Politics

Senate candidate Jon Ossoff looks to young voters to help him flip Georgia blue

Key Points
  • With climate change hitting Georgia's agricultural sector, Jon Ossoff backs a massive investment in clean and renewable energy to transition away from carbon-emitting energy production.
  • As the coronavirus outbreak continues to spiral, the Senate candidate supports a public option, Medicaid expansion and breaking "the link between health and wealth."
  • According to the most recent polls, the race is leaning toward the Republican.
Campaign workers pose for photos with an Ossoff campaign bus in 2017. "Here's what I'm really optimistic about. Young people get it," Ossoff tells CNBC of his current run for the U.S. Senate.
Bill Clark | CQ Roll Call via Getty Images

CNBC.com is interviewing candidates for federal office this summer to gain insight into their political vision for the U.S. and how it can impact the economic outlook for the 37% of the 2020 electorate that is from the millennial and Gen Z generations. Set to be the first American generations to be worse off than their parents, facing the threat of climate change and struggling with student debt, money matters matter to young voters in this election.

Vital stats

Name: Jon Ossoff

Running For: Senate, Georgia, Democrat

Opponent: Republican Sen. David Perdue

Age: 33

Experience: CEO of Insight TWI, an investigative journalism television production company; candidate in the most expensive House race ever

Education: Georgetown (BS), London School of Economics (MS)

Family: Wife, Alisha

Fundraising total: $4.1 million (through May 20)

Current polling: Perdue +3 (Fox News, June 20–23); "Lean Republican" (Cook Political Report, May) 

CNBC: 78% of millennials and younger think the U.S. should prioritize renewables over fossil fuels, according to Pew Research. Your state, Georgia, consistently ranks as a top state for solar power. Would you like to see an even further expansion?

Yes, and in the Senate, I'll work to make Georgia America's leading state in clean energy production. I will fight for massive investment in clean and renewable energy and transitioning away from carbon-emitting energy production. One of the things I'm most excited about is that when we win the Senate and the White House, we will have a historic opportunity to chart a new course for our economy, to save our environment, to bring commerce and human economic activity into harmony with the planet and to make the kinds of transformative and revolutionary investments that will lay the foundations for centuries of prosperity and sustainability.

Young people get this, no matter how much money the oil and gas industry spends on propaganda and lobbying. Young people get that we have to get our act together and that our success, not just as a country but as a species, depends upon making these changes, taking our cues from science and cleaning up our act.

CNBC: According to the Fourth National Climate Assessment report, the sector of our economy that will be the most negatively impacted by climate change is the health-care sector, with weather-related health conditions predicted to increase in severity and unanticipated health threats likely to emerge. What changes do you think are needed for our health-care system to prepare for an impending climate crisis?

The evidence is clear and has been clear for decades that if we don't get greenhouse gas emissions under control and if we don't decarbonize energy production, then climate change poses a dire threat to our health, to our economy and to our security. We've already seen this in Georgia. We've seen the effects on our state's agricultural sector of intensifying tropical storms, storm surge, high-wind events, drought, higher temperatures and increased fire risk, which all has great implications for human health. Step one is making the aggressive investments in clean and renewable energy necessary to get carbon emissions under control and build an economy that is sustainable.

Also, I hope that this Covid-19 pandemic is a massive wake-up call for anyone who still believes it's not vital that every single American has great health insurance. We have to recognize that health care and health itself are human rights.

Young people get it. I don't think young people are falling for the usual political propaganda and bull----. I think that young people have a very clear-eyed understanding of what's happening in our country and in our world and where we need to get to.

I think young people get this too. I think young people recognize that unless we're looking out for everyone's health, our individual and collective health are at risk. In the Senate, I will fight for a strong public option which will give people more choices and compete with private insurers. I will fight for dramatic Medicaid expansion to break the link between health and wealth.

I'll also fight for resources to build more clinics and hospitals in underserved and marginalized communities here in Georgia. I'll work to expand the U.S. public health service so that we have the health-care professionals trained and available to serve the people here in Georgia. Half of our counties have no Ob/Gyn physician. We have among the highest maternal mortality rates in the country, more than 1.4 million Georgians with no health insurance at all. We had a public health crisis even before Covid-19. The good news is that it's no mystery how we solve it. When we control the Senate and the White House, we will.

CNBC: Your campaign has focused a lot on criminal justice reform. Currently in Georgia, marijuana is still not decriminalized. In the U.S. Senate, would you push for nationwide marijuana decriminalization?

I won't just push for decriminalization; I'll push for nationwide legalization of cannabis. The prohibition of this substance is irrational. It's hugely expensive. It has a terrible human toll.

The fact that there are people doing time for nonviolent marijuana-related offenses while others are getting rich in the cannabis industry is a grave injustice. I'll fight for outright cannabis legalization, an end to incarceration for nonviolent drug offenses and expungement of records for nonviolent cannabis offenses.

CNBC: Since 2010, Amazon has invested $3.6 billion in your home state. Morning Consult says Amazon is Gen Z's fourth most-loved brand. However, politicians from Donald Trump to AOC have attacked the company. Is there a disconnect between young voters and leaders surrounding big tech?

Amazon provides a great service, but its corporate behavior is unethical. Jeff Bezos and Amazon shareholders are making enough money that they could treat their workers well and pay their fair share of federal taxes, still provide a great service and still make a lot of money.

Amazon should strengthen labor standards and increase worker pay. The conditions in these warehouses are appalling. Their labor protections during this pandemic have been totally inadequate. They've retaliated against corporate whistleblowers, and they're avoiding paying taxes while they benefit from all of the services of the federal government, whether that's the air-traffic system, the way that the U.S. supports and backstops international commerce or all of the infrastructure that Amazon uses to make money. They're not contributing sufficiently to the public investment that makes their enterprise possible.

CNBC: According to Pew Research, Gen Z reports being hit the hardest financially by Covid-19, with over half of those polled saying they know someone who lost a job or had to take a pay cut. How will you in the Senate not just try to bring back jobs but bring jobs back for vulnerable young Americans entering the workforce?

We put four-year college up on a pedestal, but what a lot of young people need is free vocational training. I support expanding not just free vocational training but in many cases paid vocational training.

That intersects with another core priority, which is that we need an unprecedented American infrastructure program that will include massive investment in clean energy, but also in transit and transportation, rural broadband, improving the electric grid and transforming our quality of life with investments and infrastructure that are long overdue. We can train young people to be part of that effort and can get them skills so that they can move from gig work and low-paid wage work without benefits to good-paying steady jobs with benefits helping to rebuild America from this crisis.

U.S. Senate candidate Jon Ossoff attends Juneteenth Voter Registration Concert & Rally at Murphy Park Fairgrounds on June 19, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Paras Griffin | Getty Images

We also need to look at how we can get more young people employed in the public health sector. Right now we have a shortage of critical health-care workers. We have parts of Georgia, for example, where you're many, many miles away even from a primary-care physician or a nurse practitioner, let alone from a trauma center, and so I think expanding the U.S. public health service is another way we can generate economic opportunity for young people.

But here's what I'm really optimistic about. Young people get it. I don't think young people are falling for the usual political propaganda and bull----. I think that young people have a very clear-eyed understanding of what's happening in our country and in our world and where we need to get to. We need to get to a place where every single citizen is guaranteed equal justice under the law, where voting rights are sacrosanct, where we understand that human health is a human right, and where we understand that we don't have to choose between prosperity and sustainability. We can build an economy that's clean and green and growing and prosperous. I think there's tremendous unity and excitement among young people to get out and vote for candidates who support that agenda. And that's my agenda.

Netflix or Hulu: Netflix

Apple Music or Spotify: Apple Music

Who's on your playlist? I've been listening to lofi hip-hop, man, just to stay calm and cool and collected. Have you heard of ChilledCow? Check it out.

What was your college major? International relations

Favorite TV Show: That's tough! "The Wire."

Best financial advice you've ever received from your parents? Save more than you spend.

If you were a Gen Z individual entering the workforce, what sector would you enter? Well, in Georgia? I hope that in the next few years we're going to have a lot of opportunities for young people in the renewable-energy sector and in public health. Also, we need to reinvigorate public-interest journalism and investigative journalism in this country.

Is a hot dog a sandwich? No.

VIDEO5:0505:05
Sen. David Perdue on Georgia's reopening process amid Covid-19 pandemic