I can confidently say that State Representative Bert Reeves’ op-ed claiming Stacey Abrams “took a walk” on human trafficking votes is pure spin. Reeves claiming that former House Minority Leader and now gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams does not support legislation to combat human trafficking almost gave me vertigo.
Strategists and campaign operatives tend to be highly skilled at spin and framing–I had a few professors include it in their curriculum. So because of these learned skills and after lobbying under the Golden Dome for four years, please trust me when I say, know spin when I see it.
So, here is the truth:
House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams voted in favor of sensible legislation to combat human trafficking. Between 2011 and 2017, Leader Abrams voted yes on several bipartisan pieces of legislation including HB 200 and HB 86. These bills sought to amend the current child abuse reporting statute to include sex trafficking of children, increase penalties for pimping and pandering and commission of the Georgia Crime Victims Compensation Board, and to mandate certain businesses to post the national anti-human trafficking hotline in business restrooms throughout the state.
Anyone with internet access and a basic understanding of how to use the legislation search feature on Georgia’s government website could have figured this out. Claims that Leader Abrams is against anti-human trafficking legislation is merely lazy and a logical fallacy. Further, it is an insult for Republicans to think the public will believe that Stacey Abrams, an advocate for women and girls, supports sex offenders taking pictures of children and pro-sex trafficking.
Again politics is messy. But the game Republicans are playing goes far beyond the usual. Let me give you a little inside ball.
There are strategies used by legislators and caucus leaders to retain fidelity for controversial issues, which overly impact their constituents. On the surface, these strategies directly are viewed as “not liking an issue,” “a partisan vote,” or “being philosophically opposed to the issue.” These strategies are practiced across the aisle. These types of strategies are employed out of protest, merit, or principle. For Leader Abrams, Mandatory Minimums is one such issue.
For criminal justice reformers, “mandatory minimums” is a serious concern. As a purported response to the urban drug epidemic in the 80s and 90s, people were detained under the “mandatory minimums” legislation. The legislation spread like cancer throughout states legislatures across this country, filling already full correctional facilities (and subsequently the pockets of private corrections stockholders), with mostly non-violent, codified felonies that targeted minority, primarily African-American, and poor communities.
Former Leader Abrams was having none of that. She was committed, throughout her tenure in the Georgia Legislature, to VETO any bill, which would have imposed a mandatory minimum, and subsequently, have adversely impacted vulnerable populations. By many accounts, she made this position known, to her GOP colleagues; and was the lynchpin behind her controversial call to abstain a vote on HB 341, which would have imposed increased penalties on those who traffic in humans in Georgia.
As a primer, Human Trafficking, including both labor and sex trafficking is an epidemic in the State of Georgia. A gross triangulation of data from GSU Center for Public Policy, Tabitha House, Bureau of Justice Statistics, and Polaris ascertained that approximately 200-400 girls under 18 are sexually trafficked in the State of Georgia, monthly, the primary consumers are adult men, from North of Atlanta, in Georgia suburbs. In 2016, approximately 27,000 calls were made to the national hotline, and the most targeted youth, are those who are socially vulnerable, living in poverty, and in transient, foster care, and youth transitional situations.
Throughout her tenure in the General Assembly, Leader Abram voted in the affirmative for legislation that sought to provide additional protections among foster kids and those in transitional situations, including an affirmative vote on HB 86, which including trafficking of children as child abuse.
Given her history and advocacy, it is confusing as to why Rep. Reeves felt this was even necessary to claim anything to the contrary. The only possible explanation is that he was trying to distract from the quite controversial claim that GOP Governor Candidate and Secretary of State, Brian Kemp renewed the license of a masseuse who’d sexually assaulted a client? That couldn’t possibly be the case.
Rep. Reeves, I got questions. If you are truly a concerned advocate, why didn’t you speak with Abrams about her abstention? Or if you did, why wasn’t this concern taken into consideration? Why the need to frame her abstention on a controversial portion of the bill, for political fodder? Why not address the fact that mandatory minimums have historically disenfranchised vulnerable, poor and communities of color? Why not accept a substitution to the bill, which could have been merely relegated to Superior Court Judges to determine? Why the need to not address the mandatory minimums, and yet conflate her philosophical position to an overall lack of support for human trafficking?
But we know the game. This is an election cycle, and Rep. Reeves and friends are putting partisan politics over saving lives and accurately reflecting the position of a former colleague. You don’t have to take my word for it. One only has to look at the “Public Service Award” Leader Abram recently received from Tabita’s House.