they want to provide for their family. How much is it going to cost to provide health insurance for my family? How much is it going to cost to keep a roof over everyone’s head? I understand those issues because I’m working every single day to provide for my family.

“I also am a lawyer. That gives me a special understanding of the law, how the law works, how the law is supposed to be used as a tool to protect and uplift the community, not as a tool to frustrate their attempts to vote. I’m running particularly as a Democrat because I believe that we are supposed to use the government to look out for the lost and the left behind. That is what we should be doing as government officials, not using the law for our own benefit or trying to push through special interest projects such as Lost Mountain without providing a lot of information or a lot of facts or relevant numbers.

“I also serve in the military, I understand service. I understand what it means to serve a calling that is bigger than yourself. I have been a prosecutor for many years, so I’ve represented people who have been victims of violent crimes. I’ve been a private attorney where I’ve stood up in court and fought to protect people’s Constitutional rights. So my entire professional background is about service. That is why I believe I’m the best qualified person to represent this district in the state senate.”

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

“I think it’s important that people recognize how important elections are. Yes, we have a very historic election with Stacey Abrams and Raphael Warnock on the ballot but people need to understand that there are other races down ballot that they need to pay special attention to. Because as important as the US Senate and the gubernatorial races are, your state senator is very important as well, as far as fighting for your interests. And that is what I plan on doing as a state senator, is fighting for my constituents the same way I have always fought on behalf of my clients in any other endeavor I’ve gone through.”

To learn more about Nichols, visit his website.

Arielle Robinson is a student at Kennesaw State University. She also freelances for the Atlanta-Journal Constitution and is the former president of KSU’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists as well as a former CNN intern. She enjoys music, reading, and live shows.