Lawmakers applaud as newly appointed U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler (second from right) is introduced by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (left) during a press conference Wednesday, Dec, 4, 2019. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp appointed Loeffler to the U.S. Senate to take the place of Johnny Isakson, who is stepping down for health reasons. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Photo: Alyssa Pointer
Photo: Alyssa Pointer

Opinion: Criticisms of Kemp Senate pick don’t reflect reality

About 18 months ago, I was on the opposite side of the Republican primary runoff with Gov. Brian Kemp and former Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle. Before that, I had the honor of helping elect Johnny Isakson to the U.S. Senate. As Georgia’s gubernatorial primary moved to its conclusion last year, one of the most commonly repeated digs on the Cagle side of the runoff was that Washington would gain undue influence over Georgia politics because of President Trump’s surprise endorsement. When you’re trying to get Republican voters to buck a Republican president, you don’t have a lot of great arguments, so you use what you can. After watching the independent and deliberative process Gov. Kemp has undertaken in choosing a Senator to fill Johnny Isakson’s remaining term, I could not be any happier to see an argument proven completely and utterly wrong.

There are three big reasons why attacks on Governor Kemp are completely off base.

First, Georgia voters chose Johnny Isakson as our Senator. We liked him so much that we re-elected him repeatedly by near-acclamation. That’s because his low-key, results-focused brand of bipartisan leadership represents something we all know is scarce and valuable. Gov. Kemp’s choice reflects that legacy and offers Georgia voters a continuation of what we liked about Sen. Isakson in the first place. Kelly Loeffler, like Isakson and Sen. David Perdue, is a political outsider with strong conservative principles who can apply a lifetime of business expertise to creating change in Washington.

Second, Gov. Kemp has shown the kind of independence we all want a governor to show. When he ran a campaign around the “Georgians First” slogan, he wasn’t kidding. Georgians like his approach. The best way to tell is that most of his critics are from places like Washington and Florida. And, the bulk of them rely on creating controversy to raise donations, draw eyeballs to their website, or do whatever it is that perpetuates their existence. Imagine a political talk show with the theme “this is a great choice for the United States Senate.” There’d be no outrage and no need to mail anyone a check or forward a video around to a couple dozen relatives who put you on auto-delete years ago. Outrage generation is an industry and it will exist until enough of us stop buying the product and start considering actual facts.

Finally, and most importantly, it’s nuts that Gov. Kemp is being asked to convince anyone he’s actually a conservative. This is a guy who ran for office to stop aggressive government bureaucracy from wrecking businesses in his hometown. He ran a state agency on a shoestring for years, and was on the frontline in every fight conservative commentators wanted to win on voting issues. Then, he got elected Governor and actually did what he said he’d do on the campaign trail: took strong principled stands and got a lot of heat for doing it. Conservatives rightly complain that promises made in the chaos of a primary election are not kept. This time, in terms of actual results, grassroots conservatives are getting exactly what they’ve been saying they wanted from Gov. Kemp. Apparently, at least for some self-appointed spokespeople for the movement, that’s still not enough.

Let’s also look at political reality in Georgia. The state is growing more diverse and more urban at a pace that accelerates every day. If the party fails to diversify and do something to attract more minority, female, younger and urban voters, then it will cease to have an electoral majority within a few years. There are a lot of ways to do this, but appointing a highly successful female business leader with an extensive record of civic involvement to the U.S. Senate is a really good start. In poll after poll, the two most popular governors in America are the Republican governors of Massachusetts and Maryland. Why? Because they lead as low-key, common-sense, pro-business Republicans without alienating more than half of the voters in their state. This is a winnable battle. And the people who want to lose it are Republicans who falsely believe you can’t expand the party’s base without diluting principles.

So what do we have here? We’ve got a governor who has governed exactly like he campaigned: as a conservative Republican. And, he made a smart Senate pick that will help grow the party in Georgia, just as he has done with dozens of other appointments. That’s a good thing for both our state and the Republican party, and arguments to the contrary are nonsensical and self-serving at best.

Brad Alexander served as chief of staff to Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, and as a political consultant for Cagle and U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson.

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