Gov. Brian Kemp said he feels “great” about his upcoming 2022 reelection campaign, even amid reports that former President Donald Trump remains determined to campaign against Kemp, who was once among his strongest allies.
“I’m looking forward to running on my record,” Kemp said in an interview with WABE.
Trump has said he is “ashamed” to have endorsed Kemp, called for Kemp’s resignation and vowed to campaign against him in 2022 after Kemp refused to violate the state constitution and intervene in the 2020 election.
The New York Times reported Monday that in the early days of his post-presidency, Trump’s “deepest hostility is reserved for Governor Brian Kemp” whose reelection Trump is expected to “expend the most energy trying to damage.”
“I know I’m going to be able to look in the face of Georgia voters and say that I made the best decisions that I could with the information that I had,” Kemp said of his tenure in office governing during a pandemic.
Still, Kemp called the ongoing impeachment of the former president “a distraction” from other Congressional legislative priorities, including additional COVID-19 relief.
Kemp declined to address whether he thinks Trump holds any responsibility for the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. “I haven’t been presented evidence. Other people may have,” he said.
“I’ve been very clear; I was outspoken the day that happened, doing a press conference here at the Capitol with Lt. Gov. (Geoff) Duncan and Speaker (David) Ralston to say that that was wrong. It was un-American.”
Public Health ‘Neglected For Many Years’
Of his budget proposal, the governor defended the decision to barely increase state funding for the Department of Public Health. He pointed to the more than $1 billion the department has received in federal aid toward its coronavirus response.
“The over a billion dollars of federal funding, that’s four times what the agency gets in a single year of a state appropriation. So, the issue with doing the job at the Department of Public Health right now is not funding,” he argued.
Kemp however, conceded that the department hasn’t been in ideal shape.
“It was an antiquated system and has been neglected for many years,” he said of state and federal support for public health.
Kemp said there are “things that we need to look at in the future” in terms of reforms at the department.
“But trying to do that right now, in the middle of a legislative session, in the middle of the case counts that we’ve seen … and trying to get this vaccine rolled out, this is not the time to go back and completely overhaul a system,” Kemp said.
“I think that’s something we’re going to need to look at going forward. And we’ll be committed to doing that.”
After New Year’s, Georgia was in its worst coronavirus spike of the pandemic, though in recent weeks, Kemp pointed out, the high case count and hospitalizations have started to recede.
Kemp also defended his decision not to pull from the state’s $2.5 billion reserve fund. Instead, he added $150 million to it, even though this year’s budget is still more than $1 billion behind pre-pandemic numbers.
“We’ve put a lot of money back in and not implemented any furloughs or budget cuts,” he said, pointing to more than $600 million toward the state’s public education funding formula as well as coverage of enrollment growth at universities and colleges.
“I don’t think there’s too many states across the country that are going to be able to be talking about things like that,” Kemp said.
While Republicans fared better in Georgia down ballot than their presidential and Senate losses would indicate, Kemp said there is “definitely” something for Republicans to learn from the Democratic strategy.
“One of the hardest things that I had to get across to people in 2018 is that the race was going to be very close because a lot of people in certain parts of the state didn’t believe that,” he said.
“[Democrats] have gotten very good at that ground game,” he said, but pointed out Republicans in other states have also had success with that strategy.
“I certainly paid attention to that. And it’s something that we’ll be working on going into 2022.”
Kemp said Republicans need to “do a better job of doing two things: we’ve got to get more like-minded people registered and participating in the process and getting the vote out and making sure we’re not leaving anybody at home.”
But Republicans also, he said, need to reach out to the state’s minority communities “that are like-minded. They’re small business owners like myself. They have strong family values. They want safe communities, and make sure that we are hearing their voices.”