A Strong Spine and a Pragmatic Streak Sarah Riggs Amico ’01 believes, “There are no unsolvable problems, just leaders who are either unwilling or unable to solve them.”
“I’m a unicorn.”
That’s how Sarah Riggs Amico ’01, candidate for lieutenant governor of Georgia describes herself. “I’m pro-business, pro-labor, pro choice, pro-environment, pro-gay rights and pro-social justice,” she said. She’s also an evangelical Christian and is married to an Italian “who has a funny accent.”
Amico, the chief executive of Jack Cooper Holdings Corp., her family’s trucking and logistics company, was recruited former consultant to the Democratic National Committee to throw her hat into the ring for the 2018 elections. “I thought, ‘Why not?’ My positions might seem contradictory to many, but I don’t think its weird to be pro-labor and pro-business. I have 3,500 employees (of which 2,000 are teamsters), and I’m paying for 100 percent of their healthcare. I don’t think it’s weird to be evangelical and pro-choice. My personal beliefs shouldn’t and never will impact how I would make decisions for the state. I don’t think it’s weird to be a Christian and want to protect creation. It seems that so much of the political world plays out at the fringes of the bell curve. I’d rather see diversity of thought within the parties. Right now the center is empty.”
“Government provides the structure, but it’s the people and the participation that animate our democracy. That’s what makes it work. The minute we abdicate those responsibilities we’re done.”
Amico, who grew up in rural southwest Missouri, didn’t discover politics until her junior year. She studied music with Katherine Gaylard and gave a senior voice recital. She participated in debate competitions, going to nationals one year. She took geology and two years of calculus. “That’s the beauty of W&L,” Amico noted. “All those different classes will equip you for any kind of work in the world.”
She didn’t, however, participate in 2000 Mock Con because she was studying abroad, in France. It was her class with Professor Lew John ’58 on elections and a subsequent Spring Term class in London with him and Professor Bill Connelly that turned her onto politics. Amico developed a huge crush on James Madison after reading the Federalist Papers (Federalist Number 10 — written by Madison — arguing for the ratification of the Constitution is her favorite). “If I had dogs,” she said, “I’d name them Madison and Jefferson, but Madison would be the better looking one and would probably be a golden retriever.”
While on campus in January, Amico visited two politics classes and had lunch with the 2020 Mock Con chairs. She advised them to appreciate the moment and the academic experience, but to also remember why it matters. “Stop for a couple of hours and breathe in the experience you’re having,” she said. “Celebrate the richness and the texture. Government provides the structure, but it’s the people and the participation that animate our democracy. That’s what makes it work. The minute we abdicate those responsibilities, we’re done.
“You have the voice, so use it — use it well,” she added. “You are in a unique and privileged position — you’ve got the ability to re-energize your peers to demand better. Knock on doors, volunteer, make phone calls, be the person who respectfully, but courageously stands up to someone who says something idiotic or racially offensive.”
As Amico revs up her campaign, she’s staffing it with seasoned veterans — “The best in the business,” she said. Despite some efforts to re-shape her message, she’s pushed back at being put through a sausage maker by political consultants. “They wanted the unicorn,” she said. “I’ve got my rainbows ready, don’t take away my glitter and make me look like all the other candidates. In order to win, you have to be willing to lose the race, to be willing to say no to the consultants and no to the money.”
So far, her campaign has attracted donations from people who’ve never given to a candidate before. She’s even received the support of a conservative congressman who “clapped the loudest and gave the biggest check at a recent fundraiser. All I’m asking is for people to come and listen to what I have to say. Content of character is where it’s at, and I ask people to give me a chance. I’m certainly not going to ask voters to keep re-electing me if I can’t make a difference. If I don’t get it done, then find someone better.”
Amico wants to talk to everyone in Georgia who is willing to listen. “I am new to politics,” she noted. “But I have the awareness to understand that and to bring in people who can fill in gaps. I’m focusing on listening and connecting to voters, which is what the best presidents did. I don’t think it matters what party you’re from. Jimmy Carter is an incredible legend in our state. Ronald Reagan reminded us we could be a light to the world, to lift people up when they felt really downtrodden. John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton did the same thing. That’s inspiring.”
If elected, Amico will be the first woman to serve as the state’s lieutenant governor, as well as the first Democrat to hold the position since 2006, when Casey Cagle was voted in. It’s not the first time she’s broken through the glass ceiling. She was the first woman to head up a department at APA Talent and Literary Agency in Los Angeles, the first woman to serve on Jackson Cooper’s board of directors and the first woman to serve as its chair. And to her, that is important.
“It’s an unfortunate reality, and I didn’t think about it much until I had daughters,” she said. “My philosophy was very simple. Put your head down, do the work, consistently over-deliver, bring good ideas to the table and relentlessly focus on executing them. When I became the chair, I brought another woman on the board, which helped changed the whole tenor of the discussion. It was richer, more robust, more thoughtful.”
Amico believes the same will be true of having more women in office. “If I have a seat at the table, we could do more and my guess is that it will create better governance, just like it did on my board. If we had equal female representation in our state legislature, I doubt we would have 60 counties without pediatricians.
“When I look around the room or when I look at the team, I ask myself are we considering a broad cross-section of diverse thought? Because I do think diverse nations, companies, teams, nations do better. I think women are able to bring a deep well of empathy into leadership. When you couple that with a strong spine and a pragmatic streak that I think every mom has, it’s a beautiful combination — that’s what I hope I can bring from the board room to the state government.”