Three months and one legislative session into his term, Gov. Brian Kemp met with the Times-Journal editorial board for a question-and-answer session.
Georgia’s 83rd governor talked about the abortion bill and the politics of his first 90 days in office.
Editor’s note: This is Part One of the Times-Journal’s interview with Kemp that was conducted April 10 and has been edited for space and style. Part Two, concerning medical marijuana and disaster relief for farmers, will be published in Monday’s edition.
Q: What are your general thoughts on how the session went?
A: Man, it was great. I mean, (it) went better than I could have ever expected. (It was) historic in a lot of ways. No. 1: the largest teacher pay raise in state history that, quite honestly, the whole legislature got behind. There was a little bit of a disagreement on how we would do that between the House and the Senate and what I had rolled out, but at the end of the day we came up with some pretty creative things in the conference committee to be able to get back to my position of doing the whole $3,000 (raise) this year.
... A really historic vote that ended up being bipartisan in the House on the Patients First Act on health care, which is moving us in a sole direction on health care. I think that’s one thing that I really wanted to take the lead on and make sure we got done because after watching Republicans say we need to repeal Obamacare and then they couldn’t do it and they didn’t have a plan if they were going to repeal it. We felt like we really had to get our team all together pulling in one direction because there was like eight or 10 people that wanted to do different health care bills, and we felt like this was the way to go. And so we had some really preliminary discussions with the legislative leadership and then with the members and got everybody on board doing that. ...
Q: Were there any bills that you were personally supporting that failed to get to your desk?
A: Well, certainly the jet fuel tax issue with Delta. I was disappointed that didn’t get done. We worked very hard on that. Delta knows that. I felt like we had a really good compromise there. We were getting something out of Delta with the half a percent tax on it that would have created about $3 million a year, which isn’t a whole lot of money, but when you use that to leverage federal funds, it’s a nine-to-one match. And that is a good bit of money, and that would have all been going into rural airports. So I thought it was kind of a win-win for everybody because Delta is not paying anything right now and they could live with that. It keeps them competitive with everybody else, which is important for us from a business perspective, our business environment in the state. ...
Q: Last year when this happened, Gov. Deal used executive authority to give all airlines the tax break. Do you plan on doing anything like that?
A: Well, I think if you look back, I believe that what he did may not be available to us anymore because of the legislation that passed last year. We’re still kind of working through that to see what options we have, but we got a little bit of time to work on that before it expires. But I will say this: the bill still out there, it’s still available for passage in the Senate next year, so it’s not a lost cause just yet.
Q: So you largely stayed out of the airport takeover discussions. And I think you were quoted in some media recently as saying sometimes you’re just thankful that nothing passes. ... What were your thoughts on that discussion and where did you come down?
A: I wouldn’t say that I largely stayed out of the airport issue. I would just say that I didn’t have a whole lot to say publicly about it. I was talking to everybody on both sides, and like I (have said before), I completely understand (the) reasoning for going down this road with some of the things that have happened at the airport. I think there needs to be accountability. I think there are concerns about what has happened in the past. That being said, I do feel like the mayor is working very hard to bring some transparency to that process to give assurances to people that that’s not going to happen again. But at the end of the day, I also understood the concerns that the speaker and a lot of members of the House, and even some people in the Senate that weren’t saying a whole lot, that if we do this too fast and we’re not really thinking about everything, you could potentially damage one of the greatest airports in the world. And that was a concern for me.
Q: Recently you said that you were proud of the LIFE Act. So do you plan to sign it and when?
A: Well, I wouldn’t want to say a whole lot about that right now. But as you know, I was very supportive of the LIFE Act, and we’re doing a bill review on it just like we do everything else. There was quite a lot done on that bill as we moved through the process. But your readers and Georgia citizens should know that I’m very supportive of that.
Q: How long do you have to sign the bill?
A: I think we have until May 10th. ... And it’s always customary for the governor’s legal folks and the whole policy team to go through literally every line and make sure there’s just not something in there that’s crazy that would be something that somebody missed.
Q: That issue has sucked all the air out of the room. ... It just seems the rhetoric is turned up.
A: Well, I think what the Democrats are saying is just an overreaction quite honestly. ... I understand this is a tough issue. A lot of people disagree on it, and I am OK with that. There were some Republicans who didn’t vote for the bill. I’m OK with that. I understand. I kind of disagree with some of their reasoning, but you know, it’s a tough issue, and I’m not going to beat somebody up for voting for what they think is right. But this is something that should not surprise people. That’s what I campaigned on. People are going to find out that Brian Kemp is going to do exactly what he told people he would do. ... What I’ve tried to explain to people is look, even if we disagree on this specific bill regarding life at the heartbeat, which I support and a lot of other Georgians do as well, I understand there’s a lot of people that don’t support this. They may think it goes a little bit too far, and that’s fine, but we’re also supporting and valuing life in a lot of other ways in Georgia. That’s something that is a value of our state.
... I just wish people would write about all that we’re doing on human trafficking as much as they’re doing the LIFE Act because my wife has started the Grace Commission, Vic Reynolds at the GBI, ... I can promise you he is going after gangs, sex trafficking, human trafficking with a new sense of vigor over at the GBI’s office. We are already post-session working on furthering adoption reform, kind of building off of what the Legislature did last year, looking at foster care reform. We’re dealing with mental health issues, and we’re going to go after gangs and drug cartels. ...
Q: When do you believe life begins? At conception?
A: That’s what, like Georgia Right To Life — they didn’t support, they came out against the bill because they didn’t like the exceptions. And I just think that’s a crazy stance to take. I understand their position.
Q: But your personal view is life begins at conception?
A: Yes, and ends at natural death. ... But from a practical person that has legislated before, I know that you just have to move the needle. And this is — — look, (Rep.) Ed (Setzler, R-Acworth) didn’t want to do the exceptions, but he wanted to get the bill passed. And we did that. And I think putting the medical futility in there, too. Another thing that’s unfortunate that (media) keeps writing about is that the heartbeat, which you know, begins at six weeks, so they keep using six weeks. And that’s really not what the bill says. It’s when it’s determined by your doctor. So the people that make the argument that you, ‘I couldn’t detect a heartbeat at six weeks when I was pregnant.’ Well then ... you would have an exception until your physician could detect a heartbeat, if it was seven weeks or eight weeks.
Q: Did you expect the kind of national storm that this issue would create?
Q: You saw this coming?
A: Oh yeah. No, no doubt. But I’ve been in the national storm for two years. I mean, it’s all relative.
Q: And if you sign it, you’ll see a court case coming?
A: Like 10 minutes after, probably.
Q: What are your thoughts about that? There’s been other similar bills that have been tied up for years in courts, in Iowa, Kentucky, a few other places.
A: Well that’s the plan from the left, but I think we were very tactful about our legislation. It does give benefits to the child in the womb, which by the way helps support the mother, so all those people that are saying that we’re doing bad things to women, you know, they’re not talking about us giving this assistance not only to the pregnant mother but to the child at the heartbeat detection. And we feel like that can be very helpful for us to differentiate some of the things that are in other bills.