Why is Brian Kemp going to an elite Swiss conference?

‘The belly of the beast’

Credit: Jason Getz/AJC

Credit: Jason Getz/AJC

The Swiss ski resort of Davos transforms one week each year into a gathering spot for the world’s richest and most powerful people. Next week, these global titans will be joined by a new face: Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp.

Fresh off a reelection victory, the Republican will join billionaire business executives and heads of state at the World Economic Forum to speak on a Tuesday panel called “America (Un)Bound” on the U.S. political landscape.

He’ll join a group that includes three other politicians with national profiles: U.S. Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

For much of his political career, Kemp has railed against “elitist” out-of-state forces who back his rivals. So why is a governor who once featured a chainsaw as a campaign mascot about to hobnob with hundreds of jet-setting bankers and international leaders in the Alps?

His spokesman Andrew Isenhour said he plans to share how Georgia’s “long record of conservative governance, protecting individual liberty and championing opportunity can serve as a model for economic success around the country and around the world.”

One of Kemp’s closest friends put it a different way: “He’s headed to the belly of the beast to show them how it’s done.”

Kemp is leaning into his newfound national prestige after a midterm election that ended with his blowout win against a Donald Trump-backed challenger and a resounding rematch victory over Democrat Stacey Abrams.

Now a bona fide national political figure, Kemp is likely to be considered as a potential running-mate in 2024 and could challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff in 2026. He’s also keeping his options open by maintaining his vast campaign network and launching a federal PAC.

State officials say the Swiss conference could also open economic doors to Georgia, with meetings planned with officials from South Korea, Japan and Europe on Kemp’s packed schedule.

Kemp’s administration has won major economic development projects, including Wednesday’s announcement that solar panel powerhouse Qcells will spend $2.5 billion to expand in the state. Roughly 600 CEOs and 52 political leaders are set to attend next week’s annual meeting.

Forum organizers designed the event to bring policymakers and the wealthy elite together to address some of the world’s most pressing problems, including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, mounting economic pressures and growing geopolitical rifts.

The trip coincides with an otherwise busy week at the state Capitol, where legislators will start to work on Kemp’s budget proposal. The governor will still address lawmakers on Tuesday – remotely, from the Swiss resort.