Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said Thursday the steady vitriol on social media didn’t influence her decision not to run for re-election.

“It really did not. I, thankfully, have a lot of discipline as it relates to social media,” the mayor said during a conversation she had with former Secretary of State Condolezza Rice. “Even when I am scrolling around just to see what people in the city are talking about, I can turn it off when it gets to be too toxic.”

The conversation between the two political heavyweights was part of the inaugural episode of the “Reimagining American Democracy” speakers series. The monthly virtual series is sponsored by Freedom House, the George W. Bush Institute, Issue One, and the Atlanta-based National Center for Civil and Human Rights.

Bottoms said there were myriad reasons for not seeking a second term.

“I can’t point to any one thing,” she said. “But I’ve always said that I wanted to leave the city better than I found it and I wanted to leave on top and leave when I was in a position of strength and that’s where I am. Just as voters have the opportunity to make decisions every four years, elected officials do as well. So I’ve taken this opportunity to pass the baton.”

The “Reimagining Democracy” series, which gathers the nation’s top experts, is a response to the Jan. 6 uprising at the U.S. Capitol.

In addition to Bottom’s political future, she and Rice, now director of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, chiefly talked about the state of American democracy. Both women had similar assessments about the health of our country's institutions.

“It’s on the mend,” Bottoms said. “We saw the absolute worst happen at the U.S. Capitol a few months ago. We are seeing things very troubling happening in state legislatures across the country. But I do believe there's healing taking place across this country because people are registering to vote and turning out to vote in record numbers.”

“The vital organs are just fine. The institutions are strong, Rice said. “In fact, I would agree with Mayor Bottoms that January 6 was a kind of a stress test.”

Rice said she watched Congress return to the Capitol that day and certify the 2020 election.

“I watched the vice president of the United States certify a vote that put him out of office and I thought American democracy is just fine,” Rice said. “We do have some problems. We have some real issues to resolve around our electoral system. It really shouldn't be the case that people have to stand in line for the long, long periods that they do. It shouldn't be the case that it takes North Carolina three and a half weeks to count the votes.”

The two women had differing views over Georgia’s new election reform law being referred to as “Jim Crow 2.0.”

Rice noted that she grew up in “segregated Birmingham, Alabama” and as such “I know what it looks like to restrict people’s right to vote.”

“Jim Crow is not what's happening in Georgia and to say that erodes confidence in people because I grew up in Jim Crow,” Rice said. “My father had to take a poll test where he was supposed to count how many beans were in a jar. We don't get anywhere by overdramatizing what we're going through.”

She said she is frustrated with both political parties and their tactics of throwing around terms such as voter fraud and voter suppression.

“The fact is, we have some things we need to look at in our electoral system,” Rice said. “I don't like legislators taking this into their own hands. Frankly, we probably need to go back to some kind of bipartisan commission to try to figure this out.”

Because Georgia elections have gotten so close in recent years, Bottoms said, the electoral process has become a numbers game. It boils down to restrictions and reductions: limiting ballot boxes, removing the secretary of state from the state elections board, changing absentee ballot, she added.

“It really is an attempt just to skim off the margins,” she said. “In Georgia, changes are needed to our election system. This was an opportunity for those changes to be in a way that would allow everyone equal access to the ballot box. Unfortunately, the legislature didn't take that opportunity.”

Bottoms said she personally experienced what she sees as voter restrictions.

While the United States continues to face criticism domestically and globally, Rice said, there are still lines of people trying to come here.

“We remain a beacon to people,” she said. Do we have problems? Yes. I don't see the United States through rose-colored glasses but I do see a United States that has kept struggling forward and trying to make it better and trying to include more people as we've gone along.”

(Header: Screenshots of former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. Photo credit: Tammy Joyner)