What will Brian Kemp do in a second term?

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Gov. Brian Kemp spent far more time on the campaign trail focusing on his first-term record than elaborating on what he aims to accomplish in a second. With consistent leads over Stacey Abrams in the polls, he only unveiled a handful of policy proposals for the next four years.

But his agenda over the past four years, along with his public stances on some of Georgia’s top issues, offer a glimpse of what the next four years of Kemp’s administration could look like after he defeated Abrams for the second time.

His top promise is to dip into Georgia’s record surplus to finance a pair of tax rebates that will amount to a $2 billion refund. He balked at tapping the $6.6 billion surplus for other programs, saying more expensive initiatives would be difficult to sustain without tax increases.

Though he said he doesn’t personally support new abortion limits beyond the state’s current anti-abortion law, which bans the procedure as early as six weeks in most cases, the governor didn’t specifically rule out adopting new restrictions.

He also didn’t outline new efforts to expand gun laws or crack down on illegal immigration, though he defended his record on those issues, including a new law that allows Georgians to carry concealed handguns without first getting a state license.

Rather than promise a sweeping pay raise for teachers and new crackdowns on violent crime, Kemp outlined far more modest proposals for criminal justice and education. They include new ways to boost the ranks of educators and law enforcement officials.

And he signaled he would press to keep Georgia’s new voting regime in place amid criticism from Democrats that the sweeping rewrite imposed new obstacles at the ballot box for voters.

Here’s a closer look at Kemp’s second-term agenda:

Abortion

After campaigning on a promise to sign the “toughest abortion laws in the country,” Kemp championed a 2019 measure that would ban most abortions once a doctor can detect fetal cardiac activity, typically about six weeks into a pregnancy and before many women know they are pregnant.

The law, which narrowly passed the GOP-controlled Legislature, took effect this year shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade decision, which had guaranteed a constitutional right to abortion for nearly 50 years.

Kemp said he was “overjoyed” by the decision but has not emphasized it on the campaign trail. He said he doesn’t personally support additional abortion limits and that he doesn’t plan to push further restrictions.

Budget and taxes

The governor says that big-ticket spending items will inevitably drain the state’s budget, requiring political leaders to raise taxes to sustain those programs. He’s proposed refunding about $2 billion of the surplus to taxpayers through a package of income tax rebates and the resurrection of a property tax break that lapsed during the Great Recession.

The Republican also touts a law he signed that will drop the state’s income tax rate from 5.75% to 4.99% by the end of the decade. He didn’t fulfill a core promise from his 2018 bid: a pledge to cap state spending, which has reached record heights.

Criminal justice

In a second term, the governor would continue a criminal justice policy that has helped define his first. He announced proposals to crack down on gang violence, limit no-cash bail and create a loan program to boost the ranks of law enforcement officers and medical examiners.

As part of a broader initiative to target human trafficking, Kemp would double fines for businesses that violate state law requiring them to post information aimed at potential victims of the crime. That yearslong effort is led by Kemp’s wife, Marty Kemp.

Education

A core promise of Kemp’s 2018 campaign involved a $5,000 teacher pay raise, a mark he achieved earlier this year. His second-term platform includes more modest proposals, including a pledge to spend $65 million to address “learning loss” during the coronavirus pandemic, along with other initiatives to recruit more counselors and help school staffers become full-fledged teachers.

Environment

Under Kemp and his predecessors, Georgia has established long-term plans to help coastal counties adapt to rising sea levels but resisted more ambitious efforts taken by other states. Kemp said he doesn’t believe “government red tape is the answer” to climate change and condemned the new federal law as an exercise in overspending.

Gambling

Kemp has said he opposes legalizing casino gambling but that he wouldn’t take action to stop legislators from seeking a constitutional amendment that voters would have to approve. His campaign said he would work with legislative leaders on a measure to allow sports betting in 2023 — something he opposed in his first run.

Guns

After a campaign in 2018 that drew national attention for a provocative shotgun ad, Kemp this year signed legislation that allows Georgians to carry concealed handguns without first getting a license from the state. The measure was the most significant state firearms legislation since a 2014 gun rights expansion, and Kemp said it helps law-abiding Georgians protect themselves.

Health care

The governor has long echoed other Georgia Republicans in opposing a full-scale Medicaid expansion, saying the program would be too costly in the long run and too inflexible for patients. He’s instead pursued a more limited, “fiscally conservative” initiative tied to work and academic requirements. A federal judge this year ruled that his program can move forward despite the White House’s objections.

Immigration

The Republican has backed off the immigration rhetoric that helped him win the GOP nomination in 2018, which included a vow in an ad to “round up criminal illegals” in his own pickup truck and a pledge to “track and immediately deport” unauthorized immigrants with criminal records. He didn’t fulfill those promises and hasn’t unveiled specific proposals for a second term, though he has railed against federal immigration policies.

Rural development

With his political base in rural Georgia, Kemp has pushed to prioritize economic development in the state’s agricultural heartland with a “rural strike team” tasked with spurring more jobs and investment. He’s also touted efforts to expand rural broadband, and he helped bring two multibillion-dollar auto plants to underserved areas.

Voting rights

Perhaps the biggest flashpoint in the 2018 election, a divide over voting rights policy remained a key factor in this year’s contest.

The Republican supported a rewrite of election rules in 2021 that limits drop boxes, requires different forms of ID for absentee voting and bans outside groups from handing out food and drinks to voters waiting in line.

It also gives the Republican-controlled Legislature greater control over elections, requires a second Saturday of early voting in general elections, shortens early voting before runoffs and mandates quicker vote-counting.