- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
ATHENS, Georgia — Brian Kemp rarely stops pushing forward.
Spend any time with the Georgia governor, and you will also find that no matter how hard his critics throw punches his way, he never hesitates to punch back twice as hard. And much of the time, he does it with a smile.
The U.S. Senate Rules Committee descended upon Atlanta last week to hold a field hearing on voting rights. The objective was for Democrats to create a dramatic, staged opportunity to push for federal voting laws, using Georgia to cast a shadow over the sweeping voting reforms passed here in March.
They are also gunning for Kemp.
Kemp is having none of it. None of President Joe Biden’s earlier claims of Jim Crowism, none of the dramatic testimony led by Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar at the hearing, nor Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock — a newly elected Democrat up for reelection next year along with Kemp — who was brought in as a witness for the hearing.
Neither, he says, will he stand for repeated attempts to twist the truth about what the laws in his state really are. “I have no intentions of ever backing down,” he said in an interview with the Washington Examiner. “I have said this repeatedly, and I will continue to. The Election Integrity Act makes it easy to vote and hard to cheat.”
He took great offense to Biden recklessly insisting that the Georgia act is “Jim Crow on steroids.” It was a flippant remark that's either the president engaging in dangerous disinformation or simply more evidence that a man who has spent 40 years in government has retained little understanding of American history. Kemp and Georgia also took a lot of heat from major corporations based in the state, such as Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines, as well as from Major League Baseball, which decided to move this year’s All-Star Game out of the state in protest of the legislation.
Despite all of the rhetoric coming from corporations, the media, and Democrats, the Georgia reforms do not make it harder for voters to cast their ballots. The law requires identification in order to vote by mail, something voters across ideological and racial lines overwhelmingly agree with. It also creates a required drop-box system that did not exist prior to the pandemic and expands the number of days for early voting, including two Saturdays instead of just one. Kemp says that expansion, and the provision that requires the heavily populated precincts that tend to accrue longer lines to add more voting machines, makes it an easier and better voting experience for crowded urban centers.
Kemp smiled at a recap of the pressure he has faced over the law: “I did not get into governing because I thought it would be easy.” Over the past year, Kemp has also weathered withering criticism from former President Donald Trump for certifying the election, national criticism for opening his state when the rest of the country was on lockdown during the early months of the pandemic, and even a few boos from fellow Republicans at the state GOP convention.
He has also seen the Republican Party in his state wilt under Trump’s erratic furor over the Georgia election results. The former president's behavior helped hand Democrats Warnock and Jon Ossoff victories over incumbent Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue in the Senate runoffs in January. In that election, Georgia Republicans lost the conservative populist vote, those who decided to stay home in reaction to Trump’s insistence their vote hadn’t counted in November. And they also lost traditional conservative voters who were soured by Trump’s insistence Biden’s win was illicit.
Kemp sits a year ahead of his own reelection bid, which will more than likely mean a rematch between him and former state Sen. Stacey Abrams, though he still has to win his party’s primary. So far, he faces two rivals, including Vernon Jones, a former Democratic state House member-turned-Republican gubernatorial hopeful.
Kemp’s strengths remain that he is an unapologetic conservative and is comfortably able to earn votes in both rural and suburban districts. He is also a vibrant fundraiser who has already garnered an impressive $12 million. Kemp has the additional benefit of running against Abrams, a potent and controversial rival, meaning Republicans will likely unify behind a candidate in order to defeat her.
Another strength is his consistency in messaging that his primary goal is to be a role model of good governing. “It’s funny, the Atlanta paper keeps writing that I’m trying to shore up my conservative credentials with the base, and they’re completely wrong,” he said. Kemp has won three statewide elections, two for secretary of state and one for his current role as governor. He defeated Abrams in 2018 by 55,000 out of 3.9 million votes cast that year.
The embedded assumption in coverage of Kemp’s voting reforms is that he’s trying to win back disgruntled Trump supporters, yet Kemp insists he has always been this guy. He says he has been fighting for “secure, accessible, fair elections for a long time,” beginning with suing the Obama Justice Department as secretary of state. “Been in court multiple times fighting with them over the voter ID requirement we had for in-person voting here. And so, really just taking those strong, constitutionally conservative beliefs that I’ve had to the governor’s office, when it comes to secure elections, making it easy to vote and hard to cheat,” he said.
Kemp said when it comes to the voting law, he is satisfied with the end result. “We got a good bill that every single Republican voted for, that I believe most Americans and the vast majority of Georgia should support,” he explained.
Kemp says Democrats overplayed their hand on the bill. This includes Abrams, who was against voter ID until she suddenly declared she was for it after West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin made it part of the Senate Democratic compromise on the “For the People Act” voting bill.
Kemp says as soon as Abrams saw the polling conducted by the Associated Press that showed 72% of the public supports voter ID laws, she did a 180. “Which, to me, shows us that we’re on the right track. She’s seeing the polling on this issue, and she realizes that with this, Major League Baseball, and other things, that they have overplayed their hand. And it’s really myself that stood up to push back on all of the cultural curators trying to control our state,” he said.
Kemp says he talked to the MLB, Coke, and Delta after all of the condemnation and punishment they inflicted on the state. “I think they realized when they started getting pushback that they’d also overplayed their hand. This is my own personal opinion; you can ask them what they think. But you’ll notice they haven’t said a whole lot lately,” he explained.
Kemp said early on, when things started to go south, there were people from those corporate institutions reaching out, “saying, in effect, ‘Well, ain’t there just something we could do?’” His response was, “If you think I am going to make some small change so you can go out and say you got us to do something, that was never going to happen,” he said.
“We’re not in the wrong here. We have the truth on our side, and we’re standing by the bill,” he said he told the businesses. “Y’all let these people pressure you into doing this without you knowing from your government affairs people what was actually in the bill, and you didn’t tough it out long enough to ride the storm out,” he said.
Kemp said the street fighter in him emerged when he was in the private sector. “I started my first business with a pickup truck and a tool belt and a shovel, literally.” He eventually got involved in local politics through the home builders association and then several boards the mayor had appointed him to. “We were dealing with governmental affairs, regulatory affairs, and dealing with local government politicians and activists on land planning issues, water, sewer issues, and then just regulatory issues in the building construction industry,” he said.
The experience led him to frustration with government bureaucracy and a desire to be the guy to fix it: “I basically ran on making government smaller and more efficient, deregulating, bringing common sense values to state governments.”
It was after he won that he found out how government works, or rather doesn’t, for the ordinary person. “Of course, the problem was when I got in office, the more I saw, the more frustrated I’d get, which led me to being secretary of state and running for governor,” he said. “When I got in the governor’s race, one thing that I’d really grown frustrated with, mainly in the federal level, but some in the state, too, was politicians that would say one thing and do another,” explained Kemp.
It was a way of doing political business he says he could not adapt to: “So, I promised people when I ran, I said, 'Look, I’m going to do a simple thing. I’m going to tell you what I want to do. And when I get in office, that is exactly what I’m going to do.'”
Kemp says the record shows he has fulfilled a lot of those promises. “I promised that we would do a teacher pay raise in Georgia. We’ve done that. I promised that we would do something about healthcare: We have passed over 52 healthcare bills here to create more access, but also at a lot lower private sector cost, bring transparency to billing, a host of other things,” he said.
“And people want us to keep them safe. I was campaigning on going after street gangs and violent crime three years ago. The Atlanta paper literally makes fun of me, saying this wasn’t an issue, but I knew it was because I talked to prosecutors and local law enforcement,” he said.
So, he created a gang task force and is working with local prosecutors to go after gangs. He has also created a crime-suppressing unit in the city of Atlanta, “because the mayor here just absolutely will not turn a police force loose to go after violent criminals and street racers,” he said.
The Atlanta Police Department has a “no chase policy” that was put in place in January 2020 that prohibits officers from pursuing suspects after a series of bystanders were killed by cars fleeing police. That was eased somewhat in January of this year, and officers can now pursue with a supervisor’s approval.
Street racing in the state, in particular in Atlanta, has been a widespread problem for some time. It is loud, dangerous, disrupts communities across the socioeconomic spectrum, clogs up the police departments’ 911 call centers, and blocks people from getting to the city’s streets.
In late June, the Georgia Department of Public Safety reported that a multiagency crackdown in one weekend alone impounded 89 vehicles, led to the arrest of dozens on DUI charges, and recovered several stolen guns. Kemp says people want to be safe in their communities, no matter where they live, what the color of their skin is, or their political ideology. “And my promise to Georgians was to keep their communities safe.”
When asked if he’d ever consider a run for president, Kemp chuckled. “Oh, Lord. I have one thing on my mind, and that’s saving our state.”
Salena Zito is a senior writer for the Washington Examiner.
Washington Examiner Videos
Original Author: Salena Zito
Original Location: Brian Kemp wants to save Georgia