AUGUSTA, Ga (WJBF) Georgia Governor Brian Kemp is our special guest on the latest edition of The Means Report. Governor Kemp talks to Brad Means about the key issues facing the Peach State. We will discuss recent legislation to help local small businesses. We will also take a look at the state of our schools as they try to bridge the pandemic learning plant. What about a possible role in next year’s presidential election? Brad and the governor cover that as well. Watch this interview and be sure to join us for The Means Report. We are on Monday afternoons at 12:30, on WJBF NewsChannel 6.
Hello everybody and welcome once again to “The Means Report.” We certainly appreciate you spending part of your day with us where we are very thrilled to have back on the set of “The Means Report,” Georgia’s Governor, Brian Kemp. You know, he has been a frequent guest on this broadcast since before he officially took office. And we’re gonna tackle the key issues today. We’ll take a look at some recent bills that the Governor has signed and how it will help Georgians, especially business owners. Also, we’ll look at the state of education in the Peach State. And then, taking a look from a national perspective, what are the Governor’s thoughts on next year’s presidential race and what, if any, role might he play?
Governor Kemp, thank you so much once again for taking time out of your busy schedule to join us for “The Means Report.” We always appreciate you.
Well, glad to be back, Brad. Thanks for having me.
Well, I couldn’t think of a better reason to have you than the fact that you came all the way to Augusta to sign some legislation and it is going to help businesses in Georgia, especially ones that are owned by veterans, by minorities, and by women. Can you tell us how that’s gonna work?
Well, we’re just so excited to be back in Augusta. A lot of great things happening here. Tournament very successful, kind of some interesting weather, but got it in and it was just a great, really worldwide event, hosted by such a great place. And it’s an honor for Marty and I to be back today, really to just let people know that we were working hard for hardworking Georgians during this General Assembly session up underneath the Gold Dome. And the legislation I signed today really is just, you know, we’re keeping our foot on the gas, if you will, and making sure that we’re continuing to be the number one state in the country for business. We’ve done that nine years in a row, but we also want it to be number one for small business, in particular today with the focus on minority owned, women owned, and veteran owned small businesses, helping them be able to compete in state procurements. And we’ve heard that for a long time about, “Hey, we just want a shot at the pie just like everybody else.” And so we’ve really been focused on that and that’s what the legislation was doing today.
Well I know that’s very much appreciated by that segment of our business community. You’ve been busy, speaking of signing bills.
You signed one recently that’s gonna give Augusta voters the chance to decide whether the mayor of Augusta gets a vote on commission matters. Why did you sign that and how might it help the city of Augusta if it’s approved?
Well, I kind of felt like I needed to sign that legislation. I think the majority of the local legislative delegation was supporting it and it’s really just gonna put the issue in the hands of the local voters here in this community as to whether the mayor will have a vote or not on the commission. And I’m sure there’ll be a lot of educational campaigns going on as that referendum comes up, but it’s really just letting the people here speak.
Let me ask you about a third bill. This one has to do with making sure that we boost the state’s citrus production and it got me to thinking about previous visits with you and we’ve talked about your support of Georgia farmers. And so the question is, you know, during the pandemic they struggled. How are our Georgia farmers doing now? What are you hearing?
Well, I think they’re doing good. I mean, commodity prices are up, which is good, but also inputs are up, which is what the farmers always tell you. But I mean, we have a very diverse agriculture in Georgia. We have a very diverse economy, which ag is by far our number one industry. And so I think, there’s sectors of the market that are struggling, but there’s sectors that are doing really well. I mean, I think the poultry industry’s doing very well right now. I think our traditional row crop farmers, mainly cotton and peanuts, are hanging in there. You know, the pecan, pecan industry has been good over the last, probably, decade. I mean, you have ups and downs depending on the weather. I do think the peach crop got hit this year with the freezing. But that’s something that farmers are always having to deal with. But there’s actually a lot of people growing citrus now and we just feel like there needs to be some resources out there through research and extension to be able to help and further that industry. ‘Cause it, again, just helps us diversify. You know, our peach’s crops gotten a little bit smaller over the last several decades in Georgia, but we have other crops like blueberries and now citrus that are growing. Olives is another one.
Yeah, really, believe it or not. It’s onion season right now. And so we have a lot of good things going on and it’s just a big part of Georgia’s economy and the General Assembly and I have been continued to stay focused not only our farmers, but also in strengthening rural Georgia.
Let me ask you about another local issue here in the Augusta area, and if I get too local, just stop me and say, “That’s more of a local thing.” But it’s the James Brown Arena, Governor Kemp, and there’s been a lot of talk of replacing it. Do you have any thoughts on whether Augusta needs a new arena? You see these things pop up around Georgia, I’m sure. And could the state help us get that?
Well really, that would be something that the locals need to do.
We get asked to help in a lot of different places and doing civic centers and arenas is really one that the local taxpayers and the local governments and the citizens need to decide if that’s the best for them. That’s what the legislation does that I signed. It’ll allow for a referendum on how to raise the funds and how to deal with the arena. And certainly I think Augusta can make the case that it’s a great town for hospitality and tourism.
And not just ’cause of the Masters. I mean, I’ve been here for political conventions. I’ve been here for voting conferences when I was Secretary of State. And so there’s great reasons for people to come to this area and one way to draw those people is with good facilities. If you don’t have ’em, it’s tough getting conventions. We see the same thing in Atlanta at the Georgia World Congress Center.
So I went to Mississippi this past weekend just for a quick trip.
Well, I’m glad you’re back in the great state of Georgia.
Absolutely. We cheered. My wife and I cheered when we crossed the state line. We actually did. And well, I started to think about clean energy and electric vehicles, because Governor, I did see a lot of ’em on the road. Not just Teslas, I saw all brands of electric vehicles.
And so my question to you is what do you think the future holds when it comes to EVs out on the road? And after you answer that, tell me if there’s a future going forward for gasoline powered engines. It feels like there’s a shift happening.
Well, there’s definitely a shift. Unfortunately, you have Washington DC and policies of the Biden administration, in my opinion, that are trying to force a shift versus let the shift come with the market based approach. I think the market based approach is the way to go. A lot of the announcements that we’ve had in Georgia were well before any infrastructure act or before the Inflation Reduction Act, that actually has caused inflation, went into effect. But that being said, we are seeing an industrial revolution in our state and a lot of it’s tied to electric and alternative mobility. And I don’t think it’s just gonna be electric. You’re gonna see other things that are being researched and implemented. Hydrogen being one of ’em. I just don’t see where you’re gonna get long haul tractor trailers to be battery powered or electric powered vehicles. I think you’re gonna probably see that market move to hydrogen or other sources of power. We also have the vertical E-mobility marketplace too. And we have a company in Georgia that’s creating a thousand jobs. It’s an air mobility company, like an electric vertical takeoff taxi. I think it’s United or American Airlines is the biggest shareholder. So these things are real. I believe that they’ll happen. And we just want to be on the cutting edge of that. But we’re really letting the market work here in Georgia. And that’s been my approach. We’re just doing what these companies are coming to us and saying, “Hey, this is what we want to build and this is what we think the market wants and we need a good place to build this plant and build this vehicle or build this battery or build this park.” And Georgia’s the best place in the country to do that. We’re seeing that with the announcements that we’ve had literally all over the state. And certainly Aurubis here in the Augusta area is one of ’em.
Is that how that Hyundai plant came about? That those folks just came and said, “Look, we’re looking for a good place to do business,” because that place is and will be massive.
Yeah, it already is. We rode by, well, it’s funny, the other day we were going Savannah, we flew into Savannah, flew right over the site, and then when we left, we were driving and we drove by it, and it’s just, it’s unbelievable-
How big it is. But we’re seeing other industries, like Aurubis, and other companies here that will be part of that chain of recycled materials that are going either into battery or automobile production. And the thing is, we had the SK Battery plant, the Hyundai plant, and the Rivian plant. They all announced that they were coming to Georgia long before the Inflation Reduction Act ever passed. So this market was already out there.
Right. Let me ask you about this. We’ll take a break in just a second, but before we do, I wanted to switch to education. President Biden told us that the Coronavirus emergency was over. Is it over for our children, our students? And what can we do to help those families make sure that that education gap that we did see during the pandemic is closed?
Well, thankfully, the emergency of the pandemic has been over in Georgia for a long time. The federal government is finally doing what they should have done, in my opinion, a long time ago. Thankfully, we’re back in a normal cycle now with our kids being back in the classroom. We were pushing for that. We were one of the first states in the country to start getting kids back in the classroom, which is what the data and the science says they needed to be. But there’s no question that we have kids that have experienced learning loss and we need to help them close that gap. And our educators and our school systems have been working on that for a couple years now. This year, we are fully funding K through 12 education. We’re spending more on K through 12 education than we ever have in the history of the state. We did another teacher pay raise to make sure that we keep the best and brightest in the classroom. That job has never been harder than it is right now. And we recognize that and we wanna let our teachers know how grateful we are for them. But we also got $15 million in the budget to help pay to get our paraprofessionals that are in the classroom to help them get their teacher certification so that they will become a full-time, fully certified teacher. So we’re helping with that. We’re also focused on learning loss. And then lastly, school security.
We want to have a safe environment. This state, in the General Assembly, we’re way ahead of that. In 2019, right when I got into office, my first budget had $30,000 for every single school in our state. This year, we did another $50,000. Complete local control, so the locals can decide whether they need metal detectors, whether they need new entry systems, whether they need technology in every classroom. And all of these things are out there. But I believe that the locals and the parents and the educators know best how to secure the local classroom, not some guy in Atlanta. And that’s what we’re gonna let them do.
Well we’ve talked to schools here in the Augusta area and they appreciate that assistance, no question. When we come back, our conversation with Georgia Governor Brian Kemp continues. We will talk about the national political scene and what Governor Kemp’s potential role might or might not be on that stage and other issues, on “The Means Report.”
And we welcome you back to “The Means Report,” our conversation with Georgia Governor, Brian Kemp, continuing now. Governor Kemp, I want to ask you about things that impact all Georgians, all Americans, inflation and interest rates. I know we talked about the pandemic being over last segment. When’s this part of our lives gonna be over?
Well, that’s a good question. I think there’s a lot of unknowns out there right now. You even have the members of the Fed board saying that we’re gonna have a recession in ’23. My goal as governor has been to help our citizens be able to fight through whatever we have coming and whatever we’ve had behind us. Which is why we suspended the gas tax, while last year we did a billion dollar tax rebate just to help people save when they fill their cars up at the gas pumps, to send them some of their hard-earned money back, ’cause we were open during the pandemic, even when folks on both sides of the aisle were criticizing me for doing that. But we had excess revenue, so we’re sending it back to the taxpayers. Well thankfully we’re gonna do that again this year. Those checks are going out right now. So for taxpayers, individual filers will be eligible for $250. People filing jointly or as a family will be up to $500. We’re also doing a billion dollar tax or property tax relief. We believe it’ll save the average Georgia homeowner about $500 on their property tax bill. So just again, instead of spending that money, creating big government programs, we’re putting it back in the taxpayer’s pocket to help them deal with those high grocery prices that they’re paying. Help them deal with high energy costs that they’re getting, whether it’s power or fuel, whatever it is, to fight through this 40 year high inflation. You know, Brad, honestly, our federal government has spent way too much money, paying people to stay home when we should have been paying them to go back to work. Thankfully in Georgia, we’ve been on the cutting edge of that. We have more people working than ever in the history of our state. We’ve got record low unemployment rate that we’ve seen over the last year or so. And so thankfully, there’s three jobs for every person that’s looking for work in our state.
Do you get that a lot from people? Because I hear it all the time. People say nobody wants to work or you’ll go to a restaurant and the service isn’t what you remembered pre-pandemic. Do people still ask you to help ’em get workers?
Well, listen, there is work out there.
For people that want to work, I mean, the challenge I think has been getting people to get back into the system. Inflation is causing them to come back. But I was talking to some economists the other day, that younger population that for so long, kind of the 18 to 35-ish age person, was slow to get back in the workforce, they’re now back. What we’re seeing now is a lot of the elderly population that was in the workforce that quit during COVID, they have not come back. It remains to be seen whether inflation will force some of those folks back or whether they’re just gonna stay out of the workforce. And then you also have a lot of two parent homes where you had both parents working before the pandemic, now you had only one of those parents going back or caregivers going back just because the cost of everything has gone up because of bad policies in Washington DC and you have, you know, childcare or daycare or things like that cost so much, it’s more beneficial for one of the parents to stay home. So that’s an issue that’s out there too. The good thing is, in Georgia, we’re doing a lot with our educational systems, either higher ed, our technical college system, quick start training programs, and certainly our CTAE programs and K through 12 education, that we are training people for today’s workforce, but also what we’re gonna see over the next decade. And I know here the school systems are doing that with cyber and what’s going on at Fort Gordon and Cyber Academy.
Our school systems and Augusta Tech, as we mentioned, we’ve talked about that before, Augusta University. All right, let me hit some things that have happened since we last spoke and the last time was at your campaign headquarters in Atlanta, just before your reelection. We talked about how Georgia is, we talked about your role with the Fulton County Grand Jury and whether you would testify. To paraphrase, you said if they call you to testify you will and you did.
How do you think that testimony resonated with Republicans, with your potential supporters? Have you heard any pushback from them?
No, I haven’t really heard much. I mean, nobody really knows what my testimony is ’cause it’s been sealed, I guess, by the judge. I mean, eventually that’ll all come out. I think at this point most people see the politics behind all this. I mean, I haven’t said a whole lot about it, respecting the grand jury process, but when you have the foreperson of that grand jury goes on national television and starts talking about the people that were giving testimony, it kinda, I think, undermined the process a little bit. But listen, I just went in there and told them exactly what I did, which was follow the law and the Constitution. I had a lot of people that, even in my own party, that were upset with me because I did that. But that’s what I took an oath to do. And that’s what I’m still doing today and that’s what I’m gonna do in the future is follow the laws and the Constitution of this state and the Constitution of the United States.
What about next year’s presidential race? 2024 is gonna be a huge year. You’ve been mentioned, people refer to you everything from dark horse candidate to primary candidate, to why not Brian Kemp? He led the way when it came to reopening Georgia. Surely you’ve thought about that. Surely your mind has drifted to that. What might we see from you next year?
Well that’s very flattering. I have been very busy. I’m honored to be serving as Georgia’s governor, so I’ve really stayed focused on that. After the election, I had a lot of work to do. I was pretty busy, as you remember, during the campaign.
Not only with the general election, but I had a primary, too. And so I had a lot of work to do to get the budget put together, to get ready for legislative session, to implement and to fulfill my promises that I gave to people. Like the tax rebate, property tax relief, going after street gangs, teacher pay raise. We passed another human trafficking bill that First Lady Marty Kemp’s been pushing-
For five years now. We’ve passed eight pieces of legislation. So really fulfilling the promises that I told people I would do. And now we’re in the bill review period. So we have 40 days after session ends to review every bill, to review every line of the budget, decide what to sign, what to veto. So I’ve been kind of busy. I hadn’t really been thinking about national politics, but you know, I am a firm believer that as Republicans, we gotta have somebody that tells voters what we’re for. We gotta be focused on the future and we have to have somebody that can win.
Is that you?
Well, I don’t know who that is. We’ll see how this process plays out, but I just know this, in my race in Georgia, which is gonna be a swing state, no Republican’s gonna win the presidency if they don’t win Georgia. You have to tell voters what you’re for and what you’re gonna do and give them a reason as to why they should vote for you. And it needs to be a message that’s focused on the future. If we’re focused on things that happened in the past, the voters have moved on from that. They’re worried about inflation, they’re worried about high grocery prices. They’re worried about, as you mentioned, interest rates. They’re worried about securing the border and making sure that their kids are getting educated, and crime in their neighborhood. Those are the things that we gotta stay focused on.
Governor, we have followed Mrs. Kemp’s efforts to fight human trafficking since you took office and now it looks like you’ve got the General Assembly on board, people are behind this. Do you feel like we’re making progress in this fight?
Oh, absolutely. Now we cannot rest on our laurels. There is still a lot going on out there. We’ve got more people in the fight. The Attorney General, Chris Carr, and his team are in the fight, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, and Director Register’s team is in the fight. We’ve got a lot of locals in the fight with us. We’ve had bipartisan, I mean broad bipartisan support in the General Assembly on all eight pieces of legislation. But we still just need the public to get more aware and to learn the signs of this evil crime because there’s a 30 minute training video on the Department of Administrative Services website that you can literally take and it will show you the signs of what to look for, where you can just, you know, if you see something, you can say something. It literally will save lives. I think we’ve had a hundred and something victims of human trafficking that have been taken out of that evil industry this year. And we’ve done tons of prosecutions on the perpetrators, but we just, you know, we have to do more.
Well, it doesn’t matter what side of the aisle you’re on, I think Georgians as a whole support this effort and applaud what you and Mrs. Kemp have done. Just time for a couple of more questions. My first one is the Savannah River Lock and Dam. I feel like we’ve been talking about this since you took office as well. Do you think we’re gonna be able to find a solution when it comes to what to do with that dam without messing up Augusta’s water levels?
Well, I certainly hope so. I mean, that’s what I’ve been fighting for. Obviously this issue is gonna be a legal one now.
So we’re watching, like everybody else, but that’s certainly what my position has been with water levels there. And I’m just hoping that the Feds and the judiciary will rule in our favor and see it to an amicable solution.
All right. Probably two more questions. One is, and we talked about this when you made the Wellstar MCG announcement. MCG’s good, right Governor? Like it’s our medical college, Augusta’s.
It’s gonna be great.
We’re not losing it.
It’s not being diminished?
No, not at all. It’s gonna, I think, elevate into a great partnership. It’s gonna give those students incredible opportunities, more access to, really, a bigger field of study. It’s gonna continue to help us to push physicians out, especially the rural parts of our state. You’re gonna see new investments up to $800 million that are coming into the system. And then, obviously, I think at some point, you’ll see a Columbia County campus built.
Which will be great. Or a hospital built that’ll be great for healthcare in this part of the state. But really, this is gonna be a statewide initiative that I think is gonna even further put Augusta University and MCG on the map.
Last question. Who’s Georgia’s quarterback? What are you hearing from Athens?
Oh man, you’re trying to get me into some really sticky politics here.
We need some help here! Nobody knows.
Well, I think, you know, really, I think all three of those guys played pretty good in the spring.
There’s still a lot of competition going on. I’m glad that everybody’s gonna stay. I think there’s opportunities for all of ’em to get to play certainly this year, but if not, next year for sure. But I’m excited. We just gotta stay healthy.
And not get overconfident and stay hungry. And I think we have a coach that’s gonna make sure that that is the case in Athens.
Yeah, I think the Dogs definitely do. Governor Brian Kemp, I can’t thank you enough for your time.
Mrs. Kemp off camera as well. We appreciate you.
Yeah, thanks Brad. Enjoyed being on with you.