Elections and Politics
A Talk with Mary Robichaux on Education, Public Safety, Expansion of Healthcare and Peachtree Corners
On this episode of Peachtree Corners Life, Rico interviews Mary Robichaux, current Representative of Georgia House District 48 and candidate for re-election. Listen in as Mary shares her experience as well as her views on topics like healthcare education, TSPLOST, public safety, and much more.
Mary’s Website: https://www.electmaryrobichaux.com/
Timestamp (Where to find it in the podcast):
[00:00:30] – Intro
[00:01:12] – About Mary
[00:03:12] – Why Mary Began Running for Office
[00:07:55] – The Expansion of Healthcare
[00:15:20] – Updating the Education Model
[00:17:57] – High School Vocational Training Programs
[00:23:06] – Changes in TSPLOST
[00:25:14] – Opinions on MARTA Transportation
[00:29:18] – Working with Entrepreneurs and Startups
[00:32:27] – Community and Police Safety and Wellbeing
[00:38:51] – Mary Asks for Your Vote
[00:41:36] – Outro
“When we talk startups, we have to have a workforce educated and ready to go for these different new things. We’ve gotta make sure that they want to stay here… We’ve gotta make sure they stay here and that Georgia is the best place to run your business for various reasons. That you have a viable workforce, that you can get the investment capital you need, that your tax rates are gonna be appropriate. We can get this done.”MARY RoBICHAUX
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[00:00:30] Rico: Hi everyone, this is Rico Figliolini, host of Peachtree Corners Life. Before I introduce my guest today, I just want to say thank you to our sponsor of these shows, podcasts, and supporter of Peachtree Corners Magazine. And that’s EV Remodeling, Inc. Eli has been a great supporter of ours. He’s a Peachtree Corner resident. A great company, does good work out here. So check out his website, EVRemodelingInc.com. Thank you, Eli, for supporting in the shows that we do. Now, let’s get into it. We have another candidate today. Actually she’s an incumbent. Mary Robinshaw, Robichaux, let’s get that right. Mary Robichaux. Thanks for joining me, Mary. Appreciate that.
[00:01:12] Mary: Thank you, Rico. Thank you for having me. And again, I’m fine with my pronunciation of my name. I know it’s not the most common name here in Georgia. Although we’ve lived here in Georgia now 34 years.
[00:01:23] Rico: Oh, wow.
[00:01:23] Mary: So I’ve been in either Alpharetta or Roswell, so I do not live in Peachtree Corners. But so we’ve been here for those 34 years where my husband and I have been, actually in November we’ll be married 45 years. So met in high school and dated all through college. Married, I have twin sons that we’ve raised here in Georgia. Again, for us, it was over in Fulton County. They’re graduates of the Fulton County School System. So they’re now actually again next month they’ll be 41 years old. And now I have two beautiful granddaughters. It’s much more fun to be the grandmother, sometimes. My background’s healthcare, in my professional career. Again, 40 plus years in healthcare with a lot of different, both clinical and management level experience. Then what I did right before I won election in 2018, it was the first time I ever ran for office in my life. So that was kind of an interesting time for us. I actually was the vice president for the American Heart Association for the Division of Quality for the Southeast. So I did work with about 700 hospitals across the southeast making sure that we had good cardiovascular care delivery systems. And then we designed statewide systems of care that actually are still in place in a lot of states today. So very happy with that kind of concept. So that’s kind of my background, to give you a little bit. My husband, his background is IT with large corporations. But then probably about 20 years ago, he became what I would call a serial entrepreneur. So he likes to start companies and invest in companies. Some he keeps, well, mostly he’ll sell. Some have not been as successful as some of the others, so, but that’s life too, I think so.
[00:03:10] Rico: Sure.
[00:03:11] Mary: That’s kind of who I am.
[00:03:12] Rico: Well, what got you into running? I mean the original first office you landed in?
[00:03:18] Mary: Well, the first office I ran for was this office. I currently do represent what’s called House District 48. Which currently is actually majority Roswell, Georgia. Just over to your west and then I cover a little bit of Alpharetta. Redistricting will be taking place. So while the number stays the same, the district is shifting a little bit to the east. So that’s where now it will cover Roswell, Alpharetta, Johns Creek, and a small portion of Peachtree Corners.
[00:03:47] Rico: Right. I’m putting that map up actually. So that’s the new district that takes into Johns Creek, and then the portion of Peachtree Corners. Mostly west of Peachtree Industrial Boulevard, I think.
[00:03:58] Mary: Correct, toward John’s Creek, up toward the river.
[00:04:01] Rico: So very different from what you’re had before.
[00:04:05] Mary: Yeah, it’s very different. It changed probably about 70%. So I’m over in the Roswell corner on this. I am on the eastern portion of 400. So why I ran because again, in 2018 at the time there was, in my opinion it was the start of a lot of discourse between parties and between people. And I guess with my background in healthcare and what I did, what I was very good at in the healthcare realm was getting different voices to come to the table and to talk and to try to come up with solutions with the patient being our center of where we needed to make change. And that included doctors, nurses, insurance companies, hospitals, CEOs, all the different pieces that go into providing care in different cardiovascular diseases. So I was very good at facilitating those kinds of things to say, let’s all, we need to talk and we need to put our egos at the door. And sometimes that was a little challenging. But I was good at getting people to talk and come up with solutions. So when some of the discourse and what was going on in the district I currently represent, I felt that the representative at the time was not as willing to listen to others and to talk to all people to come up with those kinds of solutions. And I said, well, I’m gonna run. Because I think I do have that kind of capability to have what I call having those conversations with people. Because yelling and screaming at each other gets us nowhere. I’m sorry. It doesn’t, It never has. I grew up as one of seven children and yeah, we could yell and scream, but ultimately that’s not gonna solve a problem for us.
[00:05:46] Rico: The political landscape has changed quite a bit since 2018, or even before that, really.
[00:05:51] Mary: It has unfortunately, in my opinion. Theres still lot of ways to have those conversations.
[00:05:57] Rico: Yeah. I mean, it’s okay to stir the pot a little bit. That’s what I think happened with Donald Trump coming in to office. Not my favorite candidate, but he did stir the pot. He got people thinking about certain things. Certainly in my opinion, not the best president of the United States that we’ve had. But, the idea of looking at problems in a different way and also because people, to some degree, aren’t being heard. Even within the Democratic Party. I think that’s also the case. I think over the years, I think certain segments of the Democratic Party has been taken for granted, that they’ll be there.
[00:06:37] Mary: I think when we, the way I understand the parties, what’s interesting to me, when I first decided to run. When you looked, you go back and you look at people’s voting history, I was actually, my husband and I were classified as independents. Because we voted both ways, at the time. Now since 2016, I’ll be honest, I probably have not voted many for Republicans for various reasons. But, our histories have been, we voted both ways. Sometimes the system even of running for office is set up, you have to choose. It’s very difficult at the state, at this level. When I looked into it, qualifying to run as an independent would’ve required an exorbitant amount of signatures to even get on the ballot. And I said, well that doesn’t make any sense. So, and I lean more towards the Democratic. I’m probably progressive in more social aspects of governance and probably more fiscally conservative because I am one. I don’t think we should spend money we don’t have. I don’t do it in my personal life. But I do think there are valid things we need to be spending money on as a government and therefore we need to figure out how we’re gonna pay for it. People want to be heard. And I grew up in rural Louisiana, so I understand rural. I understand urban. I think we need to make sure everyone is getting the same types of chances, however we accomplish that.
[00:07:55] Rico: Right. So let’s get into some of the issues I think that you support or that you express. But one of them is sponsoring legislation to expand availability of Medicaid in the state of Georgia. That would add half a million people to the uninsured in Georgia.
[00:08:11] Mary: Correct.
[00:08:12] Rico: So if I understand correctly, the federal government would take care of a decent portion of that budget if we allow it to come in. But at some point the state will probably have to take over a decent portion of that budget.
[00:08:26] Mary: Well the Affordable Care Act currently, if we were to start it today, the federal government would cover 100% of the cost. That’s what’s still in place for at least the next two years, how much longer that will stay in effect. You’re correct. The current match, though, is nine to one. Could that change in the future? Yes. But I think when we just say, well, it’s gonna cost this much. But let’s, what we need to talk about though is what is it costing this state right now not to cover those 500,000 people?
[00:08:54] Rico: Okay.
[00:08:54] Mary: I would phrase it in a lot of different ways. Number one, we have to understand our federal tax dollars, even though we live in Georgia, goes into the pool that covers Medicaid across this country. So our dollars have left this state for that program in Kentucky, in Florida. So those are our dollars that have left this state already. I think we should bring those back. That’s number one. Number two, in my experience in healthcare, when we talk about the concept of what happens to those that are uninsured. Some people think, well, we don’t need to worry about them, it’s up to them how they get care. But we have to understand people who do not have insurance, typically the way they’re going to get help when they need healthcare coverage, it’s going to be at the point at which they’re gonna go to an emergency room. Now, sometimes they’re going there because they are so sick. That their cost is gonna be very, very high to cover them. Other times they’re going to that emergency room maybe because they have a sore throat and they can’t talk you know, I mean, they don’t understand. We have to understand in healthcare economics, covering care in an emergency room is one of the most expensive ways to deliver care versus preventative care models. So if we had a system that people had good preventative care access, it would prevent that. Because when that person goes into that emergency room, you and I are still paying for that. By law hospitals have to treat any patient who comes in their door, and that’s a federal law. We can’t change that. So, and then besides the concept of just covering people, we also know there are studies that show that when people have health insurance, their work productivity goes up. Anywhere from one to two percent overall. That to me would be a great boom for our economy, especially right now when we’re having issues with getting workforce in certain parts of the state. And then of course, we’re talking about the number of new jobs you know, the expansion of medicaid would do for this state. And I appreciate, and I think we should invest in places, companies like Rivian. The state’s putting in close to 1.2 to 1.6 billion dollars, which is fine to bring in an industry that’s gonna give us about 7,000 jobs. Healthcare, Medicaid expansion if done well and correctly in all the other things that need to happen. Which, that’s why I know how I do things. Lower estimates are talking about 60,000 new jobs in this state. It’s an investment. And again, I’m gonna say one last thing, and I know I talked too much.
[00:11:33] Rico: No, no.
[00:11:33] Mary: I was at a meeting with the president of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce the other week. And he stood up there and said, we are at the point now we need to consider healthcare as infrastructure. The government supports and pays roads. We’re doing broadband expansion. We do utilities. In a lot of ways healthcare is infrastructure. How are we going to do that? We need to fix our infrastructure of healthcare, period.
[00:12:00] Rico: I agree. Part of that problem is that I think that people don’t understand really, is that especially in the age of Covid, when people are sick like that. Number one, a lot of people that would use Medicaid are lower income people that don’t have that insurance, that are working hourly jobs, that have to leave that job to be able to go to get medical coverage. And if they have contagious diseases like Covid or like others because they may not have been vaccinated, that’s a worst case scenario for the rest of the population. So that’s the way I look at it also, that it, it’s not good community security to allow half a million people, let’s say, without insurance like that.
[00:12:41] Mary: Right. And I think it’s part of our workforce that I think is untapped. Because if you have a chronic disease that basically you cannot get care for, a lot of times you’re unable to work until you can get care. So it’s this you know, chicken before the egg concept. I’m not against people working, but sometimes if you can’t work because you’re so sick, we’re not going to give you healthcare until you can work?
[00:13:06] Rico: Yeah, and I can, I can understand the budget part though. Where the federal government is paying all that money. But at some point that money may go away and the state has to pick up that budget and where do they fund that from? I think that’s part of that program.
[00:13:20] Mary: Right. Again, we fund education, we fund healthcare now. We just have to decide how we’re going to do it. And I’m not saying Medicaid expansion in and of itself is going to fix our entire healthcare systems. There’s other things we need to do. Let’s all be honest. You know, reimbursement rates need to be adjusted. We need to look at opportunities to expand private pay and, or to force private insurances to live up to what they’re telling the people who have insurance they’re going to cover. So we need to clean up a lot of things.
[00:13:51] Rico: For sure.
[00:13:52] Mary: And to figure out what, I would call out of the box thinking ways to cover people that doesn’t always have to be Medicaid. So like I was talking the other day to some members of the Police Benevolent Society of Georgia. I didn’t know this, because I mean, up here we have great police forces and first responders who their healthcare coverage is done by our municipalities. We have the funds, they can buy in. There are municipalities in Georgia, they are so small, their police officers do not have healthcare coverage. Because the municipalities are so small they can’t afford it. My thought was, and I’ve already, okay, so Georgia State troopers have an insurance form policy. Why can we not as a state, figure out a way at an appropriate prorated model to allow those same police officers who are serving their communities to buy into the state plan? I’m thinking those are the kinds of things we need to identify. Where can we expand that, make it better, but yet still cover all? And the 500,000 that we do need to cover probably with Medicaid. And I would think sometimes that that number of Medicaid recipients as they go back to work, as we make it better for them, their numbers are going to drop off of Medicaid. Once you get that full time job because your health has improved and things look better. You get that job that you can get some private insurance.
[00:15:20] Rico: That makes sense. So let’s move on to education. We’ll wanna be able to cover a couple of issues as well. Education, obviously in the city of Peachtree Corners, we have a couple of private schools. We have a great public school system here. Simpson Elementary, Pinckneyville Middle, Norcross High School. And there are a lot of involved parents in these schools also. Peachtree Elementary. I mean, there’s a score of schools around here. Wesleyan is a private school. But speaking about the public model, I think one of the things that you spoke about is updating the 30 year model for state funding of public schools.
[00:15:56] Mary: Right.
[00:15:57] Rico: Tell me a little bit about what that would mean and then let’s get quickly after that into high school vocational training programs, which I’m big for. That makes sense to do that.
[00:16:07] Mary: So specifically the QBE formula, actually the Gwinnett County Public School Systems is one of the ones that is being the most disadvantaged right now with the old model. It’s based off of your total population of students in the system, but it also comes into what your tax base is there within your county and some other formularies. But what’s built in there too is if you are a much smaller county, the percentage of the state dollars that you get is much higher than the percentage that say a Gwinnett or a Fulton County gets. So in effect, and I’m not saying that we shouldn’t do it up to a point. But I think we need to review that to say, so why should Gwinnett, and Gwinnett is actually the highest one. I think you’re getting only about 82 cents on the quote-unquote QBE dollar, which helps subsidize some parts of rural Georgia and other parts of Georgia that are receiving 130 plus percent per student cost. Now I just think we need to re-look at that. We need to balance it based on local tax base, but I think we need to understand why are we doing it based on something that’s 30 years old? Let’s review it. Let’s understand that there are opportunities that maybe Gwinnett needs to come up to 90 plus percent of that. There’s just some opportunities there.
[00:17:38] Rico: Right.
[00:17:39] Mary: Especially in the areas where of our state, as you probably know, we’ve had a reduction in population. Versus in this area we’ve had such an increase in population. So some of this is based on, oh, population, new population. So there’s a lot of things we need to look at and readjust in my opinion.
[00:17:57] Rico: Okay. What about the high school vocational training programs that you advocate for? That public partnership or public-private partnership?
[00:18:05] Mary: I think that is a great opportunity. You know, I’ve had conversations with business owners. A lot of them car dealerships, places that they can’t find people to work as, mechanics, although now I would call them computer technician mechanics. Because I mean, let’s face it, our cars nowadays. And other opportunities, and again, in this area we have Gwinnett Tech, we have those kinds of things. But we also have, one of the things since I’ve been serving, I was able to visit down in South Georgia, there’s actually a true apprenticeship program. Which is different than an internship. The apprenticeship program, you have a private manufacturing company pays a portion along with the state in that students are recruited in the 10th grade. And it becomes part of their high school curriculum. They go and they work X number of hours in this manufacturing plant learning computer skills. They’re not allowed to operate big chainsaws and dangerous equipment per se, because of age requirements. But they start in 10th grade, they then learn some more skills such as computer designing. Some of these 3D printing manufacturing companies are doing it. In 11th grade they start to get a salary, and I think it’s around $9 an hour. But they’re still going to school full time. I mean, it’s a part half. 12th grade, I think it goes up to $11 an hour. But what happens, and it’s done through a program model actually, through a European model. So when they graduate from high school, they get a high school diploma. They get a two year associate degree diploma from the university system of Georgia, and they get a guaranteed job starting at approximately $60,000 a year. And they get an international certification in their specialty. I think we need to be doing that all over the place in different areas, not just manufacturing. You know, and here in Roswell, our schools, we started in elementary school, a program through my Rotary Club. We do Home Builders of America. We have groups that we go in, in high school, and it’s an elective kind of an after school program. At first in elementary school, we go in and we teach them how to build a frame structure. In Middle School, we go and we build the structures a little bit bigger and they learn how to put electricity in it. And then in high school they’re learning something else. So they come away with some skills, whether or not they’re going to be electricians, plumbers, whatever. My plumber makes a lot of money and my electrician. Think about finishing high school with a skill set that you could be certified in. And then if you choose to become an electrical engineer and go to college, you could still work. 60,000 plus a year to start right out of high school. I think that’s a pretty good job personally.
[00:20:55] Rico: Yeah, I totally agree. I would hope the state could take some leadership in that to be able to help bring that across. Because I agree with the apprenticeship, done in Europe and other parts of this country, like Michigan, is really important, right?
[00:21:09] Mary: So yes, I’m talking to some of the, again, up here in my area we have a Honda Innovation plant, so they’re bringing in interns. But I’m already talking with them. How can we convert that to an apprenticeship? That it’s a private public partnership that makes this happen for our students.
[00:21:23] Rico: I mean, essentially what’s happening is that these kids, some of them are not gonna go on to college. That’s not what they want maybe.
[00:21:31] Mary: Right.
[00:21:32] Rico: They want to get out into the workforce. And there are companies out there that are dying. They can’t find the workers out there. And imagine having that pipeline to be able to fill those jobs.
[00:21:44] Mary: That’s my idea. You know, when my kids were in high school, in Milton they took a semester of shop. Which is fine. But I think again, if students really wanted to learn more nowadays, it’s not just learning how to change a belt, it’s the whole computers and you have to be very highly educated to do these things.
[00:22:02] Rico: Yeah. I think the schools that bring in that, if you’re gonna learn how to do an HVAC system, that should let these kids work on an HVAC system, touch, take it apart, see how it’s working. Those kids are the ones that are gonna be able to take advantage of this type of process.
[00:22:18] Mary: And we you know, this state does have, we have that program, where there are sixteen specific career program paths in the technical college system that students can go to. And it’s a two year program, but basically the state pays 100% of the cost. So with things like EMT, there’s some other different things that we’ve put in place. So I think we need to expand that in a lot of ways. But also look for other opportunities that businesses, you know, to me when a business can identify someone very young, and then to teach them what they really need to know to succeed in their business. That’s the mentorship concept.
[00:22:59] Rico: That’s right. It works well in Europe. I think it would work right here.
[00:23:02] Mary: Right. You know, modifying it how it would work for us. But I think it would be a great thing.
[00:23:06] Rico: Correct. SPLOST. Now The City of Peachtree Corners gets probably the biggest share of SPLOST in this county. Because of the size of the city and stuff. One of the things that you’re, that you have been talking about or on your website is the continued oversight of TSPLOST and programs. Do you see a problem there? Do you see anything that needs to change?
[00:23:29] Mary: I think we’ve made some changes and again, not that the state legislature needs to do the audits, but that the audits need to be done in the contracting process. Sometimes when designs are done and I would like to make sure. And again, I’m in Roswell so we all have that same issue. That the cities or the municipalities that these TSPLOST, as you know, some of it is determined how much is state pay, federal pay versus local municipalities have to be responsible for. And depending on that percentage is who gets control of design of the project. Sometimes it’ll also be two heads butting against each other. So I would like to make sure that the municipalities who are gonna be affected by these changes have as much, if not more, say into those design aspects where appropriate. Sometimes it just is what it is, a bridge has to be done a certain way. And I understand that. But I think there are lots of other opportunities to have more input from local areas into some of these designs and how that money is spent. Since it’s all of our tax money.
[00:24:40] Rico: So more local control?
[00:24:41] Mary: Well, local control slash local input. I think sometimes a lot of municipalities that I’ve had the pleasure of working with don’t feel they’ve had as much input as they should. And that someone’s really listening to them. And I’m not a traffic engineer, I don’t know. But I think most of us are relatively intelligent people that you explain this in a way, you know, you gotta explain it to us in a way that really does make sense. Don’t just tell me it is, it is because the traffic guys say this. I’ll probably want to question that a little bit more.
[00:25:14] Rico: That makes sense. Sticking to transportation to some degree. The big thing here in Gwinnett County has been quite a few times, there’s been votes on MARTA coming in. And it’s been turned down quite a few times. There’s so many times that this keeps coming up. Inevitably I believe that MARTA will be approved eventually down the line. Maybe within the decade. This county has changed demographic wise. Getting people employed here and moving around in the right way needs to change a little bit. So how do you feel about MARTA coming into Gwinnett? I mean, how would you want see that done?
[00:25:47] Mary: Right.
[00:25:48] Rico: With the way that I think a billion dollars a mile doesn’t make sense to me, but.
[00:25:53] Mary: No. And I think, again, so I live off 400. But I’m about six miles from the last MARTA train station. Then we have bus service up in my area on the major arteries. It’s not into the neighborhoods. Again, that’s where to me, the locals do have to have input. I personally do think MARTA is going to be a benefit if it’s designed correctly to meet the needs of the citizens of Gwinnett. To bring people in that could work. People that are maybe living in one part of your county that want to work in another part, but you know, affordable housing issues that they need transportation over. If you don’t have those kinds of transportations, you’re stuck. By my areas up the North Point Mall, so now we do have a bus line that comes up to North Point Mall so that it brings a lot of employees that can come up and work in that area. So I think that’s good. I’m not a big fan of Heavy Rail. I mean, I just don’t think Georgia is gonna really go that route in the next 20, 30 years. I mean, maybe very, very high future. The train itself, you know, I’m being honest. So I head down 400 when I go downtown to go to a Atlanta United game or to a game in downtown, we catch MARTA. And it’s a great ride versus driving my car down, paying twenty to forty dollars to park to attend a sporting event. On those times, especially the people on the trains, everybody’s got their jersey you know, it’s kind of like you’re tailgating in the train. So I’ve had positive experiences. When I used to work for the American Heart Association, I traveled every week on planes. So I would also take MARTA, again from the North Fulton Station all the way to the airport. It was a 45 minute ride, it was great.
[00:27:43] Rico: Right. I can see what you’re saying. I mean, I, coming from New York, I mean, I used to take the subway and stuff then I took the coach bus because it was easier. A little bit more money, but it was easier. And I felt safer actually, because at the time was during the late eighties and in the seventies. It was a little different on the subways. And maybe, one of my kids too, MARTA as a commuter to GSU to attend college campus. He wasn’t always feeling safe on MARTA. So different people had different experiences, not just on the system, but even at the stops.
[00:28:16] Mary: Right.
[00:28:16] Rico: Unfortunately. But that’s the nature of those types of mass transit. So I understand you’re not into the heavy rail. Neither am I. I don’t think the expense makes sense. Light rail makes more sense maybe, or certainly bus rapid transit like that.
[00:28:30] Mary: One of the things too that Marta is now testing, and again, not in our area yet. But literally, especially for those people that more toward the disability that you can actually call, a MARTA smaller transport bus will show up at your door.
[00:28:46] Rico: I’ve seen that.
[00:28:47] Mary: So again, I think those are the kinds of things we need to explore lots of different options in regards to safety. I think you know, and again, I’ve never had a problem or feeling unsafe on MARTA. And I understand people, I think we need to solve that problem and make it safer in all of its different variances. We can make it safe and we need to do that. But I would say sometimes too, think about driving down Peachtree Industrial Boulevard you know, sometimes is that, that can be dangerous too.
[00:29:18] Rico: In a different way. Yes, certainly. So Peachtree Corners is a city that likes to talk about itself as a smart city. We have Atlanta Tech Park, which is an accelerator. Curiosity Lab at Peachtree Corners, which handles a lot of startups in there. Because of the street system, the autonomous vehicle presence that we keep promoting, lots of companies are moving here from even foreign countries. And companies are relocating into Peachtree Corners.
[00:29:48] Mary: Right.
[00:29:49] Rico: I know you’re a big advocate for working with start-ups, providing certain benefits for entrepreneurs. So tell me you know, in short, where you stand some of those issues, what you think could benefit Peachtree Corners and what you’d like to work on.
[00:30:03] Mary: Well, I think there’s a couple of things, and again our statistics are showing that Georgia is a great place for a startup company. But what we’re also seeing that after that first year, unfortunately, a lot of our companies are having some issues. That if they can make it to five years, much less grow from, say make it to over 50 employees. So there’s those opportunities. So I would like to look at concepts. How do we, again, connect these startups? And I think that’s what we do in Innovation Labs across the state. Connect them with mentors, successful businesses, support, but not just for the startup. I think it’s, once you’ve hit that certain phase, you’re gonna still need money to grow your business. Now, one of the things is to me, when we talk about angel investors. What happens unfortunately in Georgia, if you’re an angel investor, you will take your money because most startups or most businesses, even if you’re at that six months to one year process, that they’re still eligible or startup angel investors are interested investing in. You sign on that you’re not gonna get any return on your money for at least five years. Well, Georgia tax code makes it difficult that as an angel investor, you’re not going to get the tax breaks for that kind of investment if you invest here in Georgia. Versus if you invest as an angel investor in North Carolina, you actually do. So my husband and I, we do a little bit of angel investing. So, and I’m not saying just for us, but I think we need to make it not just individuals, but also some of these other companies who want to invest maybe in some startup companies that would help their businesses grow and expand and produce some things. How do we make that viable for investment? I think we also, when we talk startups, again, we do talk about we have to have a workforce educated and ready to go for these different new things. So we’ve gotta work on that. We’ve gotta make sure that they want to stay here. We have amazing educational systems, especially in our higher ed educational systems that are doing some amazing research and startup concepts. But we’ve gotta make sure they stay here and that Georgia is the best place to run your business for various reasons. That you have a viable workforce, that you can get the investment capital you need, that your tax rates are gonna be appropriate. We can get this done.
[00:32:27] Rico: Cool. Okay. Last subject, Mary. I appreciate the time you’ve given me on this. So, we’ll talk about community safety. That’s a big thing I think in any community. I think people want to feel safe where they live. They want to understand that crime hopefully doesn’t touch them. But crime is everywhere, right? I think the more that we look at social media, it’s amazing what’s out there. If you watch TikTok long enough, you’d be like, is this happening all over the place? So it’s crazy stuff. The City of Peachtree Corners is using fūsus, a company that does crime center in the cloud. Real time being able to interdit before crimes happen almost. Or while it’s happening actually. And that’s how they were able to find, to some degree, the three perpetrators that did the shooting at the QT on Peachtree Parkway. Killed a young man that, just for his car, they ended up finding all three of them. And I’m sure they’re going to be vigorously prosecuting them. How do you think the state can help in furthering along public safety or community safety in some of these ways?
[00:33:33] Mary: So you know, there’s lots of ways. Some of the things we have approved and some people didn’t like. The road cameras to detect not just speeding, but they do detect a lot of other things. I’m a big proponent as much as possible for local control for certain things. The state needs to support it, but the state also needs to get out of the way. If a local municipality wants to do cameras such as Peachtree Corners is doing to make sure they, you know, and their police department works with that, I think that’s okay. There are some who would like to say nowhere in this state can you do that. It may not be appropriate in certain cities and they don’t want it. That’s okay. My neighborhood, my husband is on the HOA and he was in charge of public safety here in the neighborhood. And we just, in my neighborhood, we put in the cameras so that any car that comes in or out of our neighborhood, we’re recording the license plate. Now nothing happens except if a homeowner reports a crime, the police have the right to request those camera views. So they can at least see if it’s something they can track through that. I think again, the state should never put a restriction that they, even that can happen. Some people say, well, we’re invading your privacy. And I think it’s a balancing act. You know, I don’t want the camera in my phone. But taking a picture of my license plate, I’m okay personally. Some people aren’t. But I think too the state needs to fund more. We know that there are municipalities unfortunately, that we are in a shortage for various reasons. You know, it’s a tough time. Currently there are a lot of things we need to fix. One of the things we did with the Mental Health Parity Act actually was increase funding for training for our officers across the state to get more training in deescalation techniques in mental health crisis situations. That’s one set of issues that I believe our police officers deal with that they need that additional support too. And crime. I think with GBI, one of the things I was talking with also with the Police Benevolent Society, and again, I want to be honest, my son and daughter-in-laws are both attorneys both were Assistant DAs. My daughter-in-law now is a Assistant US Attorney in the Southern District and my son is in criminal defense now. But one of the things that the Benevolent Society was telling me about was that there is a law, it’s called the Giglio rule, that so a DA in an area can say, I don’t like you as a police officer. So I’m gonna say that you are lying. And it’s a little bit more complicated than that, obviously there. If it’s a federal prosecutor who does that, there’s some investigation and that person then goes under what’s called the Giglio rule, which means you’re basically labeled a liar whenever you go to testify in court by law. But the state, while that’s federal and that would be different, but the state actually has its own kind of rules that that can happen here in the state. Police officers right now have no recourse to fight that. And I think they should. So I think we need to look for those things that, not just the violence and the threat of life that they are put under. But what other things, as we also are looking for ways in which to reduce our crime rates, that we can do to make it better for them to be a police officer.
[00:36:51] Rico: Sure.
[00:36:52] Mary: I think we need to have those opportunities when there is an unfortunate police involved shooting. We need to understand that that police officer is also under stress and we need to talk to them and understand that, but make sure that his rights are also preserved. And not just make an assumption.
[00:37:11] Rico: Right.
[00:37:11] Mary: I think there are ways we can go through that. I think we need to re-look at ways in which, how do we, unfortunately open up some of our, let’s call them jail beds, because once you’re in prison, I think that’s different versus you’re incarcerated if you can’t pay a bail. So you’re not even have gone to trial, and yet our system becomes so overloaded with people who cannot make bail for sometimes relatively minor things. I’m not saying everyone should get out, and I’m not saying it should be easy, but we’ve gotta figure out a way. We’ve gotta have more beds to get more people off the streets so they’re not being released when they shouldn’t be. But they’re also not being held when they shouldn’t be. And I’m not the expert on that, but I think we need to look at that.
[00:37:53] Rico: And that gets a little, that gets a little complicated too sometimes. Because I’ve seen, and we’ve seen it on social media, where some things are considered misdemeanors. When you actually look the video of what happened, it’s like, why aren’t they being held on bail?
[00:38:08] Mary: Right. So I think some of that we need to revisit. Many people do need to be held, but there are some, that maybe there’s ways we could do this a little different. To make it easier for our police officers. I think we need to understand from the police officer’s perspective. I cannot imagine living that when I pull over someone just for a traffic stop, that I am walking up to the possibility of someone just pulling a gun on me. And I think that is very dangerous. So I think we need to understand that that’s what they live with. So how do we change that? I don’t know that we can change it one day, but I think there are ways we can work together to make it a little bit better.
[00:38:51] Rico: Cool. We’ve come to pretty much the end of our time together, Mary. So what I’d normally like to do is ask the individual interviewed to be able to ask for the vote. Tell people where they can find more information about Mary Robichaux. And just, ask for that vote.
[00:39:09] Mary: So again I’ve been honored to serve as the incumbent for the last four years for House District 48. And I know to those of you in Peachtree Corners, I’m new there. But I have served there for four years. I think when we talk about, I’m one of those that we need to work with each other to get things done. I work behind the scenes. I’ve never been one that seeks the limelight. As my husband would say, I hide from the limelight sometimes just because it’s not in my nature. When I was in healthcare, I always did things with the patient as the center of my focus of improving whatever project I was working on. When I went to the legislature, I switched that to the constituent is the center of my focus. I’ve taken votes that some would say, why are you voting this way or that way? And that comes from both sides of the aisle, trust me. But I feel that I look at the vote to understand how’s it going to affect my constituents? And then also, how’s it going to affect all of Georgia? Because again, while I represent the constituents of House District 48, I also understand that my vote that could affect all of Georgians will ultimately have an effect on my constituents here. So I try to balance that, I try to think long term. I want solutions. I don’t want to just be stuck in a mire of pointing fingers at each other. If you didn’t do this, so you didn’t do this. We need to move past that. We are a great country. I would like to say I am the daughter of a son who was a World War II veteran. He unfortunately passed last year at the age of 95. My dad was the youngest of eight children. My dad grew up in a two room sharecropper shack in the middle of a sugar king field in Louisiana. And I feel this country allows someone like me to get to where I am now. I live in Country Club of Roswell, have a great life. My family has, we’ve had some great opportunities that we’ve taken advantage of. And I think all Georgians want those same opportunities. And I just want to fight to make sure that we all have that. That we’re all held accountable. That we do it in a way that continues to push us forward. So if you want to find out more about me, again my name is Mary Robichaux and I do serve as the representative currently. My website is www.ElectMaryRobichaux.com. It’s all one word, so if you want more information. And you can contact me through that website also.
[00:41:36] Rico: Great. Mary, I appreciate your time this morning. Thank you and good luck on your campaign.
[00:41:42] Mary: Thank you, that was great.
Advocating in a Different Way
Lorri Christopher will remain active in the community but wants to pave the way for the next generation of local leadership.
When it comes to Peachtree Corners City Post 5 Councilmember Lorri Christopher, her actions speak for her. Not one to raise a ruckus, her four decades as a resident of the area before it became a city had been chock full of leadership in business, education, and community service.
With all she has accomplished, it shouldn’t be a surprise that this 80-year-old woman with the stamina of the Energizer Bunny has decided she won’t be running for re-election when her term expires in 2024.
“I’m not going to stop advocating for the city,” she said. “I’ll still be Lorri Christopher. I just won’t be a city council member.”
A life filled with achievements and successes
Christopher’s bio on the Peachtree Corners website points to a career brimming with numerous titles. Here are a few:
- Principal in CAP Associates, a human resources consulting firm
- Computer Information Systems (CIS) Faculty Program and IA Director at Gwinnett Technical College
- Trustee of the Gwinnett Senior Leadership program
- Former IT Project Manager for the 1996 Olympics
- High school Math and Science teacher,
- Management Information System (MIS) Director and CIS Program Chair at Trident College
- COO of Atlanta Desktop
- Co-president of United Mortgage Company
- Marketing Director of Right Associates
- Vice President at Midland Associates
- Vice President of Finance and Management Information System (MIS) for Edwards, Inc.
- Marketing and technical leadership positions at DCA and Burroughs/Unisys, and
- Founding Director of Paces Bank & Trust.
Christopher has been well-recognized through the years. She is a recipient of the 21st Century Award from The International Alliance, Atlanta Business Chronicle’s Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA) award, and the Triumph Inspiration 21st Century Woman Award. Christopher is also a member of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) Academy of Women Achievers.
Her accomplishments include service to the community, business, and charity organizations. Christopher served on the leadership committee for the Center for the Study of the Presidency, chaired the Gwinnett County March of Dimes, and served on the Georgia Alliance for Children Board.
She is a member of several chambers of commerce, including the Gwinnett, Hispanic, Southwest Gwinnett, and Atlanta chambers, as well as the Gwinnett Village Alliance Board. Christopher is a past officer of Fox Hill homeowners’ association and a member-volunteer for United Peachtree Corners Civic Association (UPCCA), Peachtree Corners Business Association (PCBA), and the Peachtree Corners Festival.
Then there’s her education. Currently a Ph.D. candidate in Information Systems at Nova Southeastern University, Christopher holds an MBA in Business and Finance from Emory University, an MBA in Global Ecommerce from Georgia State University, and a BA in Mathematics and Chemistry from the State University of New York. She has additional graduate studies in CIS at Georgia Tech and Education at Hofstra University — and she holds a number of professional certifications.
“I worked in Peachtree Corners in the 70s and 80s in the Summit Building. Our technology firm, Burroughs/Unisys, was located there where we developed financial applications for the world …we had over 400 people in that facility,” she told Peachtree Corners Magazine in a 2019 podcast. “So, I’ve seen Tech Park when it was in its heyday. I’ve seen it since, and it is so exciting with what’s happening now.”
She added that seeing the vision that she and several others had for the area during the cityhood movement more than a decade ago now coming to fruition makes the hard work worth it.
A vision that’s blossoming
Besides the business growth and economic development, Christopher said she is proud that the city has remained one of the few that doesn’t collect property taxes from its homeowners. And instead of building a city hall right off the bat, Peachtree Corners officials chose to turn the Town Center property into a place for people to gather and be together.
“We’ve worked really hard at keeping the millage zero and being fiscally responsible,” she said.
Christopher is a pioneer in her own right, blazing a path in Information Technology when women were often relegated to administrative support roles instead of heading departments.
After college, she’d gone back home to Charleston, S.C., and was offered a position as Chief Financial Officer and IT Director for a chain of stores where she’d worked as a cashier in her youth. Even back then, Christopher realized that she didn’t have to tell anyone what she could do — she just had to show them.
That’s what she hopes for the future of Peachtree Corners. She doesn’t want future leaders judged by anything more than their credentials.
It’s that kind of stewardship that Christopher said she’s looking for in her successor. She has someone in mind but insists that she’ll back anyone who has the knowledge, passion, and energy to continue the work that was begun more than a decade ago.
Christopher hopes someone will bring Peachtree Corners into its next phase with diversity and inclusion. “I’d like there to be more people who don’t look like me involved in city government,” she said. “I think it’s important that we do everything we can to make sure that we’re an inclusive city.”
Passing the baton
From the outside looking in, many people may not see the pockets of need in this seemingly affluent area.
Christopher would like the city to start receiving federal funds to pay for things like a homeless shelter. “We don’t have a plan for people that are indigent,” she said recalling a section of Spring Drive that had no streetlights for seven years. “It took too long to get lights there and that subdivision has over 200 homes,” she said.
Even though it’s impressive to gather a list of titles, Christopher stressed she does what she does because it’s the right thing to do — and she wants to see the city continue doing what’s right.
“I don’t want to be one of those people who die in office,” she said. “The City of Peachtree Corners is going to go on long, long after I’m gone. I see my decision as making room for another person.”
Photos by George Hunter
Elections and Politics
What to Know About Ballot Questions — SPLOSTs, Amendments and Referendums
Before you head to the polls to vote, it’s a good idea to be aware of some of the questions you’ll face on the ballot. Peachtree Corners Councilman Eric Christ included the following information in his recent newsletter, along with his insights.
Voters may want to do some further investigation on the ballot questions.
SPLOST and other ballot questions
In addition to the Federal, State and County races on the ballot, there are also five questions for Gwinnett voters to decide. You will see these questions at the bottom on your ballot, so be sure to scroll all the way down.
Gwinnett SPLOST Renewal Referendum
Question: Shall the one percent sales tax in Gwinnett be renewed for a period of six years commencing on April 1, 2023 to raise an estimated amount of $1.35 billion to fund courthouse facility renovation, transportation (roads, streets, bridges, sidewalks and related facilities and equipment), public safety facilities and equipment, park, trail and recreational facilities and equipment, senior services facilities, animal welfare facility renovation, fleet management facility expansion, city administrative facilities and equipment, city water, sewer and utility capital improvements, etc.?
Christ explained, “If it passes, the existing 1% Gwinnett sales tax (in place since 1997) will be continued for another six years. The sales tax is charged on purchases within the county, and it is estimated that 30% to 40% of the taxes are collected from people residing outside of the county who shop in Gwinnett.
The taxes collected are split between the county and the 16 cities in Gwinnett. The City of Peachtree Corners is projected to receive $58 million over the six years and has allocated these funds as follows: 80% to Transportation (roads, streets, sidewalks, etc. and related equipment); 9% to Administrative Facilities; and 11% to other Capital Projects.”
On the other hand, if it doesn’t pass, “the county sales tax will end in March 2023 and Gwinnett County and its cities will have to make up a $225 million annual gap in revenues for each of the next six years by increasing other taxes and/or by cancelling projects,” Christ said.
Constitutional Amendment #1
Question: Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to suspend the compensation of the state-wide elected officials or any member of the General Assembly while such individual is suspended from office following an indictment for a felony?
Christ said that if it passes, Georgia will become the first state to stop paying the salary of an elected official immediately upon being indicted for a felony and prior to their trial. He noted that other states only do this if the official is found guilty after a trial.
“If the Georgia elected official is found not guilty or the charges are dismissed, the suspended pay will be reimbursed,” he added. “If it doesn’t pass, the current law that stops salary payments if the official is found guilty of a felony will continue.”
Constitutional Amendment #2
Question: Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so that the local governing authority can grant temporary tax relief to properties within its jurisdiction which are severely damaged or destroyed as a result of a disaster?
According to Christ, if it passes, counties, cities and school boards will be able to make temporary adjustments to property tax after a natural disaster so property owners whose property has been severely damaged or destroyed don’t have to pay some or all of the property tax.
“If it doesn’t pass, property owners will have to pay the full property tax [as valued at the start of the year] even if their property has been severely damaged or destroyed,” he said.
State Referendum A
Question: Shall the Act be approved which grants a state-wide exemption from all ad valorem taxes for certain equipment used by timber producers in the production or harvest of timber?
“If it passes, timber producers will be exempt from property (ad valorem) taxes on some of their equipment,” Christ noted. “If it doesn’t pass, timber producers will continue to pay the same taxes they do now.”
State Referendum B
Question: Shall the Act be approved which expands a state-wide exemption from ad valorem taxes for agricultural equipment and certain farm products held by certain entities to include entities comprising two or more family-owned farm entities, and which adds dairy products and unfertilized eggs of poultry as qualified farm products with respect to such exemption?
“If it passes, family-owned farms and dairy and egg farms will be exempt from property taxes on some of their equipment,” Christ said. “If it doesn’t pass family-owned farms and dairy and egg farms will continue to pay the same taxes they do now.”
A further explanation of this Referendum can be found here.
A sample ballot for Gwinnett voters can be found here.
Elections and Politics
A Conversation with Ruwa Romman on a Broad Range of Issues and Being Muslim in America
Ruwa Romman is the Democratic nominee running to represent Georgia State House District 97. During our conversation, she addresses the most pressing issues for the residents of Berkeley Lake, Duluth, Norcross, and Peachtree Corners, and growing up Muslim in the American South.
Ruwa’s Website: https://www.ruwa4georgia.com
Timestamp (Where it is in the podcast):
[00:00:30] – Intro
[00:00:55] – About Ruwa and Her Background
[00:03:53] – Dealing with Bullying, Discrimination, and Rumors
[00:15:08] – Education Issues
[00:21:51] – Economic and Employment Issues
[00:27:19] – Opinions on Healthcare
[00:32:35] – Concerning Community Safety
[00:39:45] – Voter ID Laws
[00:45:30] – Combating Misinformation
[00:47:08] – Ruwa Asks for Your Vote
[00:48:16] – Closing
“We live in a digital age where anyone can write anything and send out anything that they want with little to no consequence… I would hope as constituents, as people who care about our society, that we start to more critically think about some of the things that are being sent to us. The one rule of thumb that I’ve started to implement for myself is if somebody tells me about a problem and is only scaring me about it, and they’re not offering me a solution, then they’re not going to fix it. They just want to fear monger me into a vote. And so please, think about the world around us. How much control does the person that is leveraging this issue actually have on that issue? And ask those critical questions of them.”Ruwa Romman
SCROLL DOWN FOR VIDEO
Transcript of the podcast:
[00:00:30] Rico: Hi everyone, this is Rico Figliolini, host of Peachtree Corners Life. Thanks for joining us. I appreciate you coming out. This is one of those podcasts where I’m interviewing a candidate that’s running for office that certainly could affect us here in Peachtree Corners if they win their seat. So I want to introduce Ruwa Romman, she’s a candidate for Georgia House 97. Hey Ms. Roman, how are you?
[00:00:52] Ruwa: Hi, I’m great. Thank you. And thanks for having me. How are you?
[00:00:55] Rico: Good. It’s a beautiful day today. Now this may be streaming on another day, but it’s a really nice, sunny day. A little cold, and I think we hit that frost in the morning at about 30, 31 degrees. But before we get into Ruwa Romman’s campaign and who she is and stuff, let’s just say thank you to our sponsor. Corporate sponsor who supports journalism like this, podcasts and our magazines. And that’s EV Remodeling Inc. And Eli, who’s a resident here in Peachtree Corners, it’s a business based in Peachtree Corners. They do a lot of remodeling. If you’re familiar with Houzz, H-O-U-Z-Z.com, that’s a place where you could go online and find out all the latest types of remodeling that’s going on. He’s part of that. You could check his reviews there. He does a great job here, great corporate citizen and great community citizen as well. So check out EVRemodelingInc.com. Now that we’ve gone through that, and of course, Peachtree Corners Magazine and Southwest Gwinnett Magazine supports this endeavor as well. So Ruwa Romman, you’re a Democratic nominee looking to represent this district. In fact, District 97 takes up Berkeley Lake, Duluth, Norcross, and Peachtree Corners here in Gwinnett County. And if you’re elected, you’d be the first Muslim woman in this Georgia State House as well. Tell us a little bit about you. I know you were raised here in the district practically, I think, right?
[00:02:19] Ruwa: Yeah, so I was originally born in Jordan and my family and I moved to Georgia when I was about seven, eight years old. And my family established a business actually right here in Gwinnett about 25 years ago shortly after that. But that meant that we were trying to settle in, trying to figure out where we wanted to live. So I moved around a lot. We lived in Fulton, Forsyth. I was a public school kid, so it was sort of one of the few constants in my life. I’ve essentially lived a majority of my life in Georgia. Went to DC for three years to get my Master’s in Public Policy and came right back.
[00:02:51] Rico: And you went to Georgetown University, I think, right?
[00:02:54] Ruwa: Yes, I did.
[00:02:55] Rico: Cool. Your background and your studies are in what field?
[00:02:58] Ruwa: It’s sort of, I look back on my journey and it’s very interesting because I feel like it builds an arc almost, of everything connecting together. So after I graduated from high school, I went to Oglethorpe University, which is literally down the street from me. Like if I take a left outta my neighborhood and keep going straight, I’m at the university. That’s where I met my husband. I worked for several civil rights organizations and nonprofits. So I worked for Points of Light, which was an organization started by Bush Senior to increase civic engagement. I worked for CAIR Georgia, which is a Muslim civil rights group. And I worked for the Georgia Muslim Voter Project, which was established to increase civic engagement particularly in the Muslim community, but within immigrant communities as a whole. And then I went to grad school, got my Master’s. And then I worked for a professional management company, which I don’t say the name just because I’m running for office and out of respect for them and the corporation. But yeah, I’m currently working full time for them.
[00:03:53] Rico: Okay, neat. Going through the public school systems, I gotta ask. Because certainly, I’m first generation American in my family. I was born here, in Brooklyn, New York I was born. My parents came from Italy. They’re immigrants. Typical immigrant story, right? Four kids in my family, we all grew up, we’re all over the country. I mean, one’s in Canada even now. But you know, growing up with language and stuff like that on my end, should have been easy because I was born in the States. Because my family spoke Italian in the household when I grew up young, I was speaking Italian and English. Almost a brooklynese, if you will. Yeah, it was sad. They had to bring my mother in to say, he needs to learn English and stop speaking Italian to some degree, you know? So being Italian in New York is a lot different. Being Muslim in Georgia is probably a lot different also. So how did that affect your life growing up? How does that affect your life now?
[00:04:47] Ruwa: Yeah, so I’m actually the oldest of four. So it’s really interesting that we both had the same number of siblings. Yeah, I’m the oldest of four. I’ve got two brothers and a sister. And moving around a lot meant that I was exposed to different types of community. My mom tried really hard to make sure that we knew our culture. And a lot like you, we didn’t speak English at home. I had younger siblings and my mom felt that it would be unfair that they wouldn’t be able to learn. We spoke Arabic at home, so she felt it would be unfair if they didn’t know Arabic. So she would pretend not to understand us, the whole nine yards. And she taught us to read and write. So I’m, because of her, I’m actually fluent in both English and Arabic. But then the biggest shift for me, I was kind of oblivious to people’s reaction to me. I started wearing a headscarf when I was really young because I really wanted to. My parents were actually really concerned for my safety. They were like, please don’t like, just wait until you’re a little bit older. And I was a stubborn child, for lack of a better way to describe myself. And I said, well my parents said, don’t do this, so now I’m going to do this. So I was in middle school and I started wearing my head scarf. And a couple years after that we moved to Forsyth County Georgia. And Forsyth County, at least where I lived, was very different at the time. I think a lot of people like to paint the south with a broad brush, but that wasn’t, it was a little more complicated than that. I was stereotypically, I was one of three non-white kids in my entire eighth grade class. Which meant that, you know, people have stereotypes about Muslims. They would call me a terrorist. They would point out my house as the bomb lab.
[00:06:16] Rico: Oh my God.
[00:06:17] Ruwa: But simultaneously, yeah, it was not fun. And the first black kid I ever met in Forsyth County was sophomore year of high school. It’s very different now. My sister goes to the same high school that I go to and her experience is night and day from mine. But it really taught me a couple of things. One, it taught me that not everybody is militantly hateful. Some people just don’t know any better. And if you give them a chance and you talk to them, you’d be surprised at how open and understanding they can be. Obviously that wasn’t fair for a child to have to deal with, but it really did teach me how to talk to people very different than me and who don’t agree with me on anything. And the second thing that it taught me was the importance of knowing who you are and just really living within your identity. Because I don’t think that I could have gotten through all of that sort of bullying and that experience growing up had I not been comfortable in my own skin. And I was very lucky as a kid to have a support system around me that let that happen. When I say my teachers saved my life, this is exactly what I’m talking about. They were some of the first people to step in when students were being too much. But they did it in a way that didn’t increase the harm. Instead they used it as a learning opportunity, a teaching opportunity for me and my fellow students of, how can we do this better? Why is this not okay? And truly it’s because of them that I had gotten through that part of my life.
[00:07:35] Rico: You’re fortunate. I mean, I believe the school system has a lot of great teachers, but sometimes not. And so I think you were fortunate then, that that was the case. And I can see that. I mean, I see it unfortunately in adults that speak about Muslim experience and stuff. And they know nothing about the Muslim experience. Not that I know enough, but I’m, I feel educated a little bit, at least on it. And from coming from an immigrant background and seeing what my parents had to face also. And sometimes what I faced even. And people look at me and say like, you’re white, what’s the difference? No, no. You know, Rico Figliolini, italian, people remember the Sopranos from HBO? And I’m like, no, we’re not all monsters. You know, and so, there’s a bit of that sometimes.
[00:08:22] Ruwa: Exactly. And I do wanna say my primary election, I think was the kind of election that I wanted to have. Where it was very much on the who’s gonna work really hard? What are the policies that matter to the people the most? And we really ran on our merits. I felt like JT and I really ran a good campaign where it stayed clean and we were able to go back to that ideal of what politics should be. Unfortunately, this time around, that’s not what’s happening. So we found out this weekend that people in my district received a mailer saying I have ties to terrorism. And the way I explain it to people is that, it’s shocking and upsetting and we have to absolutely respond to it. But at the same time, it’s one of those things where, unfortunately, my threshold is so high. That it was just like an extra to-do list on my list to deal with, right? And to explain why we had to deal with it. When I worked for CAIR Georgia, CAIR Georgia is a Muslim civil rights organization.
[00:09:18] Rico: And that’s spelled C-A-I-R. Wasn’t that?
[00:09:21] Ruwa: Yes, C-A-I-R. Yes. The Council on American-Islamic Relations. I helped start the Georgia chapter. The Georgia chapter didn’t exist. I mean, it was kind of there as like a board, but we weren’t offering any services. And I had just graduated college like two years earlier, and this was at the time when then candidate Trump was like, we need to shut down all Muslim immigration. And then a year later signed the first iteration of the Muslim ban. So we weren’t sleeping. Like, that’s not an exaggeration. There were people who were stuck at airports whose entire lives were upended. And my team and I, brand new team, just started out this organization were like in airports translating. There was a grandfather that was trying to, he visited the states multiple times from Syria. Like this wasn’t his first time visiting, but this one time he actually did need to be here because he needed life saving cancer treatment that his family was completely paying for. And he was banned. It delayed his treatment, and it really, really jeopardized his life. So when people say that she’s got ties to terrorism because of that, it shows some pretty intense ignorance. Because not only has CAIR been investigated because of these conspiracy theories, we actually had anti-Muslim groups infiltrate the organization and put people on our payroll who were eventually outed like 13 years later because we were so boring and they couldn’t find anything on us. Like it was your typical like non-profit drama office stuff and whatever. But it wasn’t what, It wasn’t exciting. It wasn’t what they were looking for. And so they actually outed the guy earlier this year. Because they’re like, we’re not getting anything juicy off of them. This is useless. So, but again, I do want to go back to the point about why we responded to it. It’s because one, network is really important, good work. And two, my life was put in danger. We didn’t have an office. And so at the time it was pretty easy to find where I lived and who I was. And I was targeted by an armed militia. We all were. We were put on like multiple hit lists.
[00:11:12] Rico: Is that something that was reported to the authorities?
[00:11:15] Ruwa: Yes. Yeah.
[00:11:16] Rico: How did you know you were on multiple hit lists?
[00:11:19] Ruwa: So we had a GBI agent. Each of us was assigned a GBI, a Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent who anytime we received a threatening phone call or voicemail or whatever the case may be, we had to submit it to them. So each of us basically had a file of just threats that were accumulating over that year, year and a half.
[00:11:38] Rico: And how long ago was that? Or is that recent?
[00:11:41] Ruwa: So it was 2015 and it continued until I went to my graduate program, or maybe 2016. 2016 until I went to my graduate program. Even when I went to DC I was still getting the phone calls until about 2018. So it was about two years of just constant, you know, my social media was always full of comments. My emails were always full of comments. Our inbox was always full of comments. Which is again, quite unfortunate because, like every organization we were dealing with having to provide services for the people that needed them. We were dealing with your typical office stuff of like how to properly set up as an organization, what strategy works best, all of those typical things. And on top of that, I’d call my GBI agent and be like, hey, I just got another one. Here you go, so.
[00:12:21] Rico: Wow. Now just to let people know, I mean, obviously when I interviewed John Chan, your opponent in this race for the 97. Because there’s no incumbent for this seat. This seat is a brand new seat.
[00:12:34] Ruwa: Yeah, it was actually mostly Beth Moore’s old district and then partly Bonnie Rich’s old district. So yeah.
[00:12:39] Rico: So it’s brand new. So John Chan was a guest, for those that haven’t seen the episode, you should probably look at it. Running also for the seat. And towards the tail end of that interview, he mentioned that you were part of CAIR Georgia, which is recognized, according to him as a terrorist organization. I think it was by Syria? By some foreign country. I forget which country.
[00:13:01] Ruwa: Yeah, he said the UAE designated us.
[00:13:03] Rico: The UAE. That was it. Sorry. That was it.
[00:13:05] Ruwa: No, no no, you’re good. He said the UAE designated us as a terrorist organization. Which the last time I checked, we live in the US. The UAE is not a civil rights friendly country.
[00:13:16] Rico: No, by far.
[00:13:17] Ruwa: So it’s not surprising that they would want to designate a civil rights organization as a terrorist organization.
[00:13:23] Rico: In fact, before this interview I went online. Anyone can go online and go search. I did not find anything disparaging about CAIR Georgia on there or the organization.
[00:13:33] Ruwa: What you’ll find, by the way I really care about internet literacy and mis- and disinformation. There are literal think tanks whose entire, for a while it was like a 300 million industry to increase fear about Muslims in America. And they literally would fundraise off of, let’s find the terrorists among us. And we’d see these, like, it was truly like that’s how they would fundraise. And they went after everyone. I mean, they went after CAIR Georgia. They went after an organization called Islamic Relief whose literally only job is to feed and house poor people. That’s truly all that they do. And I think there was a comment on the last podcast that was like, I can link to everything that John Chan mentioned today. And so I went to look at the organization that she cited. And the first thing about it that you read is that it’s an anti-Muslim think tank. And I lived in DC, I know these think tanks. I know how they operate. I know how they’re structured. We know how this stuff works. But unfortunately for a typical person who’s reading, they don’t know that, right? They never walked down K Street. They never saw like what these buildings look like or who these people are that there’s people sitting behind their computer.
[00:14:34] Rico: Right and there’s no transparency about who funds them and such. Which is, which is a bad thing because anyone can be funding anything secretly through third party corporations into a pack or a think tank even. Alright, good. So, I just wanted to make sure we got that out of the way.
[00:14:50] Ruwa: I appreciate it. No, you’re good. Thanks.
[00:14:52] Rico: Cool. So now let’s get onto some real issues. I think, that will matter as far as if someone wants to vote for either one of you, so this way they can see where you guys sit.
[00:15:01] Ruwa: Also this detracts from the issues. We have so much happening in our communities and I’m like, we don’t have time for this. But anyway, I digress.
[00:15:08] Rico: Yes, just it’s the economy stupid. So anyway, let’s start with education. Let’s go there first, okay. So I know that education is on your website, one of the first items someone will look at and see. And you talk about teachers, you talk about reinvestment in schools and stuff. So tell us a little bit, because this is of the biggest budget in education, that’s 50% of Georgia’s budget according to your website. And I know we rank, everyone knows and we hear the stories that we rank 38 at the bottom, maybe even lower depending on how you actually look at that statistic. So tell us a little bit about what your campaign would like to see and how in practical purposes, what you would specifically suggest.
[00:15:53] Ruwa: Yeah, I firmly believe that teachers are the cornerstone to our education system. I think technologies come and go, I think teaching methodologies evolve over time. But the ones that stay, the ones that are in that building the longest are truly our teachers. And that’s why I really do stress paying them better, because we really don’t pay them well. And one of my favorite things that I learned recently is that Georgia has a multi-billion dollar budget where we could give teachers an $11,000 raise tomorrow and not raise a single cent in taxes. $11,000. It wouldn’t be a one time bonus like Governor Kemp did, it would be a consistent raise that would stay over time. And that’s truly one of the first things because we’re losing teachers at a rate that is just astonishing. I know some teachers that are actively applying to my company. We’ve seen an influx of teachers that want to just get out of the profession completely and not just go to a different school. Which tells us that it’s not like a particularly bad administrator or administration. It’s the profession itself. But if you invest in teachers and you invest in that pipeline, that means a couple of things will happen. One, you’re able to retain teachers better. Two, you’re able to then recruit more teachers to decrease classroom sizes. And three, the students now get more attention from their teachers. But also the reason I’m so stuck on public schools isn’t just because of my personal experience, but also what that personal experience looked like. A good chunk of my public education was in Forsyth County. I had access to five different magnet programs. One of them, and not all of them were like STEM and STEAM and stuff like that. One of them was a culinary program. One of them was a robotics program. One of them was a career based program. And it was all within a public school system that every child had access to, regardless of their income level. And that’s what I want for students. It’s not that I’m saying one size fits all and let’s just throw money at the problem and it’ll go away. What I’m saying is that if you invest in your people, they are and can be very innovative and can give students the kind of opportunities that I had. Which was truly an incredible education.
[00:17:51] Rico: Peachtree Corners itself, and Norcross, and the parts that you’ll represent if you were elected. I mean, we have good schools here, right? To a degree. It varies, obviously, depending. Peachtree Elementary, Norcross Elementary, you have, although you also have the IB program at Norcross, you have Paul Duke’s STEM, High school. Which is not a testing school, you don’t have to test to get into that school. So it’s a school that you can attend and get into STEAM. And also allows, in that particular case, kids to learn like 3D printing, coding, actually graduate or possibly get a job right out without going to college. So paying more. I know, you know, listen, Kemp has done the refunds, the state refunds to families and stuff. Which is a good thing. But you know, everyone can debate on where to put that money. And education certainly would be at, I know that Gwinnett County has empty slots and they can’t fill it. I mean, probably because they can’t get enough applicants actually into it. Yes, more pay would be helpful. But what else do you think should be done there?
[00:18:56] Ruwa: Yeah, so I love when people ask me what else, because a lot of things I’ve talked about are multi-prong approaches. So you also have to look at the sort of teacher pipeline as a whole. In order to become a teacher you have to become certified. There are a lot of hurdles to becoming fully certified. Some of it financial, some of it just a support system for people as they’re going through their education. And there are grant and student loan forgiveness programs for teachers that I think if we were able to reduce the timeline of those for people to see that payback of it a lot faster, we would see a lot more people entering this profession. Versus now where I get the student loan forgiveness program is there, but it’s 10 years. And when you’re a kid who decided to become a teacher and you’re constantly paying this loan, even though it is adjusted for your income, it’s still an extra expense. What if we did a five year loan forgiveness? Because then that teacher pay isn’t as intense for them to feel, especially in a rising, where everything is rising in cost would be really great. Additionally, is there a way to have people working maybe under a mentorship program or something so that the certification requirements are adequate enough that they are able to be good teachers, but they’re not cumbersome? Like are we asking for too much based on the level that a teacher is teaching? How much certification do they actually need? What are these schools offering, especially some of our public universities within their education? Are there classes that they’re taking that they don’t have to be taking? They can save time and money on and get them into the classrooms more. But it really does come down to respect. I think that the other piece of this, so money, the pipeline itself of educating our teachers. But then also how we treat our teachers. I had mentioned this during the Peachtree Corners debate. I have watched the disrespect, and the harassment, and the threatening of teachers that has increased over the past year, year and a half, maybe two. We need to stop that. Period. It is a cultural shift that needs to happen. We need to actively call it out and support our teachers, and it needs to come from our state legislatures.
[00:20:54] Rico: Okay. Are you seeing that mainly from parents? Or parents and kids?
[00:20:59] Ruwa: It’s sort of one of those things where, and I want to be clear, most parents are awesome. The parents I’m seeing are very supportive of teachers, but there’s a very small but vocal minority that is doxing teachers, that is calling for surveilling teachers. And of course that’s going to permeate to their students, right? If you’re a kid and your parent is constantly talking badly about your teacher, you’re more likely to disrespect your teacher in the classroom. You’re more likely to misbehave in the classroom. You’re less likely to listen to your teacher, whether as an authority figure or as someone to teach you. And so we need to change this culture that we have as politicals. As a whole, by the way, across the board. Of talking to teachers more, respecting them more, and treating them like the professionals that they are.
[00:21:42] Rico: Cool. Yeah, I agree with you on most of those points. It’s a tough profession. I can’t see being one of them. I don’t, I wouldn’t have the patience for it.
[00:21:50] Ruwa: Me neither.
[00:21:51] Rico: That’s a tough thing. Economic opportunity. We have a tremendous amount of inflation right now. Interest rates have gone higher, gas is going a little higher. I mean, that’s a fluctuating thing. And unemployment is low. And it’s ridiculously low and to the point where, businesses, like where was I just now? I went to a local gas station that’s fairly new and they just opened and I went to gas up, gassed up. I went to go into the convenience part, which is brand new, beautiful looking. Couldn’t go in. There was no staff.
[00:22:23] Ruwa: Yeah.
[00:22:24] Rico: They just couldn’t hire anyone, I guess. I mean, it’s just crazy. So how can we deal, how can a state, at the state level. I mean, we’re feeling that in Norcross. I constantly, when I go to Dunkin Donuts, they don’t have enough employees. When I go to Town Center and I see a sign in the window that literally says $15 an hour, where they would never put out that sign. How can the state help local cities combat that and other issues?
[00:22:52] Ruwa: So again, with my multi-prong approaches, and sorry for my dog, she’s excited.
[00:22:56] Rico: No, you’re good.
[00:22:57] Ruwa: We need to talk about the facts first and foremost. The fact is that a million people died of Covid and millions more are disabled because of complications from Covid. The reason I know that is because I’m experiencing long-term Covid symptoms. None of my blood levels are normal, every time I go to the doctor’s office, like something new. So it’s real and it’s impacting people. And a lot of the jobs that you mentioned, are very strenuous jobs. On my campaign, we’re offering $17.50 an hour to canvas. We’re actually working to up that to 20 for the last couple of weeks hoping to get like a grant for it. But even still, that is not enough for a lot of people. And I don’t think any of us expected this kind of lower unemployment rate because we thought, oh, the economy is struggling, so therefore X, Y, and Z. But it’s also important to recognize that a lot of these local stores. Some of them are corporations of course, but a lot of these mom and pop stores are competing with large corporations. These large corporations can offer healthcare. They can offer benefits in a way that a small business cannot afford. And in a place like Georgia, and again, I’ve lived in DC, it’s uniquely bad and expensive on healthcare. So if a mom and pop shop wants to compete with a company to hire people, it just simply can’t afford to because healthcare is so expensive. And we’re leaving billions of dollars on the table in Medicaid that you and I paid for in our taxes, that could really help ease that burden and bring down some of those private insurance costs that we’re seeing. And that’s one way that we can help mom and pop shops compete because then they can offer a benefit they can afford to then bring back some of those people from the private corporations. But we also need to think a little bit more long term about, again, our students, our education system, our future generations, so that they are equipped to enter the workforce. Maybe even faster, but making sure they can have a living wage if they do leave school early, because that’s the unfortunate part. If you have a high level of education, you tend to be paid very high. So we also need to fix that disconnect of, we want more people in the labor force, but we also want them to be able to afford to live. And so how can we, like you said, those apprenticeship programs. You know, my sister currently, which I didn’t do in high school, but I think it’s really cool. Two of her days in high school now are working at a clinic. She gets an opportunity to get real world experience as a high schooler before she even graduates. So there are ways that we can think about this creatively, but we also, again, for me, it’s all about the safeguards, right? Like making sure that kids aren’t being exploited, that they’re getting these opportunities, and that we’re fixing this labor problem at the same time. By sort of having people, or at least mom and pop shops, be a little more competitive, increasing the labor market. Because a lot of people are about to retire and I don’t think we’re ready for that.
[00:25:31] Rico: Right. I think people retired during Covid even. Because they found that this is the perfect time, let’s just get out of it. And I appreciate the apprenticeship program idea because I see that in Europe. I see companies now beginning to, large companies like Bosch and some other companies, beginning to talk about that. Because not every kid can go to college. Not every kid wants to go to college. Not every kid can strive through four years of college and then come out. I mean, I’ve seen kids come out with a degree and then not do the work in that degree. I mean, so what’s the point? If you could come out of a school within, through an apprenticeship program and making 70, 80,000 possibly even. Like HVAC or electrician or plumber. There are definitely jobs like that. And they can’t get enough people, it seems. So do you see the state being able to step in to some degree to help with those types of apprenticeship programs?
[00:26:24] Ruwa: Yeah, the state, there were a few pilot programs that started as early, that I know of in 2015. The problem with the pilot programs was we didn’t put proper safeguards in place so that students were being pushed to leave the apprenticeship program early, and then they were stuck in a lower income bracket because the company that they were on offered them like $12 an hour, which to them was a lot of money. And then they grew up and they wanted to buy a house and wanted to start a family and realized, oh shoot, I can’t live on my high school pay anymore. And so we need to make sure that if a company wants to take advantage of those apprenticeship programs that they commit to allowing students to finish their degree in full before they pull them out. Because you know, apprenticeship programs come with certificates and degrees and stuff that you can then take with you to other companies and be able to shop around for a job. And so that’s a very important piece that I don’t think we have fully invested in. Because it, a lot of people were like, oh, this might not be great for my child.
[00:27:19] Rico: Yeah. I agree with you. There’s different problems in different states, right? New York State has a lot of unions, which is not a bad thing, but can be a bad thing. So it can be a detriment or an impediment, depending on how you look at it. And it can be good. Georgia doesn’t, right? Georgia is a right to work state or work at will state, depending on how you technically want to call it. So I agree with you. I believe in free market, but you have to make sure there’s oversight because people will take advantage. Totally. Healthcare, you mentioned that before about affordable and accessible healthcare. So the state of Georgia is not part of accepting the expanded Medicare system. I mean, I can understand part of that reasoning, even though the federal government will pay for 90% of that cost, at least for the first few years or first two years. And then after that, the state will have to pick that up. We can’t pay for everything. We can’t do $11,000 increase in pay for teachers and then do this and that. So how do we handle healthcare?
[00:28:19] Ruwa: Yeah, so the interesting thing about our current surplus is that the immor, amortization, I can never say that word. But the rate on it actually would replenish the fund even as we use it. The thing is we have a real opportunity in Georgia right now. These surplus funds came mostly from ARPA funds and other pieces of legislation that President Biden had signed into law recently. So we have a windfall and a real opportunity to invest in our people. And no one is saying that we can pay for everything tomorrow. But the idea is that if we have this opportunity, we’re able to make these investments now for a better future without raising taxes and that are sustainable and long term. Why wouldn’t you? And that has been my question over and over and over again is, this is a moment where we can really fix a lot of these problems we’ve been having in Georgia. I would say that have gotten worse since 2008. But our rainy day fund is fully funded. All of our budget items are fully funded and we still have this surplus. So on the issue, and again, this is something that I think a lot of people, I appreciate and understand that we do live in sort of a capitalist society and a free market system. But healthcare is not something that can be controlled by the free market because it’s an inelastic good. If I had diabetes, I can’t just decide not to purchase insulin because it’s too expensive. That’s not an option for me because I will die. It is that simple. And so when we treat healthcare as a typical market good, we end up with a lot of market inefficiencies. I do understand economics because I spent a good chunk of my public policy learning economics which I think a lot of people think, oh, she’s just a kid and she’s idealistic, and oh, she’s very cute. But no, I know the principles I’m talking about. I just don’t share the values of people should die because they couldn’t afford insulin. Which by the way, Medicaid is just one solution, right? Again, I like to talk about multi-pronged approaches. Georgia’s also bad on public health. We don’t teach our people when to go to the emergency room versus their primary care doctor versus an urgent care. And that causes a lot of strain on our hospitals that is exacerbating the closures. So if somebody needs insulin, they’re probably better off going to an urgent care clinic than they are going to an emergency room. But you know what would be even better is if we could give them insulin, right? If we could give them an inhaler for their asthma so they’re not ending up costing thousands of dollars instead of whatever the cost of the medication is.
[00:30:36] Rico: Absolutely. But hospitals have to accept, there are people without insurance, right? I forget what the number here is in the state of Georgia. So you can’t go to an urgent care, likely, or a doctor maybe, because you feel you’d have to pay there for sure. Whereas a hospital has to take you. Although depending on which hospital you go to, they may also shift you out.
[00:30:56] Ruwa: Right, right.
[00:30:57] Rico: And they’re not allowed to. But the people that don’t know that, don’t know that.
[00:31:01] Ruwa: Oh, of course. But we’re talking about tears of people, right? Like if the people who have insurance instead of going the emergency room all the time, they went to these other doctors, then that’s one less critical in the emergency room, so on and so forth. But then again, if you have a public healthcare option that people have access to, then they don’t even go to the emergency room at all because they have access to insulin. And if we’re gonna really have a serious conversation about the market, having a public health option that is competitive in the market forces health insurance companies to stop price gouging. Because again, we don’t really have a choice in, we have the illusion of choice in health insurance, but they’ve all consolidated into like two or three companies I think now. I mean they’ve got like subsidiaries, but that’s not choice to me. They’re literally running a muck with the market and doing whatever they want to do, and no one is stopping them.
[00:31:48] Rico: Agreed, agreed. I know someone that’s going for a diagnostic mammogram, I think it’s called. A screening mammogram, actually. There’s different levels of that, right? So I saw the sheet and there’s no pricing on it. There’s no price transparency. The interesting part that we know how much it costs, it actually costs less going and paying in cash out of pocket then if you went with your insurance in hand. I’m like, now why is that? Why does it cost less for me to pay out of pocket let’s say, versus going through the insurance. And then you see when they send you the explanation of benefits, it’s like a horrendous amount. It’s like, but that’s not your bill. But it is your bill because in a way, you’re gonna end up paying it.
[00:32:30] Ruwa: Right. Why did a bandaid cost me? What was it? $200 the other day kinda thing.
[00:32:35] Rico: It’s ridiculous. Let’s go on to, let’s try crime and safety. So public safety, community safety, that’s the new phraseology used. Community safety because that’s just about the public, I guess. It’s about how we keep our community safe. So here in Peachtree Corners, I mean, there are things that happen. Shootings at extended stay hotels and other places. And there was a shooting at the QT not too long ago, if you may remember that. Three perpetrators tried to do a carjacking. The kid, 29 year old that used to coach, I think at Norcross High School, didn’t want his car jacked. And it was on Peachtree Parkway, really busy intersection. And I think for a lot of people, a wake up call to, like, it’s not just other places. It happened here. Now those three were found within a month, I think. All three of them were arrested and I guess they’re going to be fully prosecuted, supposedly. We’ll find when that goes. But part of it was technology was being used. Fūsus is a Peachtree Corners company that does crime center in the cloud, computations and uses algorithms and video cameras and such. They’re one of many companies, right? They’re based here. Those three were found because of some of these efforts. Using technology to track people to be able to find them. I know there was a point of people wanting to defund the police. Do they need an armed vehicle carrier to bring the people in? I don’t know. But how should the state work with local cities to make sure that technology can be used? Because it’s effective. And to be able to look at how the police operate. Also, in a social environment where maybe police aren’t needed and maybe a social worker is needed, or a social professional is needed, maybe even in concert with a police officer. Because I wouldn’t want to send somebody out to a domestics disturbance by themselves without a police officer. Because those things can turn deadly. So how would, Romman handle this as a State House Rep?
[00:34:40] Ruwa: I do want, there’s a couple things I want to say here about this conversation and then I want to talk about my solutions. One of the things that has been very upsetting to me around conversation about public safety and crime is it has almost felt like some people have been giddy that that shooting happened. Because then they can go, oh my god, crime Democrats and defund the police. Somebody died that day. And the lack of sensitivity around that conversation, frankly, has been very upsetting to me. It’s also important to note, like you said, that the perpetrators were apprehended pretty quickly. And that’s due to investment by our county commissioners, who are all Democrats, by the way. None of them are defunding the police. That are supporting law enforcement in a way that does increase public safety. So I’m really glad you mentioned it that way because while it is scary and terrifying, I mean, I’ve always gone to that QT. The Forum mall is like one of the first malls I ever went to as a kid, right? You hang out with your friends, you’re supposed to be in a safe space. But we need to look at public safety holistically from a prevention and a response perspective, like you said. So a lot of these extended stays, what can we do to make sure that people have affordable housing? Including first responders, by the way. A lot of first responders can’t afford to live where they’re serving. That’s not good for public safety and doesn’t increase trust. The second piece of it, like you said, is mental health and social workers that are useful, that do have to be escorted by police officers. Like I said, my husband’s a part-time first responder, and if it’s a shooting scene, police always go and clear the scene before they’re able to support anyone that’s been hurt. So that’s like a, again, a holistic approach. At the same time, we have to make sure that the public, we are focused on community and public safety in a way that doesn’t increase harm. And what I mean by that is you mentioned the technology, you mentioned how there are these really awesome and cool tools that we have in our back pocket that we can apprehend criminals. We also need to make sure that our privacy is continued to be protected. And this is coming from me as a woman, right? If I go to my OB-GYN tomorrow and that OB-GYN happens to also provide abortion as a service, do I then become a suspect for the state based on our new laws? Even if I’m not pregnant, even if I’m not whatever. How can we make sure that those safeguards are in place so that we can adequately respond to crimes? While making sure that completely innocent law abiding citizens aren’t ensnared in that system of suspicion that only the wealthy are able to get out of quickly and be able to overcome. The other piece, and I know I was attacked on this recently, I think. I’m not really sure. On cash bail was, our prisons and jails are overflowing. Especially our jails. And it’s because nonviolent offenders can’t afford to pay their bail even if they didn’t. This is only people who’ve been charged of a crime. They haven’t been convicted of a crime. And I had a friend the other day tell me they work for like an ankle monitoring business company type thing. They said that they had to put an ankle monitor on a murder suspect because they didn’t have space in jail to hold that person. And they know for a fact that the people in that jail are nonviolent criminals. That they could be let out with those ankle monitors instead, but they just can’t afford it. And so when you put money and tie it that closely to freedom, it doesn’t make any of us safer. In fact, it’s actually putting a lot of us more in danger. So going back to that holistic approach, I was talking about. It’s, support our first responders better, and I think I would add social workers to that term as well. Increase their certification along with that increase in pay so that there aren’t any bad actors in that type of workforce and field. And two, how do we support these new technological innovations while protecting innocent, average everyday citizens? And three you know, educate the public on how to be a part of that community safety approach of how do we care for one another? How do we look out for one another? I think is sometimes something that we don’t always talk about.
[00:38:20] Rico: Yeah, true. I think that depending on the community and outreach, you find a lot of that from the faith institutions reaching out, providing services, jobs, how to find a job. To people that may not know how to find a job. So there’s a lot of that going on in certain communities, there’s more than in other communities sometimes. I agree with you on the privacy. I think technology is moving faster than legislation can catch up with and right? And unfortunately there are legislators that are older than me out there that don’t even understand the technology and what the privacy issues. It’s a very complicated, right? It’s very complicated. There’s a lot of gray areas. I know the idea of cashless bail, people are like, no, no, that’s bad. And you get a TikTok video of someone that you know, smashed someone to the ground, and now they have a brain injury and it’s a misdemeanor, and why are they on bail or cashless bail? Well, that’s just bad judgment call. Some of it has to just be like, the judge has to realize there has to be some latitude in what’s done, right? Everyone picks the extreme of a problem.
[00:39:29] Ruwa: Exactly.
[00:39:30] Rico: And say that’s the problem. So yeah, I get what you’re saying. And I like the fact that multi-prong is important because it’s not a black and white thing.
[00:39:38] Ruwa: I’m a nerd like that, yeah. I tend to geek out on policy because I’m like, you’ve gotta address the whole thing not just bits and pieces of it.
[00:39:45] Rico: Yeah, yeah. No, I agree. I love talking shop. So let’s go to voting rights because that’s a big thing for me too. Because sometimes when I have to pay by check, I have to show an ID.
[00:39:56] Ruwa: Sure.
[00:39:56] Rico: When I go pick up drugs, I have to show an ID. There’s some things I have to show an ID for. And I fervently believe, when I go to vote, I should show my ID. That makes sense. Now what that ID is can be you know, it’s a government ID or your driver’s license or something like that. But I believe that if we’re gonna enforce that, then we should actually make it as easy as possible for these people to get their IDs.
[00:40:22] Ruwa: Right.
[00:40:22] Rico: If that means you know, drop it off by Door Dash or something then that’s good. You know, it’s alright. You know, because as long as you do the initial thing and you have a picture and you have a fingerprint and you say you’re IDed. You’re good to go, right?
[00:40:37] Ruwa: Yeah.
[00:40:37] Rico: So what do you, how do you feel about that?
[00:40:39] Ruwa: Yeah, so full disclosure on this, I actually did, my master’s was on voter ID laws and voting in general. And I looked at every single county in the 48 contiguous United States to look at the impact of voter ID laws. One of the most interesting things about my findings is that it wasn’t necessarily the voter ID law itself that reduced turnout, which by the way, I used some of the strictest models I could. We were all shocked that my findings were, to get really nerdy like statistically significant, in the fact that there’s a negative correlation between voter ID laws and turnout. But the caveat and the nuance there is the type of voter ID law that was implemented. So in other states what they do is, they have voter ID laws, but they also allow somebody who goes to vote to prove their identity in a different way. They can sign an affidavit, they can look them up in an already existing system. There are so many different ways that somebody can prove their identity right then and there so they don’t leave and can’t come back to vote, that doesn’t prevent them from voting. And that’s the biggest piece of nuance I think that a lot of people miss on the voter ID laws is, nobody is saying that we shouldn’t verify who is voting. That’s like 101, like you’ve gotta trust but verify, right?
[00:41:51] Rico: Right.
[00:41:52] Ruwa: But one, of the billions of ballots that researchers in this field have looked at over time, there has been no voter fraud. And when there has been voter fraud, it’s immediately been found and none of it has ever flipped an election. Period. Those are facts. I get that we live in a society where I can write whatever I want on the internet. But there are people who study this and they have been looking at this in a way, way, way deeper than I can in a quick Google search. And so you’re right. There are ways to write these laws where we’re securing our elections without preventing people from voting. One of them is making sure they get IDs. That’s what they do in Mexico. Mexico has a very strict ID law, but they ensure that every citizen in Mexico gets an ID. To the point that they have like the people who are census takers, kind of like what we saw during the census, their only job is to deliver IDs. They literally go to the highest mountains, to the deepest slums.
[00:42:41] Rico: There you go. Right, and that’s what we should be doing too, then if we’re gonna be forcing that. And I like the idea of multiple ways to validate someone’s identification.
[00:42:50] Ruwa: Right.
[00:42:51] Rico: Using other means. But that also means the state would have to step in to some degree. We’re a county by county, right? Every county uses their own election thing, whatever they want to use. Whether it’s a ballot receipt or a scanned ballot or whatever it is. There’s too many ways to do this from county to county that it becomes difficult unless you’re going to be able to make some sort of broad ID that’s accepted by every county, right? I mean.
[00:43:18] Ruwa: Which exists, like, that’s what the driver’s license system is. And county officials do have access to those records, by the way. So during my day job, I’ve got various clients, a lot of them are federal agencies and some of this stuff really is just technological supply chain process. Boring stuff that you just need to put in some time, effort, and yes, funding into. But it makes life so much easier in the future.
[00:43:39] Rico: Yeah. And I think that makes sense. So I agree with you on most of your points there. There’s a lot of valid places, valid ways to be able to say who you are. And the only thing I have is that I’ve been out of Brooklyn, New York when I was part of the Democratic machine, became a Reagan Democrat later. But in New York, and most anyone that’s listened to me often enough knows I worked for Chuck Schumer when he was a congressman early on for a year, just doing constituency work, but worked in politics. You know, people should be more afraid of how votes are suppressed, people’s rights are taken away, not physically, but just by mailings. Of if you get slammed with enough mailings, you become so immune to it that you’re like, I don’t even want to go vote. I know lots of young kids that don’t even, they five years into their voting ability and not once have they gone to vote. So there’s so many other ways to get people to vote. And that’s, voter ID is not really one of them.
[00:44:39] Ruwa: You’re speaking to my heart here. I mean, I always tell people you know, a lot of people say, what’s the point of getting politically involved? And I remind them that there have been races, like in Virginia, the state legislature stayed Republican for an extra two years because of the equivalent of a coin toss. Like it was a tie and they had to break the tie. And we have our city council race up here in Duluth was decided by four votes. So I have a hard time believing that this doesn’t matter. But you’ve also gotta build political power during off years so that if somebody, including me, doesn’t do what you elected them to do, you’re able to vote them out and get a better person in.
[00:45:12] Rico: Yes. People love to complain and I love to say, well, if you haven’t voted then. And I know people get tired of that, but you know what, if you haven’t voted, it doesn’t matter. I don’t care, and I wanna hear you. It’s like that type of thing. Because, and then people say, well, it doesn’t mean anything, but those four votes in Duluth it meant something.
[00:45:29] Ruwa: It matters.
[00:45:30] Rico: Right. Could have been something else. There’s so many other issues we could talk about and we’re running into 50 minutes right now, almost an hour. And I do want to give you an opportunity to ask for that vote. Is there a particular burning issue that we haven’t touched on that you wanna spend a couple of minutes on?
[00:45:45] Ruwa: This is sort of a very meta issue, I think. But I really want to encourage, listeners and voters to reach out to their candidates and hear from them directly. Trust me, I know a lot of money goes into marketing. I have to fundraise for it. I get it. But you know, my number is on our website. My email’s on our website. If you leverage that, I will respond to you. And the reason I say that is we live in an, in a digital age where anyone can write anything and send out anything that they want with little to no consequence. And as you saw even during this podcast, we had to spend the beginning of it dispelling a rumor that someone took five minutes to write and say. And that kind of stuff really does detract from the real issues. And I think, I would hope as constituents, as people who care about our society, that we start to more critically think about some of the things that are being sent to us. So I think the one rule of thumb that I’ve started to implement for myself is if somebody tells me about a problem and is only scaring me about it, and they’re not offering me a solution, then they’re not going to fix it. They just want to fear monger me into a vote. And so please, think about the world around us. How much control does the person that is leveraging this issue actually have on that issue? And ask those critical questions of them. Again, I have solutions and ideas. I think that with my expertise in everything, I can do a lot. A lot of good in this work, but I’m also not naive and I know my limitations. I don’t wanna over promise and underdeliver kind of thing.
[00:47:08] Rico: Let’s go right into you asking for the vote, then. We might as well, let’s go right there. And tell people where they can find you.
[00:47:15] Ruwa: Yeah. So, as I mentioned, my name is Ruwa Romman. I’m running for Georgia State House District 97. You can find out more about me at Ruwa, R-U-W-A , the number four, Georgia spelled out, .com. So Ruwa4Georgia.com. There you’ll find a form that you can reach out to me directly. You can ask questions, we can have great conversations. And more importantly, I really, really hope that I’ve earned your vote and that you will vote. Early voting is happening right now and ends November 4th. Gwinnett County does provide early voting on both weekends, between now and then. And then the last day to vote is November 8th. I urge you to vote early so we can help you if you run into any issues. And if you do, contact us. But thank you for giving me the opportunity to meet you, talk to you, let me come to your home and knock on your door. It has been a true privilege doing this work.
[00:48:00] Rico: Cool. And where can they find out, what’s your website and your social media address?
[00:48:05] Ruwa: Right, so it’s all the same. Ruwa, R-U-W-A, the number four, Georgia is spelled out. So Ruwa4Georgia. And it’s dot com. It’s every handle. I’m learning TikTok, so I’m making a fool of myself there, but trying to have fun.
[00:48:16] Rico: Alright, cool. Hang in there with me while I just close out. Thank you everyone for attending this podcast, listening to it on iHeart, Spotify, or watching it on Facebook or YouTube. You can find more of these types of podcasts, either by searching Peachtree Corners Life on Apple, or wherever you find podcasts. Or by just liking our Facebook page which is Peachtree Corners Life. Or our YouTube channel, which is Peachtree Corners Magazine. Leave your comments. I’m sure Romman’s team is monitoring things. So wherever you’re at, if it’s on Facebook and you want to leave a comment or a question, you can put it there and they should get notified about that. Check out LivinginPeachtreeCorners.com for further stuff on Peachtree Corners and SouthwestGwinnettMagazine.com as well. So we have two magazines. Thank you again for being with us. Thank you Ruwa for coming.
[00:49:06] Ruwa: Thanks for having me.
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