Throughout the election season, Gender Watch 2018’s expert contributors will provide brief takes on campaign news, research, and coverage.
Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate for Governor of Georgia, has faced criticism about her personal debts following her financial disclosure last week. Abrams is currently repaying the IRS over $50,000 in deferred tax payments and also owes a combined sum of $170,000 in credit card and student loan debt. Unpaid taxes also loomed large for Jim Justice, who owed 15 million dollars in unpaid taxes and fines when running for Governor of West Virginia 2016. Nearly 5 million of this sum was owed directly to the state of West Virginia.
Abrams has responded to her critics with a personal and transparent account of her financial history, contextualized with a broader discussion of structural economic inequality. Justice, by contrast, largely skirted the issue during his campaign, commenting only that the issue is complicated and that is priority was keeping West Virginians employed. Justice still won the governorship with 49.1 percent of the vote (and continues to rack up unpaid taxes while in office).
How will this issue ultimately affect Abrams’ candidacy? Jim Justice’s victory in 2016 shows that voters can overlook debts and unpaid taxes – even on a much greater magnitude. It’s also worth noting that the incumbent Republican Governor of Georgia, Nathan Deal, was elected in 2010 amidst controversy about his own financials. But it’s possible that Abrams may be held to a different standard than Justice or Deal, by virtue of the historic nature of her candidacy. Abrams is situated to potentially be the nation’s first Black female Governor. But first, Abrams needs to make it through the Democratic Primary, which will be held May 22.