BY JYOTHSNA HEGDE
Atlanta, GA, September 16, 2020: In his exclusive with NRI Pulse, Republican State Senate candidate, Matt Reeves who is running for election to the Georgia State Senate to represent District 48, discussed his views, priorities on various issues and his long-term and ongoing relationship with the Indian-American community.
Reeves has served his community for more than 17 years and was elected Rotary Club President, as well as other leadership positions in many local civic, nonprofit and business groups in the area. He and his wife Suzette Reeves and their three school-age children live in Duluth. Reeves graduated with honors from UGA School of Law and Mercer University.
Matt believes that State Government should do a few things and do them well and leave the rest of the money and authority to hardworking Georgians and local elected officials. “We need fiscal conservatism in state government, focused on common ground and common-sense issues for the benefit of our local community. We need a watchdog fighting for working people, homeowners, small business people, local officials, our K-12 schools, and our merit-based HOPE Grant,” Reeves noted, adding that he is a supporter of keeping the Hope Grant solvent and merit-based, and for 90% of early admissions in Georgia universities to be for Georgia students.
Kartik Bhatt, who currently serves on Georgia Board of Examiners for the Certification of Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant Operators and Laboratory Analysts facilitated the interview.
Matt, you are a partner at Andersen, Tate & Carr, the largest full-service law firm in the district. Why did you choose to run for Senate?
District 48 Gwinnett County in North Fulton deserves an effective advocate in the Georgia State Senate. The Senate has 35 Republicans and 21 Democrats and I feel like, on the Republican side of the aisle, I could be a bipartisan problem solver and effective advocate for the benefit of our schools, our transportation needs, our healthcare, community of small businesses, public safety and other critical needs in our area. I know there are a lot of Indian families and businesses in South Forsyth, Johns Creek, Alpharetta, Duluth particularly Sugarloaf Peachtree Ridge as well as Suwanee Peachtree Corners, Berkeley Lake, Collins Hill Park, and Norcross that is a home to Georgia’s Indian Community and I want to be a good friend and an effective advocate in the state Senate.
What are your top three priorities for the district?
First, being an effective advocate in the 35-21 Republican Majority State Senate by being a fiscal conservative and focusing on common ground and common sense issues like supporting our schools, being favorable to taxpayers, homeowners and small businesses, healthcare, traffic solutions and keeping our communities safe; Second, pursuing a change to most County offices being nonpartisan and term limited, so that all citizens have a seat at the table, and that our large county budgets serve the people rather than partisan politics; and Third, to strengthen Georgia’s state ethics commission so that everyone under the Gold Dome is there to serve the people and our local communities.
Do you think Georgia responded adequately to the pandemic?
I look forward to the day that we have COVID-19 behind us. I think we can and should do more. However, our citizens, as well as our local governments, state government, frontline healthcare workers, medical community and citizens have responded to the pandemic more effectively in Georgia than in New York and China and other places of the world. You know, we now have 50 states to study on how they reacted to COVID and nearly 200 countries. India, South Korea, Georgia have done a much better job than places such as New York and China and we need to study and do a better job. We need to protect lives, but we also need to protect livelihoods.
The hospitality industry is suffering, and our Indian community has blood, sweat and tears invested in this industry. We need to get back to the basics on business, on schools, on healthcare delivery while keeping people safe. So, I will push to do more to fight COVID and I will push to get us past it, but we can’t just all lock down and take the most stringent approach. We must exercise courage, common sense, sound medicine, science and personal responsibility to get past this.
Today I’m wearing my Atlanta Braves mask. I’ve got my Mercer mask where I went to undergraduate school, I’ve got my UGA mask, where I went to law school. I told my kids and my friends to have fun and show your pride and your allegiance with your mask. Let’s be smart and do what we can personally to get past this, but we can’t be ruled by fear, panic and bipartisan politics.
State local budgets are going to be cut due to COVID-19. It is unfortunate but businesses and taxes are going to take a hit. There’s a saying, “If you are not at the table, you are on the table,” and in the state Senate where you have 35 Republicans and 21 Democrats, I want to be on the winning side for the sake of our schools, taxes, transportation needs, public safety, healthcare, the many needs that we have for quality of life. In addition to picking up the effort for local governments, the cities in my district may have to cut their budgets, so having the state to be in a position to help our cities and local governments and schools will be critical.
What are your thoughts about schools reopening? How would you make it safe for kids to return to schools?
My overarching principle of government, is that I trust the locals. The needs of the Gwinnett schools are different than North Fulton. The needs of North Fulton are different from rural and another mid-sized cities. I want to be an advocate for Gwinnett County schools and our North Fulton schools. They are top-notch and award-winning schools and I don’t want to do anything that would disrupt or harm their efforts. I want to be a sound advocate for the choices that those elected officials who were empowered and entrusted with the responsibility for schools. I think the locals ought to listen parents and the teachers. However, we need to exercise courage, common sense and we need to realize that one of the biggest responsibilities of government is to keep kids safe and educated. We are going to pay for it five and ten years down the road if our young people’s education, human growth and development is frustrated. I was talking to a parent of a now kindergartener who had a pre-school graduation in the summer. They had to reschedule it because preschool kids had already forgotten each other, and they were clinging to their parents after being quarantined in lockdown. So, overly unnecessarily restrictive approach on covid-19 on young children is going to have a serious toll on their growth and development and education. Additionally, I have an 11th grade son who’s an athlete and an eighth-grade daughter who’s able to play volleyball, my 5th grader I have no doubt will be playing. Those young athletes have put in years of hard work. If sports has to be canceled or restricted, that needs to be done on a necessary basis because there are a lot of kids out there who are counting on being a student-athlete for their college education and for their opportunity. I want to make sure that schools are empowered to make sound decisions for our young people but I’m not running for school board and I’m not going to boss around school board members. I’m going to be a good advocate for our students, parents, teachers and our school officials.
Georgia is one of 14 states that did not expand Medicaid. House Minority Leader Bob Trammell urged Gov. Brian Kemp to use his increased public health emergency powers to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. What is your stand on this issue?
Addressing the gap in the poverty level and Medicaid coverage and the ranks of Ensure Georgians should be addressed through a Medicaid waiver where we help people get insured.
Washington DC tried to do it 10 years ago. We had Medicaid and then we had insurance and there was a gap, and people fell between the cracks. So, what I want to do is pursue Medicaid waiver, some of that is already in motion in Georgia. I want to talk to health insurance agents here in Gwinnett, North Fulton, a lot of whom are from our immigrant community and who are diverse and who are ready to educate our potential insured patients on how to get good insurance policies.
I think a tailor-made Medicaid waiver approach is the way to go rather than a total government Medicaid expansion. I have talked to Medicaid recipients who depend on Medicaid as well as Medicaid providers and I think both the patients and the providers will tell you that we need to do a better job on Medicaid for the people who are already entitled to– low income level folks, pregnant women and their babies, disabled people, and low-income seniors are the four categories of people who are already on Medicaid. And so we need to improve Medicaid for the current recipients and their providers, who are working hard and are not getting compensated fairly. We need to fix that and I want to make sure in Georgia we have abundant jobs and health insurance coverage. I would rather help uninsured Georgians get covered by health insurance and making sure that they have their educational opportunities as well as their work opportunities addressed and give them assistance to get health insurance coverage if they have needs in that regard.
There were long lines and accusations of voter suppression in Georgia during the primaries. How would you respond to this?
In 2018 we had a record turnout and so if anybody was trying to suppress votes they failed. Both on the Democrat side and Republican side, we had more votes than ever before. In the primary in 2020, if anybody was trying to suppress votes, they failed also because we again had a massive turn out. I want to make sure we have ballot integrity. I want to make sure that the Fulton County government and Gwinnett County Board of Elections runs things the right way. I’ve been giving out absentee ballot application forms. I want people to vote absentee, I want them to vote early, and on election day. I want to have a high turnout and I want to make sure that everybody in North Fulton and Gwinnett goes to vote.
Get your absentee ballot applications in now, go to your County Board of Elections website or the Secretary of State’s website where you can contact me and I’ll get you an application for Gwinnett or Fulton. Early voting starts October the 13th. Voter registration ends in very early October, so be sure to get registered in September. If you’ve moved, make sure that your voter registration is updated. Get that done in September and I’d be glad to help you in that regard. You can call Matt Reeves for Senate, visit my website mattreevesforsenate.com, and I’m on Facebook. I’m in Duluth and my number at the office is 770-236-9768. Give me a call and I will be glad to help you and the Indian community register to vote. I want all my Indian friends and neighbors to make an impact on my race as well as others.
Given the protests, and the riots with regards to BLM, what are your thoughts about criminal justice reform?
When I was at University of Georgia law school, I worked in the District Attorney’s Office in Madison County and several other counties outside of Athens. My dad retired in 2017 after working for nearly twenty years in DA’s office in Americus Georgia and Albany Georgia. So, this is not an abstract concept for me. I have worked in the criminal justice system myself and seen my dad do it. I’ve been to the jail in Gwinnett County on good terms, for civic and legal matters and when I was in law school at UGA and working here at my Law Firm, we represented the sheriff in a legal matter with the county because the jail was overcrowded at the time. It was a burden to the taxpayers and was a bad situation for law enforcement. The sheriff in Gwinnett did some reforms and now the jail in Gwinnett is run in a fiscally sound manner and much better than it was years ago. Georgia has been a leader on criminal justice reform.
We don’t need to defund the police. We need to make sure that our police have good training in the academy and have community policing. I’d like to see the younger generation– starting with the millennials and then going all the way down to high school and middle school– letting them know, that in Georgia you can go to your local technical school, get a criminal justice two-year degree in associate’s degree, work at your local police department in your city or county, go to college nearly for free and then get a four-year degree also probably with help from the police or the state. And you can be in community policing and be part of the solution. I want law enforcement to be respected. I want citizens to be respected.
I’m a lawyer and believe in the Bill of Rights I think that we need to get back to basics. If you read the 10 Bill of Rights, about half of them are more related to the criminal justice system. I’m bothered by politicians who have said that police brutality is rampant or it’s a public health crisis. We need to weed out the offenders and get them out of police, but we need to respect the people who work hard to keep our community safe.
Small business owners, among others, are the worst hit during the pandemic. Do you have any plans to address their issue to keep them afloat?
If you contrast the response to COVID, with the recession in 2007,2008,2009, I think the PPP program and other responses to COVID helped financially. However, now the small businesses are starting to feel the impact of COVID. We need to be there for small businesses. We don’t need to go the route of big government, taxes, regulations and restrictions that can have unintended consequences. We need to keep things free and as entrepreneurial as possible. I admire our Indian Community in Gwinnett and North Fulton, their entrepreneurial spirit that looks for value, profit and customer service and innovation and problem-solving. We need our small businesses to be free to do that.
We need to exercise common sense, freedom, courage and caution. And we need to trust our local elected officials, trust our small business people and also our citizens to exercise personal responsibilities during this trying time. love small business people and want to be an advocate for small business because that’s where all the jobs are. I want to make sure that Georgia is number one in small business for the next generation.
More and more Indians Indian Americans, who have never been politically inclined before, are coming out to support your campaign. What do you know about these people and their culture?
Before I got into running for office, I got to work with Shiv Aggarwal on real estate and business matters and I had Indian friends who showed me the mandir in Lilburn and took me to Indian Independence Day events. And also, from living and working in Gwinnett County for 17 years, you literally get the taste of India and get the benefit of education, health care, business, neighborliness, charitable spirit, looking out for public welfare, and that is just such a benefit. I love my Indian friends and neighbors and people out in the local business community, and I want to be a strong advocate and friend to them. And to tell the story, during my lifetime, in Georgia, no one has loved the American dream and, in more numbers, per capita than the Indian community. I’m proud of what my Indian friends have accomplished– all their hard work, and determination and excellence in a well-rounded way. That’s something I admire a lot.
Why should the community vote for you?
The community should vote for me because I could do more for Gwinnett, and North Fulton, and because of my of priorities for state government – we have a few things to do and do them well. We have got to get our kids educated, have safe communities, good transportation, good healthcare network.
I’d be glad to talk to any Indian resident in Gwinnett, North Fulton who is trying to make up their mind on this state Senate race because it’s important. The national politics is exciting, and they definitely have big consequences. However, at the local level, this is where your business regulations, your taxes are affected. For instance, there was a per hotel tax that was imposed years ago – getting rid of stuff like that, that impacts Indian businesses is important. And that’s something I want to pay close attention to.