North GA Blue: Getting into Good Trouble

Preston Thompson, Coordinator for the GA House Democratic Committee & Campaign Manager

January 12, 2022 Fannin Co. GA Democratic Party Season 1 Episode 36
North GA Blue: Getting into Good Trouble
Preston Thompson, Coordinator for the GA House Democratic Committee & Campaign Manager
Show Notes Transcript

The North GA Blue: Getting into Good Trouble podcast covers democratic politics in North GA, the 9th Congressional District, and across the state of Georgia. The podcast is in Q&A/Interview format with various democratic politicos including county chairs, democratic operatives, politicians, and more. It is our mission to deliver crucial information to our listeners in a timely manner as we fight for community values and principles in the 3rd most Conservative district in the state. Our website is: https://www.fcdpga.com/podcasts

Our guests highlight democratic activities and actions to work toward a Blue Georgia. The 9th Congressional District spans 20 counties across the region and covers a good deal of northern GA including Blue Ridge, Morganton, Fannin, Union, Banks, Athens/Clarke, Dawson, Elbert, Forsyth, Franklin, Gilmer, Habersham, Hall, Hart, Jackson, Lumpkin, Madison, Pickens, Rabun, Stephens, Towns, and White counties. 

Our democratic party podcast also disseminates information and interviews powerful Democrats across the state of GA working to overthrow the suppression tactics of the GOP and ensure democracy and our values, grassroots efforts, and goals remain intact. 

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Meral Clarke:

Hello and welcome back to the North Georgia Blue Podcast produced and distributed by the Fannin County, Georgia Democratic Party. I'm your host Meral Clarke and we're getting into some good trouble today with our special guest Preston Thompson, Georgia House Democrats Caucus Coordinator and podcast host as well. Welcome to the show, Preston. We're happy to have you with us.

Preston Thompson:

Thank you so much for having me. I'm excited to be here.

Meral Clarke:

Well, let's let our listeners know a little bit about you. Preston Thompson is a Georgia native that has worked on Democratic campaigns since 2016. He has specialized in difficult to win areas like the North Fulton corridor and congressional district 11. He is currently serving as the coordinator for the Georgia House Democratic Caucus helping them execute a progressive legislative agenda that moves Georgia forward. Thank you for that. So let's dive right in. You help with legislation for all 77 members of the Georgia House Democratic Caucus. That's every elected Democrat in the state house. What does that mean, when you say help with legislation? And how do you work with the individual representatives?

Preston Thompson:

Well, obviously, we have a big agenda. We're trying to expand healthcare access, we're trying to have more equitable education. That's a lot of stuff we want to try and do. So helping them think about smart ways we could boil that down, leverage the relationships they have potentially across the aisle to get something a hearing to get something passed. Trust me, it is not me down there. Nobody voted for me. I like to describe it to my reps as sharpening them to a point you have this great idea here. We want to make sure it sounds great. We want to make sure it markets really well. We want to make sure people understand it when we try and go pitch it and we want to push it into our agenda, like you said, moving everybody forward.

Meral Clarke:

So is it primarily a communications role would you say or...?

Preston Thompson:

Everything that needs to be done, it's research based, it's communications based, it's you know, when we get into the campaign season, next year, it'll be elections based, it'll be everything. So it's just helping them be, you know, as thoughtful as they can be. And a lot of it takes that form and kind of talking points research, making sure they're coming across really well, and explaining for the people at home what they're trying to do, and not getting too much into the legalese of it.

Meral Clarke:

So the messaging is very important, obviously. And that's what you help them all with. Well, you're a very important person down there at the state capitol. That's all I can say. You almost sound like a handler for all these.

Preston Thompson:

Yes, I'm a customer service specialist. Basically meaning whatever the day needs is what I step in and do if you need a cup of coffee, I'm there as a cup of coffee, if you need to rewrite the entire state budget of Georgia, I can help with that, too. So I try and do a little bit of everything every day.

Meral Clarke:

That's incredible. Do you have an actual job description? Or do you just jump in when you're

Preston Thompson:

No job descriptions are very limiting right? No I just I'm a free floater, I go wherever I need to go.

Meral Clarke:

That's fabulous. Has this position always existed with the house? Or is it relatively new?

Preston Thompson:

It's relatively new, there's always been people on staff that have done the work like I'm doing now. But we're expanding that team with this upcoming campaign season, we have to run campaigns in places that are traditionally or at least over the last 10 years overlooked, we have to be really competitive in those places, especially after we've had this new map that's just been drawn. So we're expanding our team, we've got a lot of investment that we're really excited to put forward into places like Warner Robins, Americus, you know, some of these places that are a little bit overlooked. So we're building that out. It's all happening very quickly. But it's a big group that I'm excited to be a part of.

Meral Clarke:

I'm so happy to hear that. And that segues into my next question quite nicely. Tell us about your role with the redistricting process that will put some of our members in challenging positions, but presents us with new opportunities. Correct. So yeah, can you elaborate on how this will both help and hurt Democratic candidates across the

Preston Thompson:

Thankfully, for everybody involved, I did state? not have much of a role in drawing the map that was not me. We have a lovely legal team who are super well versed in this issue that put up the best possible fight and are still putting up that fight against this map that we believe is unfair for the State of Georgia, but like you said, it does present us with some opportunities where we think the majority party down there, the Republicans are overplaying their hand a little bit. They think they can hold on to this majority for another 10 years and we don't see that as possible. So it opens up the door to a bunch of seats that they've put right at 53% Republican support. Well, a good year for us, and all of those come into play at the same time. The same strategy was in place for them when they redrew the maps this past decade, and it led to 2018, where we had 11 seats flip all on the same night. We're gonna have another year like that, or at least that's what we're hoping for, whether it's this year or the next it is an inevitability that we get control of the legislature down there, we just got to figure out the fastest way to do it so we can start helping people.

Meral Clarke:

So you would say that Democrats shouldn't panic now over the Republican gerrymandering, because you do believe that it will be more helpful rather than create an adverse condition?

Preston Thompson:

Yeah, I mean, if you're trying to gerrymander in a political way that most benefits you what you want is, if I'm the Republicans, I want a lot of Republican seats sitting at 55%. Republican because that means I'm not wasting any votes on someone who's already won. And then I want all my democratic seats sitting at 90, because that means I'm packing them all together. This is a system called packing and cracking. Now, this is a bad system. I think everybody I work with can agree with that. This is not how it should be done. It is the system we currently have. And that's unfortunate. But the way it shaked out is it's left them with a lot of seats that are sitting right on the borderline, again, in places not in your Fulton counties in your DeKalb counties, but in Southwest Georgia, Southeast Georgia, Northwestern and of course, up by you guys on the north side of the border. So it's created a lot of opportunities through this system that especially having gone through it from my personal perspective is a little messed up, and probably not how we should do it anymore.

Meral Clarke:

Wow. Yeah, it would be nice to change that. So share how you've worked on campaigns all over the state, most recently, the campaign for district 11. Tell us about that. In your experience.

Preston Thompson:

Yeah, so that was congressional district 11. And because of what we just talked about gerrymandering, it runs from Buckhead, which if your listeners aren't familiar, it's like smack dab in the middle of Fulton County. It's going to be the main issue for the City of Atlanta. When we go back into session about whether or not Buckhead remains a part of Atlanta, but it runs from Buckhead to Bartow County, which is starting to get into Northwest Georgia. It's a very strange district, it represents a lot of different types of communities, it was a really great experience, getting to know everybody in it and doing our absolute best. But we came up short. You mentioned at the top part of my background is running races in tough to win places, it's a very nice way of saying I've lost a lot. I'm starting to get familiar with it.

Meral Clarke:

But you have to lose a lot before you win, right? Because then you figure out the formula.

Preston Thompson:

Yeah, and you learn lessons from all of those. But if nobody's gonna run in some of these places, we've got to find ways to put up fights. So I was really proud of the fight we put up there. And that's a territory I'm now super familiar with. And I know we'll be democratic someday, hopefully here soon.

Meral Clarke:

So this campaign were you working with?

Preston Thompson:

I was Dana Barrett. She was the Democratic nominee for Congress district level, we ran against Barry Loudermilk, who's still beat us.

Meral Clarke:

And is she running again? I know Antonio Daza.

Preston Thompson:

Antonio Daza is running, I believe there are a couple candidates in that seat whose names are escaping me right now. But no, Dan is not running again. And in fact, because of the new district, she doesn't live in the district anymore. So that's how rapidly these things can change. People are moving out of different spots overnight.

Meral Clarke:

It really is crazy. But so important to keep up with. And we're happy to have folks like you who are doing the hard work in the trenches. So thank you for that. So it tell us a little bit more about you and your background, how and why did you become interested in politics and tell us a little bit more about your early activism?

Preston Thompson:

Yeah, I grew up in a fairly politically engaged family. I'm one of these children in my generation that grew up in a Republican family, and then that apple fell impossibly far from the tree. I feel like that's me and every single person I know. But it got me interested at a super young age, getting into fights with my dad and my grandfather over politics when I was eight years old. I did that quite a lot. I was not very good at fighting when I was eight years old. I'd like to think I'm a little bit better of a debater now, rather than just yelling and leaving the room. For college, I went to the University of Alabama study communications and immediately just started taking up odd jobs anywhere I could get them. And kind of all this time I was volunteering on campaigns, it never occurred to me that it would turn into a paid full time position until I stopped doing the door knocking, which is a typical volunteer thing who we love and more into a role of either communications logistics, policy, that kind of stuff. And I got reached out to by somebody named Mary Robicheaux, who now is a state representative. But at the time, I was connected to her and they said, you know, we have this lovely woman who's running for state house and she can't win, but it'll be really good experience for you, if you go work on her campaign was like, Okay, well, thank you. And I went and started working on her campaign knowing she couldn't win and started looking at the numbers and I was like, Are they sure she can't win? Because it looks like it's gonna be really close. And that was in 2018. That was the first race I ran. And again, it was thrown to me just because this spunky kid needed something to do and we won by 161 votes. It was the closest race that year anywhere in the state. We think it was one of the closest ones in the country that night as well in 2018, and she luckily won again. 2020 After I ran that campaign as well, so I haven't looked back since then nothing like being on election night, counting the votes by ones until here ahead.

Meral Clarke:

It's truly amazing, because that's why it's so important that everybody who is eligible to vote comes out and votes because these margins are razor thin. Yeah. And it's going to continue, especially in our state is going to continue to be that way. So tell us about your thoughts, because obviously, you're well versed in all things political through Georgia. Tell us about your thoughts for this year for the midterms. And the general election coming up. What are your thoughts about Democrats gaining seats, we gained 48 seats in the municipal elections, which is almost 50 seats. That's incredible. For local elections, which are so important and voting from the ballot top down, obviously. So can you elaborate on what you think is going to happen this

Preston Thompson:

Yeah. Well, you know, all of the talking year? heads on TV are looking at Virginia, New Jersey, these off year results that we have in and the Democrats I see on TV are very much doomsday mode, they're running around, like the sky is falling down and the world is on fire, we're gonna lose every single possible seat that's on the ballot. I'm certainly not there. We're going to put together the work and we're going to work hard, but I'm not at the sky's falling down level. I think what the numbers showed us that night is with Donald Trump, not on the ticket, we did lose some support and more suburban areas. Based on this new map, those are not the really strong pivot points for what I do, which is the Georgia Legislature. Those pivot points for me are in places that have been experiencing demographic changes over the last decade. The latest census numbers had us, essentially at a majority minority state here in Georgia, if you factor in the undercount. And that's almost absolutely certainly true. And I think the places where we're trying to be competitive are reflective of that. I think in Virginia, you saw the typical news story focuses on the suburban mothers leaving the Democratic Party, I don't think there's a lot of support for that here in Georgia, I think we're going to keep the gains we've made in 16, and 18, and 20. And what's helpful to that end is having these truly I'm going to say radical Republican candidates for governor that are going to be at the top of the ticket. It's either going to be Brian Kemp, or it's gonna be David Perdue. That's not a choice I would want to make if I was in that party, but somebody is going to have to win that race. And that's going to keep those people that just want common sense solutions with us. That, of course, is our hope. But we're not going to take anything for granted. We're going to work to make sure it happens. But I'm incredibly optimistic. I think we go back into the statehouse, despite being redistricted. What I would say is unfairly we go back into the State House next year with more members than we have at the current moment, which I think is quite an accomplishment for us.

Meral Clarke:

And do you believe that Stacey Abrams, because I do that she will help all of the down ballot candidates as well, including those running for secretary of state and attorney general insurance commissioner, labor commissioner, ag commissioner, etc. And tell us why it's so important to vote on the ballot from the top down. Tell us why that makes a difference.

Preston Thompson:

Yeah, you know, she's a former minority leader of the state house, she was working in the same office

Meral Clarke:

How do you think Georgia SB 202 is going to that I go into in the Capitol, we're really proud of that. And I don't think she's forgotten her roots. I think she knows that if she is to win the governorship, she needs as many Democrats in local seats as possible. And I think to the party's credit, the amount of seats that we flipped on the municipal level that you mentioned, it's incredibly impressive, and it shows their dedication to everybody down the ballot. But like I said, my recent 2018 was 161 votes. So when friends that are my age come up to me and they tell me their vote doesn't count makes me want to smack him upside the head because 161 people's not very much and it was the difference between a lot and a little for the community of Roswell, Georgia that got its first Democratic Representative ever. So I think these races are going to be incredibly tight, including in 2018 former leader Abrams was only a couple 1000 votes away from forcing a runoff with Governor Kemp and we saw this past year in 2020 what happens in a runoff so every single little bit is going to matter. And I couldn't be happier to have Stacey Abrams at the top of the ticket. I think there's a reason the field cleared out and waited for her to come back and take her rightful place at the top and a lot of my members that I work with are running for these seats. Representative Matthew Wilson is running to be insurance commissioner. Love representative Wilson. You have interviewed a couple people I work with in the statehouse on this show represent Eric Allen, Bee Nguyen and Renita Shannon, I'm sure there are some others who are all running statewide and who I all think are immensely qualified. So I'm excited that we've got such a great slate of candidates that are all going to work their butts off for it. affect turnout this year?

Preston Thompson:

It's tough to say and there's some really disheartening reporting from the AJC that denials of absentee ballots came in the last few days and then election that this particular bill, SB 202, would come directly after and really affect a lot of people negatively in that way. I'm incredibly confident in our ability to organize. But with these repetitive voter suppression efforts from the Republicans, we can only organize so much. So we're doing the absolute best we can, I know we're going to overcome these challenges. But it's worth noting that there shouldn't be these kinds of hurdles to overcome in the first place, these direct attacks that very conveniently took place after a great democratic election. Now, there's nobody who I'd want on the top, rather than Stacey Abrams, because this is her issue. This is what she is well versed in, this is what she has dedicated her career towards. It sets us up perfectly to attack this issue head on and make sure we're getting the kind of turnout we need.

Meral Clarke:

Fantastic. And I would have to agree. And my producer Susan just sent me a note that a judge has cleared the way for a legal challenge to Georgia's restrictive voting laws. So obviously, there's going to be quite a bit of litigation going back and forth with that hopefully, the DOJ will get involved as well. But it's going to take a while. So in the interim, we certainly need as many folks as possible to come out and vote education being very important. Thank you for touching on that as well. You let's talk about Preston, was turning into one of my favorite individuals here, you are also the co host of the Georgia politics podcast, tell us more about how this all came to be what your shows are about. And please share how and where our listeners can access the podcast?

Preston Thompson:

Well, you can find it anywhere you find your podcast, wherever you're listening to this, you can find it too, I have been able to host a little bit less especially because of this redistricting effort. I got completely taken out of the host chair. But we've left in some incredibly qualified people. My goal with the show was to attempt to show the best possible version of the debate over an issue. It's not just Democrats on the show. It's not just Republicans over the show. We're trying to bring the educated form of the debate home to you so you can make better decisions. And you can make more informed decisions. That's our goal. We end up screaming at each other a lot. But we're all friends. It's very fun. It's very funny. It's been a little hobby of mine that I've loved taking on over the last couple of years. And it started just by doing a show like this, realizing I can talk about these all day until the cows come home these issues and wanting to do it some more.

Meral Clarke:

Well, the Democratic Party is lucky to have you on our side. So where can listeners go to access your show?

Preston Thompson:

So you can follow us on Twitter at GA politics pod and we post every single episode there. And like I said, wherever you're listening to this episode, you will be able to find it in your podcast feed as well. It's just called the Georgia politics podcast. It's produced by the AP and media folks who run the newspapers in the Alpharetta, Roswell Forsyth area. So I'm eternally grateful for them for their studio space, the ability to make such a good show.

Meral Clarke:

Wonderful, happy to hear it. So if someone wants to get in touch with you, or with the Democratic caucus, where would you send them?

Preston Thompson:

Please do and email me directly. I love hearing from people, especially in places across the state where I don't usually go. I live in Cherokee County, but I'm trying to familiarize myself with everywhere, even as a lifelong Georgia residents big place. And I'm trying to get out there and meet people,

Meral Clarke:

All 159 counties. Yes,

Preston Thompson:

I know what a ridiculous number of counties that is. But yes, I'm trying to go to all of them. I could probably if I added it up, check off at least half if not a little bit more, but I'm trying to get to all of them for you. My email is Preston at GA house dems.com. And let me know if you'd like to get involved. If you're interested in maybe running for a seat that's near you anything at all, feel free to reach out. And I'd love to connect with some people.

Meral Clarke:

So Preston, I also wanted to ask you about the efforts that House Democrats are making and that you're making as well working with them to recruit new candidates and ensure that candidates are ready to serve in the Georgia House. Tell us a little bit more about that segment.

Preston Thompson:

So first of all, we're trying to run everywhere, maybe you're represented by a Republican, maybe up in Fannin County that you have not liked. We're running candidates everywhere. And candidates everywhere are going to hear from us. Something that's different about this upcoming year that we've never taken on before from a caucus perspective is how we're going to support those candidates. One of the goals that I've taken on is to be able to support them with boots on the ground. And just this past November, I worked on a legislative boot camp with the Georgia Youth Justice Coalition. Huge shout out to them. But we put together a curriculum for young people to train up on essentially the basics of good legislative work and really good campaigning to basics of social media, newsletter writing, but also good policy research, speech, writing, anything and everything we can think of. And we're training up this small army of young volunteers to eventually what is my hope go across the state and help our candidates run the best possible campaigns everywhere. I don't think that level of support has been seen from the caucus and quite a while. And we'll need it to win in some of these places, like I've mentioned, but I'm really excited about that level of investment that's going to come through. And obviously, money is a big part. So be looking out for those fundraising emails that are coming from us. If you care about your state legislature, your local races, you're certainly going to hear from us. But I'm really excited about that level of support. We're going to give our candidates

Meral Clarke:

Is there a plan in place to help rural counties such as ours, find recruit and train candidates? Because you know, we're about 80%, red and 20% blue up here, currently the ninth district. So what would you say to us rural folks that have a really, you know, we have a really hard time finding viable candidates, yes. And how can your organization's help us?

Preston Thompson:

So we've got a plan put in place right now I'm making recruiting calls every day. At this point, I'm working through my list as fast as possible. But once we get into the new year, we're going to work in partnership with some of our partner organizations like Democratic Party of Georgia to put out a wide net, to make sure we have candidates running everywhere and make sure those candidates know that they're going to be supported. So our focus is on these really target races. But I think unlike previous years, we want to make sure that we're running people everywhere. So candidates up there potential candidates, people that are interested, they will hear from me and like I said, if you are interested, be sure to hit me up at that email Preston at GA house dems.com. And I will be sure to be in touch. But in the event that we're nearing qualifying deadline, which is in March, and we don't have the candidates we need that effort steps up fairly considerably. And my representative Mary Robicheaux, politics was not in her plan. She was recruited to run she was part of a volunteer network that worked with John Ossoff. The first time he ran in 2017, is now our US Senator, that was not in her plan. She was recruited, she was supported, she found some people to come help her run her campaign. And I want to make sure that happens in places that we may be overlooking, because we don't know how close that race really can be unless you've got somebody there who can do the work and who's being supported.

Meral Clarke:

Right. Andrew Clyde, unfortunately, and very sadly, is how her representative up here in the Ninth. We had Paul Walton, who's the mayor of Hull, Georgia who is coming out to run against him, and then the maps change. And now he is still running for Congress, but he is in the 10th district at this point with the new mapping. Do we have any leads on someone who can run against Andrew Clyde and potentially win? Because he's one of those far, far, far right Republicans that are so dangerous to our democracy? What are your thoughts on that?

Preston Thompson:

Well, I'm certainly with you on that. I'm no fan of Andrew Clyde, we'll just leave it there. I'm hesitant to name any names. But I know that we're working on it. I know we're going and finding people congressional is not going to be me. Thankfully, I have 180 seats to worry about and whoever's on congressional only has 14. So God bless that person. But you guys are in the Speaker of the houses House District, David Ralston. Yes, that is right, who is similarly out there in many ways. So we're going to be actively recruiting in your specific house district as well. So our goal is to not leave any stone unturned. And that work started a couple weeks ago. So I'm hopeful we'll be able to have really strong candidates running across Georgia, because like I said, we've got to push the envelope on some of these Republicans like Dana Barrett in our campaign did in district 11, with Barry Loudermilk, who have been flying under the radar because they're in a safe red seat, but it takes somebody standing up and building that support over a couple years to really make it happen.

Meral Clarke:

But that's certainly changing, as you noted, and Georgia is becoming more blue. So it's only a matter of time, right?

Preston Thompson:

Yeah. And this redistricting process on the congressional level, they're running away, right, they're, they're sensing a turning tide, and they're having their couple remaining suburban Republican seats just just run away. And unfortunately, our good representative Lucy McBath, district just got thrown completely out of the water. I mean, they took away 350,000 voters and replaced them with 350,000 different voters and completely changed the nature of her district and a direct attack against her. They can do that all they want, but it's not going to prevent us from eventually getting that seat, you know, that's District Six, that now stretches up in Forsyth County, that's going to go blue eventually. And in doing that they also made district 11 a little more dangerous than they needed to they got a little greedy, and we're going to call them on it. So I think they could have settled for the way things were now. But they wanted more and I think they're going to pay for it.

Meral Clarke:

Right? It's going to come back to haunt them. And I believe that too. And finally, and I ask all my guests this question, as you probably know, since you've been listening to the show, so thank you for listening. Tell us a fun fact about yourself something not related to politics or your job or to campaigns that you've run. Tell us something fun just about you

Preston Thompson:

Well you know, what's very strange about working in politics that I'm sure most people would agree with is you never have a job that lasts too long. And you pick up all sorts of jobs. I actually believe my job with the caucus as of today is the longest I've ever been in one place. I think I've had somewhere between 12 and 13 different jobs. And people are often very surprised when they hear my first job out of college was building guitars out of scrap metal while I was volunteering on campaigns on the side. But you know, you pick up whatever you're good at and you pick up whatever you can do. I still feel like I could probably put something together that wasn't too bad. If I'm just kidding, there's no way I could do that. So don't reach out. But yeah, I've worked in all sorts of different fields, all sorts of different practices. And I'm happy to have found something that's a little more stable and can put my work to good use,

Meral Clarke:

And also provides an income. So those are all very good things. Well, thank you, Preston, for joining us today and sharing more about your critical work to support Democrats and maintain our democracy. I'm Meral Clarke and on behalf of our team, I'd like to thank everyone for listening to the North Georgia Blue Podcast. We hope you'll join us next time and you mentioned him you mentioned him Preston, so we're very excited to have him on. We're going to interview representative Matthew Wilson, who is running to be Georgia's next Insurance Commissioner. To learn more about us and the work that we're doing, please visit us online at FanninCountyGeorgiaDemocratics.com Share the North Georgia Blue Podcast with your friends and family and be sure to subscribe and follow and if you enjoy our podcasts consider becoming a founding patron and friend of the show at North Georgia blue podcast.com/patrons so we can continue getting into more good trouble.