COLUMBUS, GA. (WRBL) –– Gov. Brian Kemp delivered his fourth State of the State address Thursday morning, but it came against the backdrop of a political year that promises Republican Party rancor in the primary.
And Kemp’s speech may have been in the Capitol, but it was aimed at Georgia voters who will decide if the governor gets a second term.
And it comes five months from a primary challenge from former U.S. Senator David Perdue.
The tone for Kemp’s speech was set in the introduction from Speaker of the House David Ralston. And he talked about unprecedented obstacles Kemp has faced.
“I can also tell you he has mastered those challenges whether it was COVID or other little issues we have had to deal with — from within and without the state I might add,” Ralston said.
Two Columbus lawmakers sitting in the House chamber heard Ralston’s comments – and their interpretations are not the same.
“It did sound a little warm and fuzzy today is what I am going to say about it,” said Rep. Carolyn Hugley, Columbus (D). “Of course, the governor and the speaker have been working together. And sometimes that is because of the office and because of the traditions of the House.”
Sen. Randy Robertson, Cataula (R), heard something that he says started a day earlier.
“Speaker Ralston gave a very strong speech yesterday at the state Chamber’s breakfast. It almost sounded like a continuation of that,” Robertson said. “Where Speaker Ralston is saying the state of Georgia has been doing things the way they were supposed to be done or should have been done in these times.”
Kemp has been at the helm of the state in health and political storms over the last three years.
“Three years ago, when I stood in front of this body and the people of our state as the first time as your governor, I said I know there will be adversity, those that want to tear us down,” Kemp said. “There will be difficult days and dark nights. But together we will overcome. Like Coach Henderson said, it can be done. Standing before all of you in the final year of my first term in office, I didn’t know then how true these words would become.”
Robertson – a retired Muscogee County Sheriff’s deputy — links where Kemp is placing the emphasis and resources of the state
“What I heard were pay raises for state employees,” Robertson said. “Issues related for employee benefits. And important things related to public safety like 32 positions within the GBI crime lab to help with the backlogs.”
Hugley says she heard the governor steaking his ground for the primary challenge.
“I felt like I was at a campaign rally during that speech,” Hugley said. “Because the governor clearly moved swiftly to the right. And had issues and concerns to his primary voters. There were some good issues we can all agree on. But on some issues, he was clearly thinking about the primary ahead of him.”
Kemp offered a $250 income tax rebate to all Georgians, using a piece of a $3.7 billion state surplus to fund it.
Full-time teachers and school staff would get a $2,000 bonus in the first half of this year, while part-time staffers $1,000.
“Over the last three years, we built Georgia’s house on a firm foundation,” Kemp said. “The concrete, the frame, and the roof withstood the storms. We emerged resilient. We boldly seized the opportunity to plant seeds for the future in good soil, so a bountiful harvest would bring our state to brighter, more prosperous days ahead.”
Hugley says the money for school employees does not go far enough.
“Nobody would object to the teachers getting a raise because they are behind their peers in other states,” Hugley said. “So, we like to see them get a raise. But I am also concerned about the bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and custodians. He’s going to give the teachers a $2,000 raise, but he’s going to give them one-time $1,000 dollars.”
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