THOMASVILLE — As he cuts across the state as part of his campaign, Brian Kemp says he wants to “take a chain saw” to government regulations.
Kemp, who has been Georgia’s secretary of state since 2010, is running for the Republican nomination to replace Gov. Nathan Deal, whose second term is ending in January 2019. The office of governor is limited to two consecutive terms.
Part of his four-point plan for the state, Kemp said, is “fundamentally reforming state government and taking a chainsaw to government regulations, which is what we have done in the Secretary of State’s office to make it more efficient with less money.”
Also part of the four-point plan he is touting is making Georgia No. 1 for small business, strengthening all of Georgia and putting Georgians first.
“One of the main parts of my four-point plan is moving all of Georgia forward, with a specific target on strengthening rural Georgia,” he said. “I’ve seen that on the ground in the communities and in my business experience as well.”
Rural Georgia is lacking in opportunities, Kemp said, and young people are leaving those areas of the state.
“They move off and don’t come back,” he said.
Kemp said that he stopped in Colquitt recently and spoke with a manager of a peanut buying point who recently hired a Valdosta State University graduate.
“(He) said he didn’t know what he was going to do with him, but he’s a local kid and if I didn’t hire him here, he’d be gone and never come back,” Kemp said.
While Georgia has been named the No. 1 state in the country in which to do business, Kemp said he wants to see that expand to small businesses.
“That’s what drives a local community,” he said. “Those are who the people who help the rubber meet the road and make the economy turn in South Georgia and rural Georgia. I think it’s time we had a governor who focused on that.”
Kemp said the state should build off what Gov. Deal has done to make Georgia the No. 1 state for business.
“We’ve got to do something to start focusing on the rural areas of our state,” he said, “where we have not only job growth but a strategic effort that the governor’s office is behind to help with all the areas in rural Georgia, health care, education, capital investment in manufacturing. That’s going to be a big focus of my campaign because I’ve seen it. The people in Atlanta, Savannah and Augusta support that effort. They know it’s going to be good for the whole state.”
Kemp said he is in favor of cutting income taxes but he is pushing for a spending cap on state government that adjusts with inflation and the population. Such a cap, Kemp said, allows the state to save money on the front end.
“We ran on a spending cap when we were in the minority,” he said of state GOP lawmakers, “and we never did it.”
The spending cap, Kemp added, would keep the state government from overspending in good times and protect the state budget in economic downturns. If there is money remaining, Kemp said he would be in favor of rebates back to taxpayers.
“I’ll do whatever people want to do, if it’s broad-based and helps everybody,” he said.
Kemp said he could back cutting income taxes but questioned how his opponents would make up the difference in the state revenues if income taxes were eliminated.
“How are you going to do that? Are you going to put the tax back on groceries?” he asked. “The only people who have gotten tax cuts are the special interests. The working Georgians have not seen that. That’s why I’m excited about my candidacy. I’m telling people things they can believe in. They have someone who has a record of fighting. What I am telling them is attainable.”
Kemp said his department’s budget was cut by 25 percent and they used technology to make the systems better and the elections more secure. The secretary of state’s office handles more than a million more corporate filings and the licenses for more than 500,000 professionals each year, he boasted.
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and state Sens. Hunter Hill and Michael Williams also are vying for the GOP nod, and the general primary election will be held May 22, 2018. Kemp said his vision and his record differentiate him from the other contenders.
Kemp, who served in the state Senate before running for statewide office in 2010, said he is the only candidate with both legislative and executive experience. He also is a businessman and said one of his business lost its roof during Hurricane Irma.
“When I first started my construction company, I didn’t think I was going to make it the first couple of years,” he said.
Kemp also said his record separates him from the other candidates.
“The question is who do you trust? Who has the record of doing what they say when they get into office?” he said. “I fought the federal government when I needed to. I fought the extreme left when they said we were suppressing voters. I am trying to win the Republican nomination and I think voters want a fighter in office, someone who is going to be fighting for them every single day. I have that record in the Senate, in the secretary of the State office and I certainly have that record of having to fight through times as a small businessperson.”