You know, 2020 is going to be an extremely busy year from a political perspective, and that’s why we thought it might be a good idea to start things of by sitting down with Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, the Governor’s office kind enough to invite The Means Report here to the State Capitol to talk about a wide range of issues. But before we got to the hot topics of the year, our discussion started with some special things the state was able to do for children this holiday season.
Gov. Brian Kemp: Well, I’ll tell you, we had, when I was Secretary of State we use to do something at our licensing division down in Macon every year helping with Toys For Tots and we did a big launch and we get all employees to bring presents. And then we’d bring the Toys For Tots guys and marines over there to collect ’em and it was amazing how our people just reacted to that, just tons of gifts and presents and needy children during the holidays. And so this year we were trying to think, what could we do? And we ended up getting hooked up with Clark Howard who’s been fightin the fight for foster kids for a long time to make sure they have a Christmas present. And so working through DFACS and Tom Rawlings folks at the DFACS Agency. We asked all state employees in the executive branch to help take kids, you know take a list and provide the toys and so, we ended up, I think, providing toys for over a thousand foster care kids this year and there’s I think 10,000 that Clark ended up serving. So he’s done a great job with that. And I’ll tell ya, people were so excited. State employees were coming up thanking me going, “Thank you for, you know, we all wanted to do something. “We didn’t know what to do. “Thank you for giving us this direction.” And I was like, “Hey, thank you guys for participating.” Marty and the girls got involved and helped with that. And we did some kids and it was just a great exercise and really made everybody feel good and it’s for a great cause.
Brad Means: Governor, the Lock & Dam is a huge concern in Augusta and surrounding areas for that matter, North Augusta, people wanna know what’s gonna happen to the Lock & Dam and our river levels.
Gov. Brian Kemp: Well I think that’s a hard question to ask when you’re having to deal with the Corps of Engineers of the local governments and state governments. I’ve spoken with Governor McMaster in South Carolina about that issue. Certainly, Congressman Rick Allen’s been fighting hard as well and I’ve spoken to Senator Perdue as well and we’ve been working with their staffs to resolve it, and certainly with the Corps. And look, I get it. You know I have some property on Clark Hill so I understand Corps levels and what it does. And I understand what it does to the river and the economic value of that not only for Augusta but also for North Augusta. So it is a bi-state problem that we have. I’ve also been to the Lock & Dam. I’ve seen the issues that we have with it. It’s my understanding, I’m being told that there’s water actually flowing underneath the Lock & Dam so we run the risk of that whole facility just being gone one day which would create a horrific problem. So I’m certainly supportive of us coming up with a solution. But the problem is the state can’t do that itself. We’re committed to continuing to work with all the parties that are engaged to find a workable solution that keeps a water level that would be satisfactory from a property value standpoint and a economic one in that part of the world.
Brad Means: It almost sounds though, at the end of the day, the Corps is gonna do what it wants to do. Would you say that’s true? Or can they be swayed a little bit?
Gov. Brian Kemp: Well, I would guess they could be swayed. I also think that they will probably just do what they’re gonna do. But I do think that there’s the ability for us to figure out ways to do more than what they are gonna do that may help alleviate the situation. But as you can imagine, those are pretty complex legal decisions and things that we are doing our due diligence on. So I really wouldn’t wanna comment too much on that. But people down there should know that I’m definitely aware of that issue and we’re working very hard to protect their interests.
Brad Means: Now since we last spoke, you selected Kelly Loeffler to serve in the U.S. Senate, the balance of Johnny Isakson’s term. The President wanted you to pick Doug Collins, the Congressman. Are you and President Trump still getting along?
Gov. Brian Kemp: Oh, I think so. Look, President Trump wants somebody that’s gonna go to Washington D.C. and fight for him and with him in the swamp. And that’s exactly what I’ve sent him. I think he’s seen too much in Washington people that would say one thing and do another and I think that’s his biggest concern is making sure that he’s gonna have somebody that he can trust and work with. And Kelly’s just like he is, you know. She’s a business person. She’s never been involved in politics just like Senator Perdue wasn’t. I think they’ve both done pretty well and I know she will as well. She’s gonna bring that business person’s experience, that outsider perspective to the U.S. Senate. And I told her, I said, “Look, I want somebody up there “that’s gonna be fighting hard for us. “Fighting for our country, but fighting for our state.” That is the job of the U.S. Senator is to fight hard for our state and protect our values. And I know that she’s gonna do that. And people are gonna be very excited when they get to know her. She’s a great person, comes from very humble beginnings on a Illinois farm. Her family still farms. She’s involved in that in many ways and has never lost that perspective. But she’s also a very smart business person who’s done business all over the world. And that is something that if you’ve ever heard Senator Perdue or Isakson say there was only three or four business people in the U.S. Senate, well now they have someone else, or will very shortly.
Brad Means: Well Governor, another thing that’s happened since we last met, the President got impeached. Will that impeachment impede your ability to deliver the state of Georgia for the GOP this year?
Gov. Brian Kemp: Oh I think we’re gonna be in great shape in Georgia. I mean, look, you gotta look at President Trump’s record. There’s a lot of rhetoric. The guy’s under constant attack up there. I personally think they’re wasting their time with impeachment. They need to be focused on the other issues that the federal government should be focused on, securing our border, making sure that they’re looking at our debt, and making sure our military’s funded, and many other things that the President’s been working on. But we have a great record to run on in Georgia. We got the lowest unemployment we’ve ever had in the state since we’ve been keeping records on that, lowest unemployment. We had the most people in the workforce. You know that has completely transformed since Donald Trump took office. I think that says a lot certainly to our environment as a state, but certainly what he’s done leading our country has seen that economic prosperity not only in Georgia, but all across our country.
Brad Means: Governor, one of your big campaign platforms, goals was to get rid of gangs, to dismantle them in fact. How’s that going twelve months in?
Gov. Brian Kemp: Well I think it’s going very well. We’re off to a great start. We’ve funded the Gang Task Force and the GBI last session to get the initial task force up and running. Those things take a little bit of time. So we didn’t wanna just throw a bunch of money at that if it wasn’t gonna be used, but we’ll be coming back this year with some additional resources for them so that they can continue to help, or be able to help great prosecutors like Natalie Payne and others across the state that are really focused on going after street gangs and drug cartels. And it’s amazing what they’ve done in just a year. But I know once we get if fully implemented they’re gonna be able to do a lot more work. Georgia’s the hub for the Mexican drug cartel. And it doesn’t matter what part of the state you’re in, they’re operating in it. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a metro area like downtown Augusta or if you’re in a rural community in McDuffie County or one of the other adjoining counties or somewhere in the middle of South Georgia. This is happening everywhere. And we gotta go after these folks. And we’re giving the local prosecutors the tools to do that if we’re asked. It’s not a mandate. We have great prosecutors across our state. Many of them know what they’re doing and they don’t need the help. But many of ’em don’t have the resources of what we can provide with the task force can help them. It can also help when we’re working together quite honestly and that’s one reason that we have also funded and are just about ready to roll out the gang database which will allow really all the silos to be torn down so that we can have great communication between local prosecutors, local law enforcement, state resources, the feds, corrections, anybody else to one central gang database that everybody can feed information into is gonna make us much more efficient of knowing who these people are, where they’re operating, and then how we go after them.
Brad Means: Governor, you mentioned that the state of Georgia is the hotspot for the cartels. It’s also a hotspot for human trafficking. And I know that First Lady Kemp and the GRACE Commission are making an effort to stop that. Are they making any progress?
Gov. Brian Kemp: Well I will tell you that our First Lady, my wife, Marty Kemp, no one else in the country, I don’t think, has done more to raise awareness about human and sex trafficking than she has over the last year. It’s amazing what they’ve done. There’s been a lot of people that have been working in the trenches for many, many years on this issue. We didn’t even know it was an issue but we were moved as a family by this. It is something that she wanted to tackle to raise awareness so that more people paid attention and could help identify situations that they’re seeing to go after these folks that have basically, I mean it’s modern day slavery.
Brad Means: Yeah.
Gov. Brian Kemp: And the average is a 14-year-old child. I mean it’s horrific what’s going on. So we need people to be aware, to be eyes and ears, and to help us look and report things to law enforcement. But we’ve also, and this is part of the GRACE Commission’s work and what we’ll be working on legislatively this session. We’ve also got to help stiffen penalties so we can go after these perpetrators more harshly. And then we also have to help educate and transform these individuals that are coming out of being trafficked to be able to transform back into society and be a productive member of society and that starts with education so they can be able to get a job and financially support themselves and not have to fall back into this culture that they were forced into to survive.
Brad Means: When The Means Report continues, we’re going to continue our special conversation with Georgia Governor Brian Kemp. We’ll talk about some of the ways he would like to see more tax dollars spent, talking budget, when this special edition of The Means Report rolls on.
Brad Means: Welcome back to The Means Report. Continuing our conversation with Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and we’re gonna move into budget talks, if you will, especially when it comes to the way you want tax dollars spent on education. What can you do to help our schools?
Gov. Brian Kemp: Well I think that the thing that people need to understand with the budget and the cuts that I’ve ordered this year because our revenues have flattened out, we’ve got a 4% cut in amended budget and 6% in the big budget. We’re dong that for two reasons, number one, to make sure that we make government more efficient and more streamlined, which is what I campaigned on. But number two is so that we can fund our priorities like I campaigned on, making sure that we’re fully funding public education like we’ve done really only two times in the past and that was last year and the year before that. And we wanna continue to do that. We wanna continue to be able to produce more medical professionals and doctors which there’s some great work going on in Augusta to get those folks to be able to practice in rural Georgia and provide health care in parts of our state that do not have those services now. To make sure that we’re paying our teaches a wage where we don’t have 44% of them leaving the system within the first five years of becoming a teacher which has taxed all of our districts. It wouldn’t matter if it’s in downtown Augusta, in Evans, Columbia County, or up the road in McDuffie County, or in Waynesboro. Everybody was dealing with these issues. It didn’t matter if it was downtown Atlanta or in the middle or rural Georgia. And so that is what people need to know about the budget, that we are gonna fund the priorities and things that we need to do, public safety, like going after street gangs, transportation so that we can continue to move our people and our commerce and our goods and services around the state. And those are the things that are our priorities. And by having these budget cuts, making government more efficient, we’re gonna still be able to do those things and I don’t think we’re gonna see any loss of service.
Brad Means: What about your relationship with The Medical College of Georgia, with Augusta University. When it comes to making sure that we have enough doctors, how is that going so far?
Gov. Brian Kemp: It’s been great. Brooks Keel’s doing a great job over there. They have a lot of really tough issues that they’re dealing with. They have a lot of great things that they’re doing, the medical partnership, cyber, I’m so excited about the CSRA, really, from a economic perspective. We announced that we were the number one state in the country for business the seventh year in a row down there at the Cyber Center the other year. The other day I also announced an expansion from one of the cyber companies that’s in the Georgia Cyber Center. And it wasn’t a huge economic announcement but we wanted to do it because it showed how quickly that happened. I mean they just announced that they were going there with like 20 jobs and now they’re adding an additional 80. So it shows the potential of cyber in that area. I mean I think we can be a leader across the world in that regards. We already are in our state in many ways and certainly the partnership in Augusta and what’s happening to the Cyber Center and the army command is just gonna continue to have great things happen. It’s gonna be great for the whole CSRA area. So that’s good, the higher education piece is good. We’ve got great industry in that area and certainly great recreation as well with things like the Masters Golf Tournament.
Brad Means: Governor let’s forget about Atlanta for a second when it comes to economic development and look at the rest of the state of Georgia. You have towns that are coming to you that wanna be in the spotlight when it comes to new industry, new jobs, the Macons of the world, the Columbuses, Augusta certainly. How do you steer industry in those directions? How do you decide?
Gov. Brian Kemp: Well I don’t know that you can really steer industry and the way things, things have really changed in the economic development. This is one thing that I’ve learned in my first year. It’s not them coming to us saying, “Hey, we wanna build a plant. Where can we build it?” They’re now coming to us going, “You’re one of three states “that we have picked sites in. “Why should we come to Georgia?” They’ve already made that decision what state’s they’re gonna go to. They’ve already made the decisions on what the sites are. So we’re changing our focus. Part of our rural strike team that I campaigned on is gonna be developing or helping identify mega-sites in our state, working with local communities to do that. Also get ’em shovel ready so that we have sites on the books that we can market. ‘Cause if you do not have a site that you can market, companies are gonna go to sites that are available. And if you don’t have the right amount of them in your state in the right places, then you’re just never gonna get a look in the first place. That’s just the reality of the world that we’re in. And we’re working right now in that area over there on a potential mega-site with some of the folks in that community. And I don’t wanna say a whole lot about that ’cause there’s a lot of work going on. But I think it’s really gotta come from the ground up. You know, it can’t be us as a state saying, “Hey, CSRA, you need to find a mega-site.” It’s really gotta be the people there going, “Hey, for us to be in the game, let’s get two or three “counties, four counties, five counties, let’s look at this “from a reasonable perspective. “Where can we put together “a thousand to 1500 acres of land that’s in a good place, “that has access to a road, rail, utilities, “the things that you need to have a really good “marketable site and then work with us.” We’ll help with that process. We’ll help market it. But that’s how we can better sell an area in our state.
Brad Means: You know the mayor of Augusta asked for rail access to a site recently, had mentioned expanding rail service. Is what you’re talking about, this mega-site, something we could see in 2020 or is it further down the road?
Gov. Brian Kemp: Well, I think it depends and I would hate to speak to much to that because it’s very very initial stages. It’s just, the Augusta area has a lot of benefits, with I20, a lot of rail in that part of the world, good hard working people, some great political leaders that, I mean you have to have locals that buy into this. It can’t be the state just come in and do everything. The people that are getting these jobs, the locals, are very engaged, they’re putting packages together that are appealing to industries to get ’em to look in the first place. And if that can happen, then that’s when the state can come in on the back side of it and hopefully get the deal closed.
Brad Means: Governor I know that a lot of people thought that, by now, the Heartbeat Bill, the Heartbeat Law, would be in effect when it comes to abortions and when those can be performed, when they cannot. We saw a Federal judge step in and delay the implementation of that law. What do you think will happen to it in the future?
Gov. Brian Kemp: Well I think We’ve got a great legal case. I mean, look, when we passed the will before we ever even drafted it I knew it’d be a big legal fight over it. These kind of things happen. But I believe it’s a fight worth fighting for, protecting life at the heartbeat. But we protect life in many ways, really through the whole, from conception to natural death and that’s what we’re gonna be focused on this session, continuing to fight for those values. We’re gonna be working on foster care reform and adoption reform to make it easier for people to adopt foster kids in our state to really take out some of the bureaucracy and the red tape of that process. A lot of great work has been done by the legislature a couple years ago before I got in the Governor’s seat and they made some great progress. But I believe there’s a few other things that we can do to continue to build off of that to get some of these kids out of foster care with adoptive parents. They really will transform our state in many ways and provide great quality of life for these kids and also be good productive members of our society a decade from now.
Brad Means: Very quickly, my last question, you’ve had a year on the job to look at the state of Georgia from the vantage point of your office. How are we doing? All you hear about is division in this country and how one side versus the other. What about in the peach state? Do it’s citizens get along better than elsewhere maybe?
Gov. Brian Kemp: I think we do. I mean you always have political battles that have gone on. And I’ve certainly had those in running for governor. But when I got sworn in, I told people I was gonna be working for all Georgian’s, not just the people that voted for me, but even those that didn’t. And I think my actions have shown that. I continue to tell people it’s a great time to be a Georgian right now. And I believe we live in the best state in the country to live, work, and raise our families. We’ve got the lowest unemployment rate we’ve ever had. We’ve got the most people working in our state that we’ve ever had. We’ve been the number one state in the country for business seven years in a row. And we just continue to have great things going on and we have great opportunity in our state. And a lot of that has to do with the CSRA and we’re gonna keep it that way.
Brad Means: Well Governor Kemp we sure do appreciate your time allowing us to come here to Atlanta, to the Capitol. It’s been a pleasure and we’re grateful to you, for sure, for letting us make the trip.
Gov. Brian Kemp: My pleasure. Thank you very much.