A photo of Sarah Riggs sitting on a panel

She Is Running

Sarah Riggs Amico Wants to Restore ‘Dignity’ to Congress

The former Republican and Stacey Abrams’ running mate leans into her faith, feminism, and finance acumen in a bid to become Georgia's first elected woman senator.

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Sarah Riggs Amico made history in 2018 as the Democratic nominee for Lieutenant Governor in Georgia—winning more votes than any nominee from her party in history, and running alongside the legendary Stacey Abrams. But in the aftermath of the voting rights crisis that cut short their victories, and in the midst of challenges in her other career as a businesswoman, Amico didn’t resign herself to that lost chance to advance a progressive agenda in the Peach State.

Instead, Amico dusted herself off and launched a campaign for the U.S. Senate—from a picket line. If she wins, she could be one of the women who helps Democrats take back the Senate in 2020—and she would become the first woman to ever be elected to represent Georgia in the chamber.

Amico isn’t your typical pink-wave candidate: She’s a former Republican, the chief executive of a trucking company, and an Evangelical Christian. But she’s also a woman who grew up dreaming of being a senator, the mother of two daughters who attend public schools, the wife of an immigrant who cringes at religious hypocrisy, and a feminist candidate hellbent on putting Mitch McConnell (and Georgia Sen. David Perdue) out of a job.

This is the first in DAME’s interview series with the Democratic women vying to flip the Senate in 2020.

You’ve run before. What motivated you to run in this specific race?

I was looking at running for the Senate, I had been contemplating what to do when Stacey decided not to run, and in the middle of all of that, our company was caught in the crosshairs between the Trade Wars. I had a choice between battening the hatches, hoping for the best, and putting 3,000 jobs at risk, or being a leader, stepping into a moment where you’re not just telling people what you believe about how to put others first, and how to treat people the right way, and how to run a business in an ethical manner that values your workers, but to show them. To be honest, it wasn’t a very difficult choice.

How do your progressive values fit with your values as an Evangelical Christian?

I have a very simple philosophy, which is: Read the book. It’s all there. Matthew, chapter 25 would be a great place for some of the GOP folks to start, and from there, move to James, chapter two. The point is: Jesus was a Brown-skinned, Jewish refugee, a wrongly convicted death-row inmate who told people to give away their possessions and help the poor. This was always about the last, the lost, the least—the people who needed social justice most.

The constant othering of marginalized people that the GOP engages in—whether that’s by the color of their skin or how much money they have or who they love or how or if they pray—is contrary to the most basic values in the Bible. I think we can restore our faith in our institutions and our democracy and the kind of leaders we send to Washington by restoring our faith in one another, by giving each other a little bit of grace.

What is your vision for the economy and how does it integrate with your position on these social issues?

I believe we can build an economy that works for everyone. I believe that part of the magic of this country is that where you start in life does not determine where you end up. I am married to a man who chose to become an American and chose to come to this country for exactly that reason.

There are policies that can take away your dignity: If you are poor because you’re sick, or sick because you happen to be poor, your dignity has been impaired. If you believe that you are better positioned to make a woman’s private health-care decisions than she is for herself, then you have impaired her dignity. If you’re unwilling to confront the systemic- and institutional-level racism that continues to haunt this nation in every facet of its being, then you have diminished the dignity of African Americans and other people of color. I think it ties directly into that.

We’re focused on three main issues. Economic justice is definitely first—again, this idea that there’s inherent dignity that includes the opportunity to thrive, the opportunity to build your version of the American dream. That includes things like protecting labor and organizing rights. It also includes access to affordable health care. It includes making sure that the public education system doesn’t perpetuate the kind of bias that has not made opportunity equal for all Americans, whether that’s because some are poor or some are rural or some are not white. From a policy perspective, it leans into all those things.

I ran in 2018 in the midst of truly egregious voter suppression here—voting rights and election security are serious issues in Georgia. You can’t fix any of the rest of this if we don’t get everyone to the ballot box, so I support a full restoration of the Voting Rights Act. I’m not sure pre-clearance requirements should be limited to the old South—there’s plenty of evidence that disenfranchisement has affected many communities around the country.

Voting rights, election security, health care, economic justice—that’s it in a nutshell, actually.

We were connected through your participation in Emerge America. You’re part of this extended pink wave of women running for office, and especially running to unseat incumbent men. How does gender and sisterhood and feminism shape your campaign?

Being a mom to two little girls—there are no other parents in this race of small children—I think constantly about the kind of world I want to live in and the kind of world I want to leave them. I think it shapes it from that perspective. It’s hard. I remember going to a Women’s March in 2017 and there’s all the people there with their grandkids and their daughters holding signs: “I can’t believe I’m still marching for this stuff.” I was like, Whoa, yeah, not wanting to do that as a grandmother. That was my thought. It shapes everything.

What advice would you offer to other women who are looking to run?

Make no apologies. If you’re wondering if you’re ready, the answer is yes. If you’re wondering if you can add value, the answer is yes. If you’re wondering if you can take it, the answer is yes. If you’re wondering if you can win, the answer is yes. Make no apologies for your ambition to be a part of making this country better tomorrow than it is today.

What are some of the challenges you’re facing during this campaign?

There’s such cacophony around the presidential primary. One of the biggest challenges is convincing folks that if we win the White House with Mitch McConnell still at the gavel, we’re not that much better off. It’s critical we flip the Senate. And Georgia is winnable. Obviously, I, and many others, believe Stacey won Georgia last time—we just didn’t get a fair count or a fair shake or a fair fight, as she would say.

You’ve talked about your bid with Stacey. That must’ve just been extremely painful to have gone through this really corrupt election, and that there was so little that could be done about it. How did that campaign impact your decision to run for this office?

I got more votes than any Democrat who’s ever run for Lieutenant Governor in the history of our state. I got endorsed by Barack Obama. I got to run with Stacey Abrams! It doesn’t get much better than that. But we came up a little bit short. What I learned is: You fight for every vote in every place. You go everywhere, you talk to everyone, you forfeit nothing, you assume nothing and you do not water down the values that make you worthy of running in the first place.

What inspired you to switch parties? You are poised to be one of the women who could help Democrats take back the Senate.

I don’t feel like my values or stances on issues have really changed. I think the party moved the goalposts. For me, it was probably the health-care debate. I’ve supported, donated to, and voted for people from both parties for a long time, but sometime after Barack Obama was re-elected, I just remembered the extraordinary amount of time and resources and energy wasted by Republicans trying to take away health care from poor folks. It made no sense. It was watching the way Barack Obama comported himself in that office, the way he stuck to his values even when it wasn’t easy—even against his own party sometimes, he would stand up for what he believed. He is a man of incredible character, and he was a great leader, a good family man, and he understood that health care is a right, not an option. That’s probably what made me a Democrat.

What scares you the most about this campaign, and this work, and how do you face it down?

My whole career, my whole life, I’ve been told no, or that’s not possible, or it’s unlikely, so many times I am almost immune to it now. There certainly wasn’t anybody that thought a kid from Joplin was going to run for U.S. Senate in Georgia—wasn’t anybody that thought a 21-year-old was going to get into Harvard Business School from Joplin, either. I certainly wasn’t somebody who thought before they were 30, they’d be a department head in Hollywood, or, before they were 40, run a company with thousands of employees. It was par for the course for people to tell me that the odds are long.

The only thing that scares me in this race is failure. I think the stakes are so high and that there are so many people who feel like they have not been seen or heard or listened to in so long, in every nook and cranny of my state. I do not want to let them down. Failure’s not an option—and I know what it’s like to win a primary and lose the general, and I don’t want to do that again. It was not as fun as you might expect.

DAME is partnering with Women Count to amplify the campaigns of the Democratic women running for Senate in 2020. To learn more about each candidate’s platform, visit https://womencount.org/

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