Tomlinson talks governorship, health care on GPB’s ‘Political Rewind’

Mayor Teresa Tomlinson says she won’t run for higher office when she leaves office next year, but that hasn’t stopped her from making rounds on state and national media.

On Wednesday, the mayor was one of three panelists on GPB’s “Political Rewind,” where the subject of her political future surfaced once again. The hour-long show aired beginning at 2 p.m.

“I’m really happy; we’re joined by Mayor of Columbus, Teresa Tomlinson,” said host Bill Nigut, while introducing her to his statewide audience. “She’s been talked about as a candidate, a Democratic candidate, for Governor for a long time. She has already said, ‘Nope, not going there.’ ”

Then Nigut said to Tomlinson: “There were a lot of people who thought this was gonna be your year to do it, mayor.”

Tomlinson’s response?

“Well, you know, truth be told — and I’m just gonna be honest — if I thought about it sooner, I may have done that,” she responded. “But, you know, I had my head down. I was in the trenches working in Columbus, Ga., and it kind of snuck up on me.”

Wednesday’s GPB broadcast came two months after Tomlinson made a Sunday morning appearance on the national MSNBC television show “AM Joy.” And earlier this month, she wrote an opinion piece for the Daily Beast, a popular news and opinion website focused on politics and pop culture. On Wednesday, Nigut mentioned another Daily Beast article written by the mayor that will be published soon.

In all three cases, the mayor opined about Georgia and national politics, as well as strategies for Democrats winning in the south.

In May, Tomlinson told the Ledger-Enquirer that she had decided not to seek any statewide office next year. She said the most likely possibility for a statewide run is the 2020 U.S. Senate race for the seat currently held by Sen. David Purdue, who is in his first term.

On “Political Rewind,” Tomlinson was joined by Greg Bluestein, an AJC political reporter, and Heath Garrett, a Republican Strategist and long-time advisor to Sen. Johnny Isakson. When asked her thoughts about Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s challenge getting votes for a healthcare bill, Tomlinson said she believed something would pass.

“And so if you’re concerned about Medicaid, if you’re concerned about having access to healthcare at some sort of reasonable, affordable level, you need to continue to be engaged,” she said. “I think their brand is wrapped up in something having to be passed, so I think that we’re going to see something pass.”

Nigut asked if she was suggesting that Republican are motivated by just getting something passed regardless of whether it was good for the American people.

“… What this process has exposed, is that this was about destroying Obama’s legacy,” she said. “If they could also get in some reduction of the redistributive nation that Republicans like to talk so much about, if they could also get in a hefty tax cut, then that was just frosting on the cake. But I think what they really wanted to do is destroy Obama’s legacy, and I think they still are vested in that.”

Tomlinson said the Columbus area would be greatly affected by what happens with the healthcare bill.

“In southwest Georgia, particularly, as you know, we have some of the poorest counties in Clay and Calhoun and Stewart and Webster County,” she said. “And so, you’re talking about a region of Georgia that relies heavily on things such as Medicaid and has seen … the closing of these rural hospitals.”

“It’s in real crisis,” she said. “And at the same time that puts an incredible load on our medical center, which is, of course, our public hospital, which our citizens pay ($15 million) a year to subsidize. And, you know, it’s serious business down there.”

She said some hospitals that closed might have had a shot if Gov. Nathan Deal had expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

“This affects people’s lives,” she said. “Not only does it reduce the number of good, medical industry jobs in our area. It reduces these rural hospitals that people rely on incredibly. And you can’t talk about economic development and have poverty levels like we do in some of these areas outside the Metro Atlanta area and not realize that healthcare is major component.”

The panel also discussed the national political divide and whether there is the potential for a bi-partisan healthcare bill. Nigut said current negotiations presented an opportunity for President Donald Trump to make an attempt to work with both parties as an anti-establishment president. He said partisan politics has the country trapped in an endless cycle that’s hindering progress.

“Yeah, they have such an opportunity, and I think I can solve it right now, here on your show,” Tomlinson quipped, “and that is get, take the six Republican women senators, and any six Democrat senators, and put them in a room and by-gone this thing would be solved.”

Addressing the Democrats’ difficulty winning statewide races, such as the District 6 Congressional race that Jon Ossoff recently lost, Tomlinson said there are blue counties all over Georgia, not just in the urban centers. She shared points from her upcoming Daily Beast article, which lays out what she believes Democrats need to do. Her first recommendation is for Democrats to learn to speak Republican.

“What we do too much, unfortunately, as Democrats is we speak in moral imperatives, such as healthcare is a right and we’ve got to stop giving tax breaks to the rich and we need the rich to take care of the poor,” she said. “There are certain people that are going to respond to that. … But if you want a broader message, you can get those folks because the moral imperative is in that argument, but how about talking about the fact that, as I was mentioning before, you can’t have a competitive state for jobs and economic development if you have these levels of poverty, if you have these disassociated communities that have to drive for hours to get the basic community infrastructures such as healthcare.”

Garrett, the Republican strategist, said he believes a Democratic candidate like Tomlinson would be very competitive in a statewide race.

“… There’s no doubt, I’ve said it before on this radio show,” he said. “If there were more pragmatic Democrats like Mayor Tomlinson, I think we Republicans would have a much more difficult time in Georgia. She’s a pragmatist because she’s been a mayor, and the buck stops at her desk. And she has to respond to the people. But at the state level, that’s just not happening, and at the national level they’re out of touch.”