Gov. Brian Kemp met with the Times-Journal editorial board for a question-and-answer session on April 10 and talked about medical marijuana discussions during the legislative session as well as what is going on for disaster relief for farmers.
Editor’s note: This is part two of the Times-Journal’s interview with Kemp was conducted April 10 and has been edited for space and style. Part one, concerning the abortion bill and how his first legislative session as Governor went is in Sunday’s edition.
Q: What are your thoughts on the medical marijuana cultivation bill and how that settled out? That one went to conferences as well, didn’t it?
A: Yes, it did. It was a long conference, too. You know, the speaker and the lieutenant governor and I, and all the legislative leaders that we’re working on that issue, we were all working on that, which is a little bit unusual, I think. Most of the time, it’s the legislators doing that with just direction from the different parties, but we were all actually in the same room ... got a lot done. You know, some people feel like the House bill was where we needed to be, and some people felt like the Senate bill was too restrictive. And we ended up somewhere in between, which I think is probably a good fit. I have very mixed emotions on that bill. I do believe there’s people in the industry that are pushing the medical side to lead to recreational marijuana, which I’m absolutely against. You won’t see that happen on my watch as long as I’m governor. That concerns me greatly. I think that’s a bad way for us to go.
Q: Why is that a bad way for us to go?
A: I just believe it creates a lot of problems. I mean, we just got a business in Georgia that didn’t expand in Colorado, and I asked him why and that was one of the main reasons — having a hard time with their workforce. And I just don’t think we’re ready for that, yet. I think it would create a lot of different problems. And you know, we’re seeing that in some of the other states that are out there. But I do know this: I’ve talked to enough families and seen enough of these children that are getting help and it seems to be working. And hearing other stories of where it is (working). Even though there’s a lot of people in the medical side that say there is no clinical value to this. If you’re talking to folks, it’s hard for me to believe that it’s not helping some. We need to do more clinical-based research.
Q: ... Now that the session is over, what are some of the main things you’re planning to work on?
A: Well, doing exactly what I said I would do. ... We’re going to start working on what we need to do next session. We had a very aggressive agenda this year. I think we got a lot more done than people thought we would, but now we’re already digging in on really reforming, streamlining and looking at ways (to) make state government more efficient.
I think a lot of people don’t really understand, and I know I’ve told you all this many times, but we’ve done that in the secretary of state’s office. We’ve made it more efficient, we spent less money. We put in new systems that provide better service. And we’re going to do the exact same thing through the rest of the executive branch. I mean, our Office of Planning and Budget is already working on that. There’s just a lot of things, like when you look at the budget as we went through it, every agency had some IT project going on. It was $250,000 here, a million and a half there. I mean, you start adding that up, it’s a tremendous amount of money. And you’re like, ‘Where’s all this money going? What are they doing? Who’s making the money? You know, how much of this are consultants taking off the top?”
... And then we got a lot of other big issues on our plate. ... It’s taken a lot of my time dealing with D.C. on this whole disaster relief thing. Absolutely ridiculous that they cannot get a bill passed up there to help our farmers. And our folks down there are literally dying on the vine. I will say that Sens. Isakson and Perdue, I had been working constantly with them. They are doing everything in their power to get a deal done. It’s just the Democrats don’t want to play ball with them. And they probably won’t come out and say this because they’re still hopeful that they can get something done. It’s all politics. I mean, they are worried about another $12 billion of funding for Puerto Rico that probably won’t be spent before the next five years, and they’re holding up a disaster bill where we have people that can’t even plant and the deadline is April 15th for a lot of these guys. And Puerto Rico has already gotten like $40 or $60 billion worth of funding. This whole bill for all these states, including Georgia, is only $13 billion, and they’re holding it up over Puerto Rico. I’m just like, it’s ridiculous, but it’s all presidential politics.
Q: Is there anything that can be done at the state level to help these guys?
A: We’ve already helped them. I mean, the special session I think spent $250 million, but you’re talking about $3.5 billion in a $27 billion, $28 billion budget. I mean, we don’t have that kind of money. We only have $2.5 billion in our rainy day fund, which that’s a lot. I shouldn’t say only. We didn’t have anything 10 years ago. So it’s just an amount of money that we did another $20 million in the budget this year because the Legislature, the money they had for these low interest rate loans, they scraped up some more dollars, which we didn’t propose in the budget because they had just done the special session. So two or three months later, when the Legislature got ahold of it, there was still a need. And they scraped up, with our support, $20 million for the farmers. So the state has done a lot. ... We moved early. We’ve shown our commitment to help our farmers, but we need D.C. to act. Look, it’s not just us. Alabama got hit, Florida got devastated, South Carolina, North Carolina is part of it for previous storms. It’s not just us, you’ve got a Democratic governor in North Carolina, you’ve got a Democratic senator, Doug Jones, in Alabama. I can assure you they don’t care about Puerto Rico — not that they don’t care about it, but Puerto Rico has gotten plenty of help.