By Elaine Owen, Editor
Gov.-elect Brian Kemp called for unity Tuesday (Dec. 11) in his first major speech since winning a close and hard-fought election. Taking a different tone than what voters heard on the campaign trail, Kemp appealed to state legislators to “put politics behind us.”
Kemp was the final speaker at the UGA Carl Vinson Institute of Government’s 3-day Biennial Institute for Georgia Legislators, held in election years just after elections for state offices and just before the newly elected state Legislature convenes in January.
Kemp praised the track records of his Republican predecessors in the governor’s mansion, Sonny Perdue and Nathan Deal, and outlined some of his first legislative goals. He noted recent accomplishments of the Legislature and Gov. Deal, including a public education system now “fully funded” and the addition of 800,000 jobs during Deal’s two terms.
“Governor Deal transformed the criminal justice system, reducing costs, strengthening families, and keeping our communities safe,” Kemp said, indicating he will build on those reforms.
“My plan for Georgia’s future begins with our economy and continued job growth,” Kemp said. “As a small business guy I know the impact that taxes, regulation and government red tape can have on investment, expansion and hiring. That’s why on day one I will create the ‘Georgians First Committee,’ led by business leaders, not bureaucrats, to identify things that frustrate our small business owners.”
“Let’s raise the rural hospital tax credit, tackle the rural doctor shortage, improve teacher retention through pay raises, and champion an early learning initiative that improves outcomes for Georgia students,” he said.
“Let’s use innovation to lower health care costs, insurance premiums and prescription drug prices, while improving access to quality health care.”
Kemp repeated the promises he made in his campaign’s four-point plan: 1) making Georgia the leading state in successful small businesses, 2) reforming state government, 3) strengthening rural Georgia and 4) putting Georgia first. He particularly focused on boosting small businesses and rural Georgia—where he racked up huge margins in his narrow win over Abrams.
“Some (rural areas) continue to struggle, and in some areas, it feels like they’re still in the Great Recession,” Kemp said. “As governor, I will work to ensure that someone’s potential is not determined by their zip code or the county where they reside.”
Kemp said he wants to expand access to high-speed Internet, healthcare and education while also growing high paying jobs and investments in small businesses. He said he hopes to work with the House Rural Development Council and economic development leaders with “a renewed focus on rural Georgia.”
Kemp also reiterated his campaign promise of increasing teacher pay and boosting rural hospital tax credits. The governor-elect then outlined the purpose of a new group in his administration, the “Georgians First Committee,” that will concentrate on reducing regulations and uplift small businesses.
Kemp avoided some controversial topics, such as gun rights and religious liberties, but didn’t avoid talking about crime and illegal immigration.
“Georgia is a distribution hub for drug cartels,” he said. “These violent criminals use street gangs to traffic meth, illegal guns and fear.”
Kemp said he plans to “dismantle street gangs, deport cartel leaders and protect our children in school.”
Kemp ended his speech by thanking his predecessors, Sonny Perdue (now secretary of agriculture in the Trump Administration) and current Gov. Nathan Deal.
Kemp and other newly elected lawmakers will be sworn into office Jan. 14, 2019.
On the first day of the Biennial Institute, House Speaker David Ralston received a standing ovation when he rose to introduce Georgia government’s new representatives.