Spencer Frye, executive director of Athens Area Habitat for Humanity, has represented District 118 in the Georgia House of Representatives since first being elected in 2012. Now, he’s running as a Democrat unopposed for reelection during a pandemic.
Frye said that his main motivation for getting into politics was expanding his ability to advocate for and lead his community. Frye ran against four other candidates to be mayor of Athens-Clarke County in 2010, but lost to then-tax commissioner Nancy Denson.
Frye began his college career at the University of Georgia in 1986, but left the university and moved to Haiti after his sophomore year to become a missionary. He said the intersection of his faith and his politics is “very evident.” His father was a Presbyterian minister, but Frye has practiced at a variety of churches.
Frye returned to UGA after a year, but had to drop out again for financial reasons. More than two decades later, he returned for a second time to UGA and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2014, while he was serving as the District 118 representative.
After leaving UGA for the second time and moving around through different jobs, Frye started working for Habitat for Humanity as a construction worker in the late 1990s, where he realized he had a passion for helping others.
“Offering assistance to folks to purchase their own home was something that’s incredibly important to me personally,” Frye said. “You know, I’ve lived in apartments, lived in trailers, in any house imaginable, but my family always had focused on the American dream of homeownership, and I felt like this was something that I really needed to do.”
The big issues
Because of his experience, Frye said cost-manageable housing is a major issue for him. He said his parents worked full-time when he was young to buy a house, but he doesn’t believe that two parents working full-time in 2020 could afford a home.
Frye supports raising the minimum wage, but did not say what would be a good adjusted rate. He would like to consider tying the minimum wage in a community to its wealth disparity, meaning that a greater inequality between a community’s wealthiest and poorest members would allow it to set a higher minimum wage.
“We want more money in the hands of our lower-income people, because all of that money is spent within the community in which they reside,” Frye said. “The idea of trickle-down economics is a failed federal theory, when the reality is the people who spend most of the money are the ones that need most of the money.”
Health care, which is a major priority for voters around the U.S. in this election cycle, is another of Frye’s top priorities as a representative. Frye said Georgia has left “billions and billions of dollars” in federal funding on the table by opting not to expand its Medicaid program as far as the Affordable Care Act allows.
“Access to quality health care is the right to life argument,” Frye said. “We want healthy citizens, and we want healthy workers, we want healthy teachers, we want healthy legislators.”
Frye said the current American health care system focuses more on insurance companies’ profits than on patient care. He supports an optional single-payer health care system while still allowing people to have private insurance if they choose.
With the COVID-19 pandemic taking an economic toll on the state as well as the country, Frye said the best way to restore the economy would be to get the spread of COVID-19 under control. He said the government should create confidence among consumers that it is doing everything it can to keep them safe.
“Businesses are open for business, it’s people that aren’t going to shop there. If the people had more confidence in the leadership of the state in handling the pandemic, our economy would not be where it is right now,” Frye said.
Looking to the future
On the topic of racial justice, Frye said there was “some real low-hanging fruit” as far as policies that could be implemented to fix problems like police shootings. He said that the amount of training that police go through isn’t enough, and current training doesn’t involve psychological training for bias tendency.
Frye said he doesn’t support defunding the police, but that police are asked to perform too many roles, such as acting as social workers and family counselors in the course of their regular police work.
Since he’s running unopposed, Frye said he has been spending his energy helping other political candidates across the state engage with voters. He joined U.S. Senate candidate Jon Ossoff at a rally in Athens’ College Square Plaza on Monday to get out the youth vote. During the rally, Frye encouraged the crowd to make sure they vote and get their friends to vote, saying “the soul of our nation hangs in the balance.”
Frye’s campaign has had a student fellowship program since 2011 that allows students from the Athens area to join the campaign staff and make an impact in state politics. Members of the fellowship attend weekly policy meetings, participate in community outreach events and run public relations media.
Julianna Isbitts, the director of Frye’s fellowship and a junior political science major at UGA, has been working with the campaign since fall 2019. She said Frye’s fellowship differs from other political fellowship opportunities in that it focuses heavily on policy discussion and analysis rather than just focusing on campaigning.
Isbitts described Frye as a leader, and said he’s invested in helping members of the fellowship develop as individuals as well as professionals. She said working on the fellowship has helped her grow as a professional, as a researcher and as a person.
“It’s really been one of the best experiences I’ve had in college,” Isbitts said.