The governor’s race came to Sandy Springs Feb. 22, as Democratic contenders Stacey Abrams and Stacey Evans appeared at a private candidates forum hosted by the Jewish Democratic Women’s Salon, a Facebook-based group with more than 1,000 members.

The “two Staceys” are both former state representatives who hope to replace term-limited Republican incumbent Nathan Deal in this fall’s election. At the forum, held at Heritage Sandy Springs, they largely agreed on such issues as regional and statewide mass transit; expanding Medicaid and the HOPE Scholarship program for higher education; and supporting small businesses as well as the state currently incentivizes such big businesses as Amazon.

From left, moderator Shari Labovitz listens as candidate Stacey Evans speaks and candidate Stacey Abrams looks on. (John Ruch)

Both Democrats would veto laws allowing firearms on college campuses. Evans added that while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been “bullied out of” studying gun violence by a federal funding restriction, she would order a state-level study as governor.

Stacey Abrams speaks to an attendee before the forum. (John Ruch)

The candidates also agreed that “religious liberty” legislation is intended as discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. To end it once and for all, however, Evans said moderate Republican lawmakers would keep it from a vote, while Abrams called for a forceful statement that LGBT Georgians will be protected by the state.

Stacey Evans, right, speaks with Dunwoody resident Jill Vogin before the forum. (John Ruch)

Differences emerged on the tactics Democrats should use to break their statewide office losing streak, while also being able to work with Republicans in the legislature. Abrams called for motivating disengaged Democrats, saying that “we spend millions of dollars trying to convince Republican women in the suburbs that they really meant to be Democrats [and] they were just confused. That has not worked, not once.” Evans, by contrast, said, “You can’t be afraid to persuade,” while acknowledging that still won’t flip a Republican area at the ballot box but can move policy forward.

Stacey Abrams, right, speaks while Stacey Evans listens. (John Ruch)

Abrams and Evans also discussed their differing votes in 2016 on a state law banning large contracts with anyone who supports the controversial Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement, which seeks to pressure Israel into making various policy changes seen as favorable to Palestinians. Evans voted in the favor of the ban, saying it shows a pro-Israel position, while Abrams voted against it, saying she respects the civil right of boycotting, while finding this particular version to be “wrong” and “anti-Semitic.”

Among the approximately 200 people attending the forum were state Sen. Jen Jordan, a Democrat who recently won the Buckhead-area District 6 seat; Sandy Springs City Councilmember Andy Bauman; Bobby Kaple, one of the Democrats seeking to challenge U.S. Rep. Karen Handel in 6th Congressional District this year; and Mike Wilensky, a Democrat seeking to replace Republican Tom Taylor in Dunwoody’s House District 79.

The primary election is scheduled for May 22. Republican contenders currently campaigning include Casey Cagle, Hunter Hill, Brian Kemp, Clay Tippin, Marc Alan Urbach and Michael Williams.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.