Waivers and power plays: Key moments of Kemp’s first month

Gov. Brian Kemp took office one month ago after an intensely partisan race that ended with a record number of votes – and the slimmest margin of victory for any Georgia governor in decades.

He took office on Jan. 14 with a pledge to put aside polarizing acrimony and work to unite Georgia, and has largely steered clear of the base-pleasing social issues he used to fuel his primary win.

His election has also energized Democrats, who have elected a squad of young, progressive party leaders who aim to defeat U.S. Sen. David Perdue and deny Donald Trump the state's 16 electoral votes next year.

Here’s a look at the key moments of Kemp’s first month:

Welcoming waivers

The word leaked out on the eve of his State of the State speech: Kemp would back waivers seeking more federal healthcare funding and flexibility that could also pave the way for a limited expansion of the Medicaid program.

The details of the legislation emerged last week with the news that Kemp would pursue two separate waivers that give him broad powers to dictate the terms.

And on Wednesday he unveiled the proposal with a show of force that included backing from legislative leaders and most of the Senate GOP caucus.

Democrats are withholding support and demanding outright Medicaid expansion, saying anything less is a betrayal of needy Georgians and struggling rural hospitals. Republicans have the numbers to easily pass the measure, but Democrats hope to give them a scare in the House, where some conservatives may also oppose.

A k-12 ‘down payment’

Days after he took office, Kemp tried to make good on one of his key campaign pledges: A promise to give public school teachers a $5,000 pay raise. He included money in his spending plan for a $3,000 hike – a "sizeable down payment," he called it – and it passed early hurdles with little objection.

Culture wars drought

After promising Republican voters he'd champion conservative values, Kemp has made no discernible headway on vows to sign sweeping new abortion restrictions, enact "religious liberty" legislation, crack down on illegal immigration or expand gun rights.

That could change over the next two months as more legislation is filed. Or there could be a long-term strategy behind his pause. After all, he still has three more legislative sessions to push his agenda.

Gang focus

Kemp appointed veteran prosecutor Vic Reynolds, a longtime ally, as the new head of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Reynolds has echoed Kemp's promises to combat gang violence, and the governor's budget includes $500,000 for a new task force to help local law enforcement target gangs.

Power plays

The governor hasn’t yet made many new appointments to state boards, departments or judgeships, but the few he has have been noteworthy.

He tapped Robyn Crittenden, who briefly succeeded him as secretary of state, to head the Department of Human Services. He's hired a range of former deputies and ex-campaign hands to key positions – and given many hefty raises. And he's stocked a tax-cutting commission with influential supporters.

He's also sent a signal with who he did not appoint to powerful posts. Using a complicated legal maneuver, Kemp effectively ousted three members of the Board of Regents that Gov. Nathan Deal appointed to new terms shortly before he left office.

One of them, Don Leebern Jr., was one of the longest-serving members of the Regents – and a sworn enemy of former Georgia football coach Vince Dooley, one of Kemp's most loyal supporters.

A wintry blast

A spate of snow projected to pummel north Georgia days before Atlanta hosted the Super Bowl provided Kemp with his first emergency test. And he reacted much like Deal did later in his second term, taking a better-safe-than-sorry approach that triggered the closings of state offices and public schools.