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Teresa Tomlinson, Georgia

The world of politics is nothing new to former Columbus, GA, Mayor Teresa Tomlinson. Growing up, the Georgia U.S. Senate candidate was introduced to politics through her friend’s father, state legislator Max Davis. What stuck with Tomlinson wasn’t Davis’ political ideology, but the care he showed his constituents. “He was devoted to that public service of making government work for the people he represented, and that left a lasting impression on me,” Tomlinson told Refinery29. “I have a really deep belief that government is meant to work for the people.”

Before Tomlinson can take on the incumbent — former CEO and Trump loyalist Sen. David Perdue — she must defeat six other challengers in the [June 9] primary, including former congressional candidate Jon Ossoff. In this crowded primary, Tomlinson hopes her hands-on approach and years of experience will set her apart. Out of all the Democrats running, Tomlinson observed, “I’m the only candidate who has ever won an election, the only one who has ever governed.”

Tomlinson counts criminal justice reform and healthcare as key successes during her two terms as mayor, spanning from 2011 to 2019. With regards to criminal justice, Tomlinson supported programs helping incarcerated people reintegrate into society and increased access to public defenders. On the healthcare front, she established a health-and-wellness clinic, improving the quality of healthcare for Columbus’ citizens and saving taxpayers $3 million yearly. For her, these accomplishments are important because voters “are hungry for government that actually works.”

Tomlinson identifies as a “pragmatic progressive.” Pragmatism and progressivism are regularly seen as oppositional, but Tomlinson understands them as distinct, yet essential components of governing. “Progressivism is a philosophy that believes mankind gets up every day and takes a step forward, and that the government needs to have a structure that moves forward with its citizenry,” Tomlinson said. “Pragmatism is how you implement those policies.”

Tomlinson’s healthcare views are a product of this pragmatic progressivism. She believes everyone should be covered, but thinks that goal is best achieved through modest changes. Tomlinson advocates for upholding and strengthening the Affordable Care Act, lowering the age for Medicare eligibility to 55, and offering a Medicare public option. “When you are talking about a progressive policy, you’re talking about envisioning the future,” she said. Enacting progressive policies in moderate ways can reassure voters who fear upheaval, she noted, adding “that can be scary for a lot of folks when you’re talking about a radical implementation process.”

In the coming election cycle, eyes will be locked on Georgia. Since Stacey Abrams’ near victory in the governor’s race and Rep. Lucy McBath’s triumphant campaign for Congress in 2018, Georgia is now considered a competitive state for Democrats. With such high stakes, Tomlinson is confident Democrats will prevail. “Because I have a mastery of Democratic principles, I understand that they are the more effective governing principles,” she said. “That tends to get me the eyes and ears of people who are more moderate, sensible, reasonable, and those who just want good government.

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