Gov. Brian Kemp held a press conference with Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black in support of relief for hurricane damage in south Georgia. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com

The Jolt: As hurricane season looms, Kemp stresses personal responsibility  

‘Government cannot do everything for everybody.’

Any notion that Georgia is protected from violent hurricanes was shattered after the one-two punch of Matthew and Irma in 2016 and 2017, followed by Michael’s devastating path through south Georgia last year. 

And while Georgia has taken initial steps to prepare for climate change, including developing long-term plans to help coastal counties adapt to rising sea levels, officials have resisted more ambitious efforts taken by other states. 

That’s not likely to change under Gov. Brian Kemp, who took a cautious view of the state’s role in combating climate change during the campaign. 

He said then he supports “fact-based efforts” to protect the environment without involving more “government red tape.” 

With another hurricane season approaching, Kemp was pressed on his hurricane preparedness policy in an illuminating recent interview with Emma Hurt of WABE

He didn’t use the phrase “climate change” but he nodded to the fast-morphing weather patterns that bring more damaging storms each year. Said Kemp:

“This is definitely on my radar - we have vulnerabilities now that we haven’t seen in the past. I don’t know if it’s a cycle we’re in, or whatever the case may be - a lot of people can argue it in different ways - but I know this: We’ve got to be prepared.”

One step he’ll take, he said, came from a former federal FEMA director who told him “if you can do one thing as a governor, make sure your people know they have the best insurance they can for the replacement value of their homes.”

The governor said he’ll be more “proactive about telling people that” and encouraging residents to take “precautions if they’re on the coast about how they’re dealing with rising sea levels, flooding and the rash of storms we’ve had lately.” 

But, Hurt asked, how does the government factor into that equation? Kemp said local authorities can spread the word, too, but said the state government’s role should be a limited one. 

“Government cannot do everything for everybody,” he said. “People are going to have to be responsible, especially when they’re property owners.”

***

Georgia officials are developing a plan to bring internet service to the 1.6 million residents who lack fast access. They may face some new competition. 

SpaceX, the Elon Musk-owned tech firm, launched 60 internet communications satellites from Cape Canaveral last week. These low-orbit devices are designed to bring faster connections than the handful of satellites already orbiting the atmosphere. 

The New York Times reports the company hopes that a constellation of these gadgets could circle the planet by next year, transmitting high-speed online service to the earthlings below. 

Musk warned that the system is testing new technology and that “some of these satellites may not work.” But if the Starlink system is operational, it would provide high-speed internet to vast sections of the world now cut off.

That brings us to Georgia’s perennial debate about expanding broadband connection to rural parts of the state without a new source of funding to speed the expansion. 

Veteran journalist Charlie Hayslett noted that the satellite link may prove more durable than crisscrossing Georgia’s red clay with fiber lines. 

Writes Hayslett: 

“The Times’s story indicates it’ll take nearly 2,000 of these low-orbit satellites to blanket the planet, but my hunch is SpaceX will get that done long before the State of Georgia could hardwire rural Georgia — and we won’t have to pay for it.”

***

Georgia GOP lawmakers ramped up criticism of some of their Republican colleagues on Tuesday after quick passage of a bipartisan disaster relief deal was blocked for the second time in four days. 

“Unfortunately, more clowns showed up today,” began a tweet from Tifton Republican Austin Scott. 

“Yet another example of politicians putting their own self-interest ahead of the national interest,” was how U.S. Sen. David Perdue put it.

Their sharp words came after U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., objected to a request from Albany Democrat Sanford Bishop to fast-track passage of the $19 billion relief bill on the House floor. 

Passage of the legislation is all but assured – the Senate passed the compromise 85 to 8 last week and President Donald Trump said he would sign it – but Massie said it was “legislative malpractice” to pass such a large measure without a recorded vote.

"If the Speaker of this House felt that this was must-pass legislation, the Speaker of this House should have called a vote on this bill before sending every member of Congress on recess for 10 days and I object,” Massie said.

Democrats quickly used the opportunity to score some political points of their own – Speaker Nancy Pelosi called it a “stunning act of obstruction” – but even more interesting has been the increasing criticism coming from Georgia GOP corners. 

Gov. Brian Kemp on Tuesday repeated his call for House leaders to cut this week’s recess short in order to vote on the bill. 

He’s unlikely to get his wish - lawmakers are scattered around the country and world for official trips, district visits and vacation - but Democrats will likely try to pass the disaster relief bill by unanimous consent again on Thursday afternoon. 

Should that fail, the chamber could take a roll call vote as soon as June 3. But even once the bill is signed into law, it is likely to take months before most aid money starts flowing from federal agencies. 

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