With a budget flush with cash, the first-term Republican has more wiggle room to push through priorities, including the remaining $2,000 of his 2018 campaign pledge to increase teacher pay by $5,000 by the end of his first term.
He’s facing election-year pressure from both sides of the aisle. Former U.S. Sen. David Perdue is trying to outflank him to his right with calls for more conservative policies, while Democrat Stacey Abrams is hammering him from the left.
Kemp’s interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution was as notable for the issues left off his list.
He said there was no need to pass new abortion limits as the sweeping restrictions he signed into law in 2019 work their way through the courts. Likewise, he said another overhaul of election rules was not a priority this 40-day session.
The governor was noncommittal on another contentious fight. He said he hasn’t taken a stance on legislation to carve out a Buckhead City from Atlanta, though he understands why the “movement is out there.”
Of his overall agenda, Kemp repeated a favorite line.
“Georgians shouldn’t be surprised,” he said. “These are all things I’ve promised we’d do.”
Here’s a closer look at Kemp’s key policy items:
The governor said he would back legislation to promote in-person student learning in response to decisions by some school districts to return to virtual coursework as another wave of coronavirus cases rips through Georgia.
“We’ve seen distance learning is detrimental to these kids, and we’re working now with the schools to keep kids in classrooms,” he said. “The kids need to be in the classroom, and we have the tools to do that.”
Kemp also said his office was working on legislation to ban the teaching of critical race theory, an academic concept based on the idea that systemic racism is embedded in all aspects of our lives.
The governor has labeled the concept a dangerous ideology, though there’s little evidence it’s being taught in Georgia’s k-12 public school system. Kemp said he wants to ensure “our kids are not getting indoctrinated.”
He’s set to propose increased school funding in his budget plan, including the remaining $2,000 of his promise to hike teacher salaries by $5,000.
“It’s a commitment I intend to fulfill,” he said.
The governor said he hasn’t yet decided how to counter the White House decision to reject his proposal to require that more low-income and uninsured adults in Georgia meet a work requirement to join the Medicaid rolls.
He said President Joe Biden’s administration “obstructed” the centerpiece of his health care waiver, adding that he hopes “Georgians realize the plan we had will work.”
Credit: Alyssa Pointer
Credit: Alyssa Pointer
Kemp has said he’ll appeal the decision, though he didn’t commit to moving forward with the rest of the waiver policy, which could still expand Medicaid coverage to tens of thousands of needy Georgians.
“We’ll have to dig in and decide what to do,” he said.
Though some state Republicans aim to adopt new abortion restrictions modeled after a Texas law, Kemp said the Georgia measure he signed in 2019 to ban most abortions as early as six weeks was more effective.
“We’ve passed the most aggressive anti-abortion law in the country, and it’s also the most conservative,” he said. “I’m very pleased with what we have.”
Kemp expressed skepticism about new efforts to block absentee drop boxes and overhaul election rules after he signed into law a sweeping rewrite of voting procedures last year.
“We had the strongest election integrity law in the country, and I’m looking forward to continuing to talk about that and the good work we did,” Kemp said, adding that he and Attorney General Chris Carr will focus on “defending that legislation in court.”
The governor has yet to take sides on the effort to split Atlanta by creating a new Buckhead City, though he said residents fed up with rising crime rates fueled a “snowball” effect.
“I’ve been in the same posture for months now,” Kemp said. “I haven’t taken a position on this legislation, but there’s a reason the movement is out there.”
The governor said he had no specific pandemic-related legislation on his agenda this year, though he repeated that he would not support mask requirements, vaccine mandates or economic lockdowns.
“We’re not shutting down again. We’re going to weather through this. This wave has been hard-hitting and fast, but hopefully it will be over very quickly,” he said. “We’re ready for however long the fight will last.”
Kemp has long opposed legalized gambling, though he noted that if two-thirds of the Legislature and a majority of Georgia voters support the idea, it could pass regardless of his stance.
“It doesn’t matter what I think if they pass a constitutional amendment,” he said.