Gov. Brian Kemp, during a re-election campaign stop Friday at Anderson’s General Store in Statesboro, touted his role in keeping Georgia open for business through the COVID-19 pandemic and several campaign promises from four years ago he has delivered on, such as teacher pay raises.
The Republican governor meanwhile assailed the approach to governance he portrayed as being offered by Stacey Abrams, Kemp’s opponent in his narrow November 2018 election victory and now the only Democrat in the race that will end with the Nov. 8, 2022, general election or a runoff. Although Kemp closed by asking for votes in the May 24 Republican primary, he never mentioned his best-known in-party challenger, former U.S. Sen. David Perdue.
“We are in a fight for the soul of our state, and that fight every day that we are fighting is to make sure that Stacey Abrams is never your governor or your next president,” Kemp said early in his remarks.
He stood with his campaign bus behind him, facing 100 or more people gathered in front of the rural-themed store on U.S. Highway 80 East. His wife, Marty Kemp, stood nearby, as did their daughter Lucy, who held a yellow diesel fuel can with the top cut wide to receive campaign donations. As he mentioned more than once, Kemp and family also stopped at Anderson’s during his 2018 campaign.
One big challenge that was not expected then, the coronavirus pandemic, has run through more than two years of his three and a quarter years in office. Noting that nobody alive had dealt with anything like it, Kemp mentioned the emergency powers he wielded in concert with Dr. Kathleen Toomey, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health, with support from the General Assembly.
“It was hard, and we had to make tough choices, but … we used those powers sparingly, but also powerfully to empower our people to do amazing things, our healthcare heroes to help protect lives every single day,” Kemp said.
From his and his wife’s years as small business owners, he said, they understood that many business people faced a choice either to get back to work or “just give up and throw the keys back to the bank.”
“All we did was give people the ability and the freedom to go back to work if they wanted to, to open the store if they wanted to, and we got criticized by so many people in powerful places, by the national media, by the activist media in Atlanta and by Stacey Abrams, saying we were doing this too quick,” Kemp said. “Dr. (Anthony) Fauci said the same thing, but I felt like Georgians were not going to sit in their basement and lose everything that they’d ever worked for.”
Kemp asserted that his administration also worked with local school systems “to get our kids back in the classrooms” but had allowed for local control.
“But make no mistake, we are one COVID variant away, if Stacey Abrams was your governor, from more lockdowns, from your kids being pulled out of the classroom and your places of worship being closed, and Lord knows what else,” Kemp claimed.
He said that people have “the tools now where we can make those decisions” and “don’t need the government deciding what’s in your best interest.”
Kemp said this year’s legislative session “was one of the greatest” he has been part of, with a big part of that being public safety legislation.
“In 2018 when I was right here in this same parking lot, I told you I would create a gang task force at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation,” he said. “We have done that. We are putting more resources over there this year, with the support of your legislators, to further help our locals prosecute gangs.”
The Legislature this year passed a state income tax exemption for up to $35,000 in military retirement income, and Kemp said this also fulfilled a promise he made in 2018.
“I also wanted to mention a great session that we had for education, fulfilling a promise, again, I made on this parking lot in 2018 to do a $5,000 across-the-board teacher pay raise,” he said. “Stacey Abrams said that was a political ploy, that a Republican governor never would do something like that. Well, you know what, the budget this year completes the last $2,000 installment of that.”
With the current year’s amended state budget, Kemp and the Legislature are providing special state income tax credits for people who filed returns for both the 2020 and 2021 tax years. The rebates are $250 for individuals, $500 for married couples filing jointly and $350 for head-of-household filers. The state lawmakers also suspended the state motor fuels tax for 10 weeks, through May 31, to counteract soaring gas and diesel prices.
“Because of our fiscal conservatism, because of us remaining open when others wanted to close us down, we had the money in the amended budget to send over a billion dollars back to the taxpayers…,” Kemp said. “We feel like in these times it’s better in your pocket.”
Kemp touted Senate Bill 202, which he signed into law a year ago, as “the strongest Elections Integrity Act in the country.” It made changes in Georgia’s allowed voting procedures, after emergency measures had been adopted administratively during 2020, and after then-President Donald Trump disputed his November 2020 loss of the national election, and especially his very narrow loss of Georgia.
“We stood strong when we passed the strongest Elections Integrity Act in the country after the mechanical issues that we saw in the 2020 election, which we should have done because neither the Legislature nor the Governor’s Office had weighed in on a lot of decisions that were made during the pandemic. …,” Kemp said.
“The other side overplayed their hand, called it suppressive, all it Jim Crow 2.0,” he said. “It was not. It simply made it easy to vote and hard to cheat in Georgia.”
Friday’s event left no doubt that state Sen. Billy Hickman, R-District 4, of Statesboro is backing the incumbent rather than remaining neutral until the primary. After telling the Statesboro Herald that he supports “Brian Kemp all the way,” Hickman gave his campaign stop introduction, previewing many of the same points Kemp mentioned.
One of the senator’s remarks, while offered as praise for Kemp as a person of faith, also revealed what Hickman thought of Trump’s verbal attacks on Kemp for certifying the 2020 election results.
“I was with Brian one night – excuse me, Governor Kemp one night – and I asked him, I said, ‘How are you standing all of this crap from Donald Trump?’ and he gave the answer that I want to hear, he said, ‘I pray a lot,’” Hickman told the crowd. “That’s the man that we have got.”
Only Perdue has Trump’s endorsement in the Georgia gubernatorial race, and when Perdue spoke to the Bulloch County Republican Party at The Saucy Shrimp restaurant April 2, he opened with a video of Trump voicing that endorsement.