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Election 2018: Stacey Evans pitches herself as progressive choice in Democratic governor primary
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Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Evans, center, talks to local Democrats after a speech to the Hall County Democratic Party on Oct. 9, 2017. - photo by Nick Bowman

Raising the minimum wage, expanding Medicaid, marijuana decriminalization — Stacey Evans pitched herself as a progressive alternative in the Democratic gubernatorial primary on Monday.

Evans, a state representative from the Atlanta area, spoke to a group of about two dozen Hall County Democrats at the Gainesville Civic Center on Monday.

Evans is running against former House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams for the Democratic nomination in the May primary. Abrams resigned from the Georgia House in late August to focus on the gubernatorial race.

Both Democrats represent areas of Atlanta, but in her speech on Monday, Evans put the spotlight on her childhood in rural Ringgold, where she grew up in a poor household and an unstable home life in the Northwest Georgia town.

Born to a 17-year-old mother and with an absent father, Evans told the audience of moving from house to house as a child and coming home from school to find the power cut or her mother wracked with anxiety about coming bills.

“I have memories of one morning seeing one of my stepfathers drag my mom through the yard beating her up all the way,” Evans said, continuing that she recalled calling the police and “having the police answer the phone but tell me that they knew my stepdad and they didn’t think he would hurt a fly, and I must be mistaken about what I was seeing.”

She recalled feeling helpless, hopeless and disgusted.

“I think it’s in that moment that I realized … that it matters who’s in power,” Evans said. “It really means everything.”

Evans, now a lawyer, said she escaped that life and the cycle of poverty through Georgia’s Hope Scholarship, the state program that at the time offered free state college to every student with a B average.

The Hope Scholarship has become the bedrock of Evans’ campaign, a collection of large government programs and initiatives aimed at using the state to improve the lives of Georgia residents.

“Hope is more than access to college,” Evans said, launching into criticism of the well-connected business elite in Atlanta who she argued were disproportionately benefiting from state largess in the form of business incentives.

Instead, she said the state needs to do more for small businesses and companies owned by women and minorities. She also rattled off a series of progressive initiatives she would support as governor, including raising the state’s $7.25 minimum wage, expanding Medicaid as allowed by the Affordable Care Act, funding universal preschool beginning at age 2, increasing public school funding across the board, and a huge expansion of MARTA rail lines outside of Atlanta.

Evans also wants anti-discrimination laws on the books, referencing the bakery issue — a 2012 incident in which a Colorado bakery owner refused to bake a cake for a gay wedding. The resulting lawsuit is now before the Supreme Court of the United States.

“It’s 2017 and we have no statewide protections against discrimination in this state,” Evans said. “I’m proud to have been in the last session the lead sponsor in comprehensive civil rights protections in both public accommodation and employment.”

She promised to push anti-discrimination legislation should she be elected governor.

She also said the state should follow Atlanta’s example and take steps to decriminalize marijuana use while still prosecuting drug dealers and especially those who sell to children.

“I don’t think you should become a felon … simply by having a joint,” Evans said.

The Atlanta Democrat was outraised by Abrams at the end of the last reporting period for 2017 at the end of June, but Evans had spent far less than Abrams early in the race and had more than $100,000 more on hand in June. The next reporting period is in January.

Abrams was scheduled to speak in Hall County in September, but her speech was canceled by Tropical Storm Irma.