Q&A with Euriel Hemmerly, Democratic candidate for state Senate District 33

Euriel HemmerlyEuriel Hemmerly (photo provided by the candidate)

By Arielle Robinson

The Courier had a phone conversation with Democratic hopeful for Georgia State Senate District 33, Euriel Hemmerly.

Hemmerly hopes to unseat incumbent Sen. Michael Rhett, who was first elected in 2014. Hemmerly is Rhett’s first challenger since he was first elected.

Hemmerly is a realtor, Nigerian immigrant, and serves on the Facilities and Technology Citizens Oversight Committee, which oversees the Cobb County School District’s SPLOST projects.

District 33 covers parts of Marietta, Smyrna, the Mableton area, and Powder Springs.

Hemmerly discussed her background and campaign below.

Briefly talk about your background. Who are you and why did you decide to run for this seat?

“I think for me everything started with the pandemic and seeing what our community has gone through and what I’ve gone through myself. I truly believe that the community deserves someone who knows what they’re going through to represent them.

“Seeing the loss of a loved one and my community losing their businesses pretty much reflects my own story of losing my husband during the pandemic. His loss tells me that it’s time to give back to the community that’s given me so much.

“Losing my business, losing my husband, having my dad in a wheelchair — everything happening within two years shows me that there’s so many people in our community that’s going through the same thing that I’m going through.

“And the best way to serve people is by actually knowing what people are going through. That gives you the strength to fight because you have clear knowledge of what you’re fighting for. You’re able to relate to what your community is going through because you are actually going through it.

“As a real estate agent, when I’m in my community and I’m talking to people, I hear them and I serve them. But the best way to serve my community is by being able to make policies that can actually change what’s going on right now.

“My objective is to create policies that are going to help people who are losing their homes, create policies that are going to help people who are losing their businesses, create policies that’s going to help people who cannot get healthcare — everything is about policy.

“That’s why I made the choice to run — I get it because I’m going through the same things that my community is going through. It’s easy to fight for something you have knowledge of, so it’s not really politics for me, it’s the focus of fighting for my community.

“Through working hard and determination, I was able to build a life in Cobb County, owning my business and working on it for over 20 years.

“I understand what it takes to build and I’ll understand what it takes to bridge gaps. I understand the diversity that we have in our county and I think I’m the true image of that diversity. It’s about policy that is going to help the people of Cobb County, no matter their race, their gender, or their party.”

What are three top issues you see affecting residents within this district?

“The first issue is small business owners without access to resources. Some of them could not even secure PPP loans and eventually, some of them ended up losing their business and losing everything. Small business owners are a top issue for me.

“Healthcare is also a top issue. Many families are overwhelmed when they are not supported by the healthcare system. I support expanding Medicaid, I think healthcare should be a right. It is easier for you to get access to healthcare in Canada than in the United States. If you don’t have a job that you are working for 40 hours, you don’t have healthcare. I don’t know how we can say we love our citizens but we’re not able to provide them with the most important thing — health — which is healthcare.

“Also, our schools, our teachers. We have teachers in schools who are so overwhelmed with different issues and we’re not even paying our teachers enough. Our teachers must be paid what they deserve.”

Briefly talk about some of the community work you have done in Cobb. How do you think this work can cross over into you becoming a state senator?

“I believe you do community work because it’s your heart, a principle of living is giving back. I’ve worked with MUST Ministries. I’m a real estate agent with Keller Williams Cityside and we do toy drives, where all the agents bring out toys to people who don’t have any toys. We have families that come by and pick up toys.

“My son is 20 years old now, going on 21, and I would always take him to feed the hungry every Thanksgiving. There was a tradition in my family that every year, no matter what, Thanksgiving is not something we celebrate in our house, we have to go out there and work and give our time.

“Within my local African Art and Culture [group], what I’ve done throughout the pandemic is actually make face masks. My husband, son, and I would make hundreds and hundreds of face masks and we donated them to Chick-fil-A. We would also donate face masks to Home Depot, to the few people that we know, the employees. We wanted to keep our county safe.

“I used to own a boutique in Cobb and with my boutique, I had a lot of material. So during the pandemic when my shop was closed, we had all this beautiful material with African prints, and being home for a long period of time [during the pandemic], my family decided that what we needed to do is use our time and give back. We gave [masks] to people in the medical field, doctors and nurses, friends, church members.

“I’m a member of the Smyrna Business Association and we’ve done fundraising for Campbell High School students to help them pay towards their colleges.

“This is what I’ve done for over 20 years, working with our community and giving back.”

You are a realtor. Within the past couple of months, the Cobb BOC has accepted millions of dollars in Emergency Rental Assistance funds to help those struggling with rent due to the pandemic. Still, some people struggle to get that assistance and face eviction and possible homelessness. As someone with experience working in the housing market and who describes themself as an advocate for the homeless, how do you think as an elected official you can help create opportunities for people to find an affordable place to live?

“What I’ve seen [as a real estate agent] is friends and neighbors continuing to face eviction and losing their equities and savings that they have in their home, and it saddens me. In real estate there’s something we call fiduciary duty, where your job is to do the best you can for your clients.

“And as a community leader, the goal is to do the best I can for my community, so imagine how I feel when I see my neighbors losing their homes, losing their savings, and losing their equity — it’s troubling.

“But the truth of the matter is that there’s no policy in place that fixes this problem that we’re having. There’s no policy in place that protects someone that’s going through losing their home. And people always say ‘well there’s funds,’ but I say it’s one thing to provide funds and say, ‘apply for this to assist you with your home.’

“You have to create an advocate to assist the homeowner through the process of obtaining those funds. Some homeowners due to COVID don’t even have access to computers, to Wi-Fi. For you to be able to apply for those funds or assistance you need a computer.

“I think when a fund is created to assist homeowners or assist renters, I truly believe that we should implement something like an advocacy program. This means when someone goes and applies for assistance for their home or rent, immediately, that person should be assigned an advocate that will walk you through that process of how to obtain the funds.

“Our community also needs policies to fix unfair eviction practices and increase access to affordable housing. A person who is facing eviction can’t purchase a home in the current metro housing market or even afford current rentals, because when you’re already facing eviction, how are you going to be able to afford to rent? Now, renting is even more expensive than anything.

“We should have also a policy that modifies credit reports to avoid handicapping somebody who has suffered an eviction due to the pandemic or things beyond their control. With this pandemic, a lot of people have lost their businesses, a lot of people have lost their homes — can you imagine having in your credit report that you’ve lost your home?

“That would pretty much cripple you. It’s going to affect your credit report or something you want to do. Think of all the people who have lost their home that cannot get an apartment because it’s on their credit.

“This pandemic has created so many problems for our community — how do we fix it now? And what is the way forward for us to start building our community back?”

On your website, you say that you want to put a stop to funding special interest groups and that you want to expose public corruption. Can you explain why you believe in these things and what fighting special interest groups and public corruption look like to you?

“My job as a state senator is to serve by advancing the people’s agenda, to serve all the citizens of Cobb County and the state of Georgia. I have a relationship with individuals on both sides of the aisle. I’m committed to a focus on building productive relationships that serve the citizens across all of Georgia.

“I believe everyone has value and should be treated fairly, regardless of their race, party, or agenda. I focus on what we have in common, rather than what divides us. The reason why I’m saying this, is sometimes when some people get into office, they lose focus of who has elected them.

“When I’m elected by the people in Cobb, I shouldn’t lose focus on why I’ve been elected to that office. Anything other than staying focused on the people who have elected you to serve — you’re not serving the interests of the people. So I tell people, no matter the race, the party, the color, the anything — my focus is the people who have elected me to serve them.

“When I said I focus on what we have in common rather than what divides us, special interests work through lobbyists to provide economic advantages to a specific business, whatever that may be. My focus and my only focus is the people who have elected me to serve them.

“I want to focus on fairness and equality for all of our citizens. I will strongly advocate for much stronger oversight of lobbying because we have to be disciplined enough to stay focused on why we’re in office and the people who elected us to be in the office. We need to be making sure that we’re there to work for the people that elected us because it’s the people’s office.”

A leaked report from the Supreme Court recently revealed that SCOTUS is set to overturn Roe v. Wade. What is your view on the potential rollback of the federal protection of abortion rights?

“This is sensitive to me as a woman and the reason why it’s a very sensitive subject is because no one has the right to make a decision for any woman when it comes to your body. I find it very offensive that someone thinks they have the right to tell another woman what to do with your body.

“This is why I highly suggest that we need to have more women in office, because the thought of someone trying to make a decision for another woman’s body is against the Constitution. My biggest fear with this is when you take the right away from a woman, what rights are you trying to take next? So as a woman I’m totally against [the potential SCOTUS decision].”

There are multiple cityhood referendums that are in the works this election season. If Gov. Kemp signs the bill that the state senate passed, then voters will have an opportunity to vote to establish Mableton as a city this fall. The incumbent for this district voted yes to establishing Mableton as a city. Proponents of cityhood say that people would have greater say over zoning and are focused on economic development. What is your stance on incorporating Mableton as a city?

“I stand by the principle of self-governance. Mableton has expressed its desire to work together to preserve the richness of the history of Mableton, of their own community. I really don’t see why not, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t [become a city].

“Mableton is growing and it’s going to keep growing, and they want to just be able to grow and be prosperous by incorporating it as a city with governmental entities. I support their efforts to promote and sustain their history. There’s no reason not to.”

How are you reaching out to voters to get your message heard? Where can they find you?

“There is the website and our Facebook. They can communicate with the campaign by website. Our Instagram is @electeuriel4ga.

“Pretty much we are moving throughout the district meeting voters everywhere. We have meet and greets, go to local businesses, talk to our community, our teachers and students and listening to their concerns and their needs.

“As a real estate agent, that is pretty much all I do — being out there talking to our neighbors and our community. We’re very involved when we’re out there, so we’re actually engaging people in our district and even people that’s not in our district, trying to make sure that we understand what the needs of the community are.

“We also knock doors and have posted our signs and have text messages. We have engaged with our citizens electronically and through the print media and social media.

“Knocking doors has been a very beautiful experience that I have enjoyed the most, because you’re actually talking to people. As a real estate agent, it’s one thing to drive by and look at people’s homes, but it’s another when you’re actually knocking on doors and going and talking to people saying ‘okay, this is who I am and I would love your vote.’ This is what I have done.”

The incumbent for this seat has run unopposed in the last few election cycles and has been in his seat since 2015. You’re his first challenger in a number of years. What is something new you can bring to the district and why do you feel you’d be the best person to represent the 33rd district?

“My race is not really about the incumbent, to be honest with you. My race is actually about my community and what I’ve seen my community go through. I’m thankful that God has given me the ability to represent my community, which is going through what I’m also going through.

“I’m running because my goal is to serve the people of District 33 and make sure that they have representation that understands them. I’m trying to make sure they have someone who actually fights for the policies that work for Cobb, that works for all of Georgia.

“I’m running because I want to bring back the ideas and the needs and the agenda of District 33, I want to put their agenda and their message back on the table. That is the message I’m trying to send, because when you’re in your seat for too long, you get comfortable or you lose focus on why you’re there.

“I am committed to making policies to bring resources to the state that brings Georgia together. What do we do that brings us together? We build our communities and restore families’ legacies in our district and across the state. Everything is about policy.”

To learn more about Hemmerly and her campaign, visit her 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.