In the thick of the GOP primary battle, Brian Kemp labeled Delta Air Lines a “corporate coward” for its decision to end a discount for NRA members - and called for a tax break on guns and ammo in lieu of incentives that would have benefited the airline.
His position shifted Monday after Gov. Nathan Deal announced he was suspending collection of the sales tax on jet fuel, which could save the Atlanta-based airline about $40 million a year. Instead of a fire-breathing response, he praised Deal’s “wise” decision.
“I support economic incentives that generate a sizable return on investment for Georgia taxpayers and create economic opportunities for communities throughout our state,” said Kemp. “Based on the information provided, the governor’s executive order aims to do both.”
Whether this was a planned pivot to the center or a forced one – he certainly didn’t want to pick a fight with a popular GOP governor who just endorsed him – it was a pivot nonetheless. And it underscored the two-track strategy Kemp seems to be attempting.
Track one: Start appealing to a broader-based electorate by emphasizing Deal’s support and angling for mainstream conservatives with talk about public safety and tax cuts.
Track two: Stick with the conservative stances that helped him win the nomination in the first place, such as support for “religious liberty” measures and an expansion of Second Amendment rights.
Case in point: Hours before he backed the jet-fuel breaks, he urged the Smith & Wesson gunmaker to ditch Massachusetts for Georgia, writing on Twitter: “We respect #2A rights and have a low cost of doing business. Perfect combo for an iconic company like S&W.”
Deal salted his executive order with details about the airport’s estimated $62 billion economic impact and other snippets about return-on-investment that likely encouraged Kemp.
The secretary of state has long supported a review of all tax breaks and said he will favor only those that create “more economic opportunity” than they cost.
No matter the strategy behind it, Kemp’s support for the airline incentive - which also benefits Southwest and UPS - was a reversal.
In April, he wrote a letter to NRA leaders accusing his rival, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, of defying his promise to “kill” any legislation that would help Delta. He said the gun rights group was “getting played” by Cagle and criticized “secret deals to help Delta down the line.”
Still, the governor’s timing, less than a week after the GOP runoff, spares Kemp of any major fallout. If he had rolled out his announcement before the runoff, both candidates would surely be pressured to oppose him.
Kemp’s November opponent, Democrat Stacey Abrams, will likely try a similar two-track fete on her side of the ticket – energizing her base by standing by liberal positions but choosing to emphasize more middle-ground policies with most of her messaging.
So far, though, she’s focused on the latter approach, putting jobs and economic development at the center of a statewide tour. On Monday, Abrams said the jury is still out on whether Deal’s move will benefit Georgia taxpayers.
“If it leads to expansion of routes and deepening of investment, then the exemption fits within my framework for smart tax programs,” she said.
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