A Democratic state legislator plans to boycott Gov.-elect’s first major speech and is encouraging other colleagues to forgo the event, previewing what could be a rocky reception from progressives still fuming over his victory last month.
State Rep. Renitta Shannon invoked Kemp’s handling of elections and his selfie with an anti-Muslim extremist in her decision to boycott the Republican’s Tuesday speech at the legislative biennial conference. She said he ran a “campaign of hate” and that he can’t walk it back now.
“I am sick and tired of conservatives across the country running hateful campaigns and then expecting everyone to go back to business as usual after campaign season,” said Shannon, a consultant who won a second term to represent her Decatur-based district.
She’ll be joined by at least one other lawmaker: State Rep. Sandra Scott, a Rex Democrat who is in the running to chair the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus. She plans to urge members of the caucus to follow suit.
“It’s a conversation we need to have with the rest of members,” she said. “But I know I’ll not be participating in” the speech.
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Both Scott and Shannon have little power or influence in the Republican-dominated Legislature, but the boycott would amount to a symbolic protest at Kemp’s most significant public speech since he narrowly defeated Stacey Abrams in November.
The event, held in Athens on Tuesday, is Kemp’s first chance to address legislators he hopes to persuade to support an agenda that could include proposals to hike teacher pay and loosen gun restrictions.
Since his election, Kemp has pledged to carry out his conservative campaign vows. But he’s also recently tried to defuse some partisan tension by meeting with Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms after sparring with her on the campaign trail.
Shannon described that olive branch as futile. She went to Gov. Nathan Deal’s biennial speech two years ago, even though she staunchly disagreed with his stance on many issues, but she said she doesn’t want to legitimize Kemp by attending his first address.
“He told us who he was throughout his campaign taking gleeful pictures with well-known white supremacists and doing all he could to suppress minority voting,” she said. “I have no choice but to believe that he is who he campaigned as, and to act accordingly.”
Kemp’s campaign said it was “ridiculous” to link him to the white supremacist he snapped a photo with. And he’s pointed to record turnout in November’s vote as he dismissed lawsuits claiming he mismanaged the election as “frivolous.”
The boycott push could face criticism from other Democrats who worry it could tarnish the party’s image, and payback from Kemp and other Republicans who won’t soon forget the protest. But Scott said she’s not worried about backlash.
“We’re in the world of politics and it’s our job to pass legislation. If he decides not to approve it, our constituents will know that it’s Kemp who didn’t sign it,” said Scott, pointing to Democratic gains in the suburbs.
“Our caucus is stronger now and they’re going to need our support soon,” she added. “We’re 75 members strong now, and they’re going to need our vote.”
Here’s Shannon’s full statement:
“Brian Kemp ran a campaign of hate against half of Georgia, targeting voters of color (of which the majority are black), immigrants, women and the LGBTQ community. I am sick and tired of conservatives across the country running hateful campaigns and then expecting everyone to go back to business as usual after campaign season. That’s some privilege - these hateful campaigns have impacts on the people targeted usually in the ways of violence, which we have seen skyrocket across the country. He told us who he was throughout his campaign taking gleeful pictures with well known white supremacists and doing all he could to suppress minority voting. I have no choice but to believe that he is who he campaigned as, and to act accordingly.”