Kemp to deliver State of the State address at prickly political time

Fresh off brutal political defeats, Gov. Brian Kemp is set to deliver a State of the State address Thursday that details his legislative agenda in his third year in office. And the approach he takes will go a long way in shaping his re-election chances.

Firmly on President Donald Trump’s bad side, the Republican could seek to woo the GOP base by pushing to fulfill campaign promises such as a broad gun rights expansion, contentious changes to the voting system or new restrictions on illegal immigration.

Or he could promote a broader-based message focused on boosting education funding, fighting the coronavirus pandemic and promoting criminal justice overhauls to reach beyond the traditional core of Republican voters.

Kemp has already hinted at a mix of both in speeches and an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He endorsed adding a photo ID requirement for absentee ballots, enraging Democrats and voting rights activists, while also suggesting he could end the state’s controversial citizen’s arrest law.

No matter his strategy, Kemp enters the session in a precarious position. Georgia voted Democratic for president in November for the first time since 1992, and Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock flipped both Georgia’s U.S. Senate seats in January, costing Republicans control of the chamber.

And Trump has blamed Kemp for his defeat, promising to back a primary challenger after the governor refused to illegally overturn the results of the election to indulge the president’s false claims of widespread voter fraud.

Here are a few things to watch:

Citizen’s arrest:

The governor has hinted he could back a push to repeal or adapt the state’s citizen’s arrest law, a more than 150-year-old statute that has come under intense scrutiny after the 2020 death of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man who was shot and killed near Brunswick after three white men followed him.

A prosecutor invoked the statute when discouraging police from arresting suspects in Arbery’s death, and since then a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers, along with criminal justice activists, have called for repeal of the law.

The budget:

Adopting a budget is the only mission legislators are required to accomplish this session, but the pandemic has complicated the state’s financial picture.

Lawmakers cut $2.2 billion in spending in June, including $950 million in k-12 school funding, but a rebounding economy might help the state avoid further sharp budget cuts and pave the way for increases in school and health care spending.

The pandemic:

The governor has devoted many of his speeches to a spirited defense of his decision to aggressively reopen the state’s economy in April during the pandemic – a series of moves that were chastised by the president and leading Democrats.

Expect Kemp to devote a portion of his address on restating his argument – and potentially asking legislators to grant him new powers to combat public health emergencies.

Voting laws

It’s the issue that could define the legislative session, and Kemp has already staked out a stance: He unequivocally supports measures to tighten voter ID laws for mail-in ballots, which Republicans have assailed since record turnout helped Democrats flip Georgia.

Kemp said in an interview that he is “reserving judgment” on a series of proposals that seek to end at-will absentee voting, ban ballot drop boxes and restrict state officials or outside groups from sending out absentee ballot applications.

But he strongly endorsed adding photo ID requirements for absentee ballots, saying he wants lawmakers to keep it “front and center” on their agendas.


The governor hasn’t laid out an extensive new healthcare proposal, but he could use the speech to tout the Trump administration’s support for Georgia’s plan to expand healthcare coverage to thousands of poor and uninsured adults so long as they meet a work or activity requirement.

In the interview, he lamented that four years ago Republicans focused too much on ridding the Affordable Care Act without coming up with a feasible replacement plan.

“Well, we weren’t going to let that happen. I campaigned on the Patient’s First Act and waivers. And we came in, and there was a lot of tough work, but we got that done. We got the waivers done. And now we’re going to start implementing it.”