September 28, 2020
An Interview with Jasmine Clark

A Commitment to Science 

Whether it relates to environmental policy, voting rights, or COVID-19, Georgia State Representative Jasmine Clark’s commitment to science and evidence-driven decision making influences every vote she takes in the legislature. In fact, science is what inspired her to run for a seat in the Georgia State House in 2018. “I have always been a voter. But I decided to take that next step and run for office after the election of Donald Trump,” she explains. “Being a member of the science community, I felt like we could not sit idly by and be silent while science was under attack.”

Upon seeing President Trump’s attempts to discredit scientists and roll back evidence-based policies, Jasmine led Atlanta’s March for Science on Earth Day in April of 2017. She recalls that “after seeing ten thousand people show up to advocate for science and the use of data and evidence-driven policymaking, I realized that we need those science voices in the State Legislature.” She ran for State House in her purple district in 2018 and won, becoming the first Black woman to represent the district.

Within her first few months in office, it became clear to Jasmine that her science has an important place in state government. She regularly needed to communicate with legislators and constituents who brought forward ideas that they backed up with flawed evidence.  “A lot of times people will see the numbers, those numbers fit their beliefs, and so they quote those numbers, but they don’t understand the underlying causation,” she says. She found that in those situations, it often helped to conduct research and ask more questions.

State Legislature Meets QR Codes

This process proved extremely valuable in early 2019 when a bill was brought to the legislature that would have called for new voting machines across the state. Jasmine “had a lot of hesitations about this particular machine because it doesn’t read what is physically on the paper; it reads a QR code.”

“I am a human being, and I hope everyone who is voting will be a human being,” she continues. “We cannot read QR codes. I felt that these machines would give people a false sense of security.”

During discussions about the bill, its author repeatedly used a short excerpt from a National Academy of Science paper as evidence of the efficacy of this type of machine. Recognizing that the author quoted only a single sentence from the paper, Jasmine read the entire document because “you can’t make a conclusion about something based on one sentence in a large peer-reviewed paper.”

After reading the article, Jasmine found that the rest of the paper laid out the weaknesses of the machine in question, chiefly that the results from this machine could not be audited. In her first floor speech as freshman Representative, Jasmine pointed out these flaws, using the information she read. While the proposed legislation still passed, Jasmine says that she felt proud of her dissent because “it was my very first floor speech and my first time going up against a bill, and it was an opportunity to use my science.”

Education for Children

As a scientist and an educator, Jasmine knows the importance of creating educational opportunities for children, no matter where they come from. “If I were able to bring money into our community, I would make sure that a lot of that goes to our schools,” she says. “Even in our community, there are still huge disparities in the resources that go to different schools, so I would love to make sure that every child has everything they need so that no matter where you live, or what house you decide to buy in the community, you can feel confident  that your kid is going to go to a good school.”

A beautifully diverse community

It’s clear that Jasmine takes a lot of pride in representing her community. “One of the things I love about my community is how diverse it is,” she says. “It is absolutely beautifully diverse, and I would love to see a gathering of all these beautiful people from all over the world converging in one place to share their culture and share their traditional foods and music.”

Jasmine says she wants to see an event that brings together members from all areas of her district to share their food, music and culture. She believes that “it doesn’t matter who you vote for or what party you belong to, music and food can heal hearts and bring people together.”

Jasmine is passionate about legislating for her constituents and fighting for policies that she knows will improve the lives of her neighbors. While the work is rewarding, it can also be extremely demanding. In her experience, “it’s really challenging to want to make a difference and know that what you’re fighting for is the right fight, and to still lose that particular fight.”

“The truth is you’re not going to win everything, even if you know you are fighting on the right side of that issue,” she continues. “There are going to be some wins, but there are going to be some losses, and you can’t be discouraged by them because any loss is just an opportunity to do it better a second time. That’s how I look at legislating.”

Running for office

While there are challenges, Jasmine sees running for office and serving her community as one of the best decisions she has ever made. “If you’re thinking about running for office, do your research and then do it,” she says. “Don’t talk yourself out of doing it. Don’t let others talk you out of doing it.  If this is something that you really think needs to be done, do it. Research, don’t doubt yourself, put in that time, and just do it.”

Jasmine believes that now more than ever, Georgia needs representatives like her to speak out  for its residents. “If there’s one thing I want people to know about me, it’s that I am passionate, I am driven, and I am doing this for the right reasons,” she says. “Georgia needs that science voice, trust me. We have Brian Kemp right now at the helm, and if you’ve watched him at all, then you know that science is completely escaping him.”

The State of Georgia is currently under an emergency health order, so Governor Brian Kemp has complete decision-making power in all things coronavirus. Governor Kemp has used that power to try and stop localities from instituting mask mandates and to force schools to reopen without a proper plan to stop the spread of the virus. Jasmine says “they are ignoring the science, and ignoring the science is costing lives.”

Georgia needs Jasmine and others like her in the legislature because “we need those science voices in the room. Those voices of reason and true strategy are fighting for Georgians. So, I’m here to be that voice. I’m here to continue to inject science and data and evidence-driven policy making into the process.”

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