Politics

GOP Senator Called ‘Unstable’ Wants Apology Before Backing Kemp

State Sen. Renee Unterman, standing left, a supporter of Cagle in the primary, said before she can endorse Kemp, she wants to receive an apology. 
State Sen. Renee Unterman, standing left, a supporter of Cagle in the primary, said before she can endorse Kemp, she wants to receive an apology. 
Credit David Goldman / Associated Press

After an ugly GOP primary for governor, the Georgia Republican Party plans a unity rally Thursday evening featuring the winning candidate, Secretary of State Brian Kemp, and losing candidate, Lt. Governor Casey Cagle. Other party leaders are also expected to attend.

Cagle endorsed Kemp on Tuesday evening, minutes after the primary runoff between the two was decided.

But not all Republicans in the state are ready to back Kemp.

State Sen. Renee Unterman, a supporter of Cagle in the primary, said before she can endorse Kemp, she wants to receive an apology.

In a statement to the Atlanta Journal Constitution in early July, Kemp spokesman Ryan Mahoney criticized Unterman as “mentally unstable.”

That was in response to a letter Unterman sent to federal prosecutors calling for an investigation into Kemp’s taking of donations from the owner of massage clinics subject to at least four complaints of sexual assault, according to the AJC.

As Secretary of State, Kemp oversees the board regulating massage therapists.

Kemp has said repeatedly he did nothing illegal and that he’s returned donations his campaign received that were illegal.

“It is our hope that, for her own sake, she will retract these baseless, politically-motivated statements before facing serious legal action,” Mahoney said at the time. “We also hope that Senator Unterman will seek immediate medical attention before she hurts herself or someone else.”

On Tuesday evening, at the Cagle campaign’s election night party, Unterman said she expects an apology will come “once the campaign gets their perspective back in order” and “their feet on the ground.”

“I’d like to see an apology, and it’s not an apology for me,” Unterman said. “It’s an apology for women in general, because when you insult one woman and their personal journey you are insulting 51 percent of the population. And I just don’t think that’s fair.”

The Kemp campaign on Wednesday did not apologize to Unterman.

“We look forward to the Unity Rally [Thursday] night where Republicans will vow to stand together and defeat the Democrats this fall,” Mahoney said in an emailed statement.

In response to Mahoney’s statements in early July, Unterman posted on Facebook about her own experience with mental illness, and the suicide of her son.

“Yes, I suffered from depression during my divorce and sought treatment. Who doesn’t when you have such a major life transition like a divorce, especially when kids are involved,” Unterman wrote.

“One of the primary factors that prevents many people from seeking professional help with issues like depression or addiction, is the stigma that Brian Kemp’s campaign spokesperson perpetuates,” she added. “Shame on you!”

When asked if she still wants a federal investigation into Kemp’s campaign finances, Unterman said: “I think that’s an ongoing issue and still needs to be resolved.”

Unterman is one of two Republican woman serving in the Georgia state Senate, and she’s known at the Capitol for her role as chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. She chaired the campaign group Women For Cagle.

Female, Republican voters will be important in Kemp’s effort to win the general election against Democrat Stacey Abrams, Unterman said, but it will take some time before they all unite behind him.

The state senator representing part of Gwinnett County also pointed to a broader issue Kemp may face in the general election.

“There’s an animosity between rural Georgia and urban Georgia and I think he has to bring that together,” she said. “His image is of a good-ol’-boy with a shotgun in baggy pants and blue jeans, and that is not a reflection of my district. I’m a very urban district, and I think he has to cultivate a different image in the general election.”