The Jolt: Two years after COVID reopening, Brian Kemp campaigns on being first

News and analysis from the politics team at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has sent Georgia National Guard medical staffers to 20 hospitals to help with the surge in COVID-19 cases. (Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has sent Georgia National Guard medical staffers to 20 hospitals to help with the surge in COVID-19 cases. (Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images/TNS)

On this day two years ago, Gov. Brian Kemp took an aggressive first step to reopen Georgia’s battered economy during the coronavirus pandemic despite warnings from public health experts, Democrats and even Donald Trump.

At the time, Kemp framed his decision to let close-contact businesses like gyms and barber shops reopen as part of a “measured” approach to public safety. A few days later, theaters and dine-in restaurants were allowed to reopen if they followed safety guidelines.

One of your Insiders wrote that week that Kemp’s decision “could define his term as governor.”

“If it goes smoothly, other states could soon follow,” read the April 2020 analysis. “If it doesn’t, as feared by an odd coalition that’s united Georgia Democrats and Trump loyalists, it could risk future efforts to lift economic restrictions.”

With record-low unemployment and a record-high state budget, Kemp has made his controversial decision a key part of his economic message. And now he’s taking a victory lap as he runs for a second term.

On Wednesday, he debuted a 90-second ad that will be cut into various TV spots about the economic impact of the decision.

“Kemp gave us the freedom to reopen our business while other states were forced to shut down,” said one business owner.

Democrats and public health experts, meanwhile, argue that Kemp’s actions had grave consequences: namely, the state has logged coronavirus death rates consistently above the national average.

Expect Kemp to maximize the anniversary in the runup to the May 24 primary against former U.S. Sen. David Perdue. He sees an opportunity for a two-fer to show his leadership credentials against his GOP opponent while claiming that Democrat Stacey Abrams wouldn’t have acted as aggressively.

“Two years ago we chose to protect both lives and livelihoods,” Kemp said Wednesday, “and now the Peach State is leading the nation in economic recovery.”


On a similar note, we posted a long feature Tuesday on Gov. Brian Kemp’s efforts to shut down the threat of a runoff from David Perdue. Read it here.


The AJC’s Mark Niesse has an update on the small change on a form at the Department of Driver Services that may have had a huge effect on automatic Georgia voter registration rates last year.

Instead of having Georgians opt-out of being automatically registered to vote, a newly designed screen instead asked applicants to choose whether or not they’d like to register, which by definition, is not automatic.

The change, Niesse says, could explain a sharp decline in the rate of Georgians who opted to register through the Department of Driver Services, from 79% in 2020 to 39% last year, according to government records obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.


Get up to speed on the biggest stories so far this week with our midweek edition of the Politically Georgia podcast.

We discuss the federal trial involving Fair Fight and the 2018 Georgia election, along with the federal ruling Monday that a challenge to U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s candidacy can go forward.

The AJC’s Mark Niesse also talks about the reporting behind his story about the drop in automatic voter registrations, and the race for Georgia Secretary of State.

Listen below or on Apple, Spotify, Google, or wherever you get your favorite podcasts.


POSTED: The investigation into Donald Trump for possible election interference in Georgia continues in Fulton County DA Fani Willis’ office.

The AJC’s Tamar Hallerman reports that Willis’s team has interviewed more than 50 witnesses, plans to subpoena 30 more, and will wait until after the May primaries to move forward with the special grand jury. More:

Selection of a special grand jury will begin on May 2, but the group won't hear from witnesses until June 1, Willis said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday.

Willis said the four-week gap would give jurors time to approve subpoenas for reluctant witnesses and for the district attorney's office to deliver those documents into people's hands. The veteran prosecutor also acknowledged that she's waiting until after the primaries to avoid the perception that her actions are politically motivated, as her Republican critics allege.

“I don't want anyone to say ‘oh, she's doing this because she wants to influence the outcome of this upcoming election,'" the Democrat said. “The people will decide the outcome of this upcoming election. It will have nothing to do with this district attorney's office."

- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


Herschel Walker’s campaign Tweeted, and then deleted, a message Tuesday about key upcoming deadlines for voters ahead of the May primary.

Seems like a good idea, until you see the bizarre photo that accompanied the message-- an enraged Will Smith at the Oscars with a caption to, “Keep my name in mind” on Election Day, Also, Walker’s campaign included an inaccurate registration deadline for the primary.

An eagle-eyed Stephen Fowler at GPB spotted and saved the error for posterity before it was deleted hours later.


And speaking of Herschel Walker, the New York Times is up with a feature on Walker’s football fan-fueled campaign for Senate.


Conservative political organization Heritage Action has launched a new Super PAC called the Sentinel Action Fund, and Georgia is among its key targets.

The group will be supporting the GOP nominee in U.S. Senate races in Georgia, Arizona, Nevada and New Hampshire. That could be yet another boost for Herschel Walker, the GOP frontrunner in Georgia, along with Sen. Mitch McConnell’s big-spending Senate Leadership Fund and the Super PAC supporting Walker specifically, 34N22.

Sentinel will also be involved in at least 12 U.S. House races in hopes of helping Republicans flip control of that chamber in November. If that includes any contests in Georgia, the most likely will be District 2, the state’s only competitive seat under the new maps.


The endorsements are rolling in ahead of Georgia’s May 24 primaries. Here are the most notable:

  • U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas has decided to back Dr. Rich McCormick in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District contest;
  • Georgia WIN List, which trains, promotes and endorses Democratic women for office, announced seven new primary endorsements in Metro Atlanta legislative races Tuesday: Melody Bray for Senate District 38, Esther Panitch for House District 51, Inga Willis for House District 55, Keona Jones for House District 56, Tanya Miller for House District 62, Ruwa Romman for House District 97 and Mya Speller Cullins for House District 117. In Albany, they’ve endorsed Joyce Barlow in House District 151;
  • The Latino Victory Fund has endorsed three General Assembly candidates: Jason Esteves, Senate District 6; Phil Olaleye, House District 59; and Michelle Schreiner, House District 90;
  • JT Wu, a Democrat running for a Gwinnett-based seat in the Georgia House, has won former Gov. Roy Barnes’ blessing.


State Rep. Donna McLeod, a candidate for the Democratic nomination in Georgia’s 7th Congressional District, has filed an amended campaign finance report for the first three months of 2022.

We told you Monday that McLeod’s initial filing stated that she had neither raised or spent a dime during the reporting period.

Her new report shows that she collected $21,599 in donations, but spent even more during the period: $29,305. The Lawrenceville lawmaker ended the quarter with $15,069, compared to the $2 million-plus that the other two candidates in


Huge congratulations to our colleague Ernie Suggs, whose new book, “The Many Lives of Andrew Young,” was released Tuesday.

Ernie is one of the best in the business, as is his terrific biography of Young, the former congressman, Atlanta mayor, and icon in the fight for civil rights.


As always, Jolt readers are some of our favorite tipsters. Send your best scoop, gossip and insider info to, and

Sign Up to receive the Morning Jolt & AJC Politics newsletters in your inbox.