On Monday, I served as master of ceremonies for the inauguration of the 83rd governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp. In the course of the nearly two hour event, all the constitutional officers of the state of Georgia were administered oaths of office and both the new governor and lieutenant governor gave speeches.
The inauguration of Gov. Kemp brings a milestone of sorts to Georgia. He will be the first governor of Georgia who came of age after Brown v. Board of Education. The landmark case that forced the end of the “separate but equal” standard previous Supreme Courts had upheld came in 1954 and Kemp was born in 1963.
Despite the case, it took decades for Georgia to accept the decision. Kemp, as a boy, grew up in the Athens area and, in his speech, talked about Coach Billy Henderson’s work to build an integrated football team that actually operated as a team. It was a team on which Kemp played and he credits Henderson with teaching in the skills to build teams and treat others fairly.
Kemp noted that he was elected to represent and work for all Georgians, not just the ones who voted for him. He said he understood that we often focus on the divisions of white vs. black, rich vs. poor and urban vs rural Georgia. He said even elections can divide us. But he wants to find ways to build unity. He wants to be bridge builder, not a bridge burner.
Time will tell if he can overcome the ill will of the 2018 campaign. Senior Democrats in the state legislature are already grumbling that their freshmen just want to fight. During Kemp’s speech, he name checked men like Martin Luther King Jr. and Hank Aaron, but a handful of the newly elected Democrats still refused to applaud. Outside, the Democratic Socialists of America protested. Some held signs demanding Kemp resign, even though he had not even been sworn in when they showed up.
Democrats will want to take a “trust but verify” approach with Kemp. That is understandable. It is worth paying attention to the Republicans in the state Senate who named several Democrats as committee chairmen, which is a rather unusual move. They also replaced Renee Unterman as chair of the Senate’s health care committee, where she has been an obstacle both to expanding medical marijuana in the state and ending or, at least, loosening the reins of the “certificate of need” program in Georgia. That program requires new medical facilities show there is a need for them. A program that once had a purpose, it is now a program that stifles growth and limits medical options in the state.
Kemp, for his part, has been rather mum on his plans moving forward. He will spend the next week charting his course. On Monday he called for unity and supporting our teachers. On radio with me Wednesday evening, he spent two hours beginning to set the parameters of his agenda. He wants to improve school safety and wants to pay teachers more. He wants to keep bringing new businesses into the state, but he wants to make sure we are not doing so at the expense of existing Georgia businesses. He wants to reduce the regulatory burden on Georgia’s small businesses as well.
The governor is still deciding the direction to take on healthcare, but everyone should be reassured he understands the need to listen to all sides and build bridges as he moves forward.
Erick Erickson is host of Atlanta’s Evening News on WSB Radio.