The Springs Cinema & Taphouse in Sandy Springs offers plush seating, and an audience there on Sept. 18 appeared equally as comfortable with what they heard from three of the state’s top Republicans.
Gov. Brian Kemp headlined a Republican Jewish Coalition event that included Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Attorney General Chris Carr. All three were elected in 2018 and are seeking second terms in the Nov. 8 general election.
“Our state’s doing remarkable,” Kemp told a supportive audience of about 150,”and we need to keep this team together.”
Kemp directed numerous gibes at Stacey Abrams, his Democratic opponent, whom he defeated in 2018 with 50.2 percent of the vote. The audience booed Abrams’ name when Kemp said, “I can’t imagine what our state would be like if she had been the governor the past two years.”
Chuck Berk, the RJC-Atlanta co-chair, moderated the session.
Kemp acknowledged criticism he received in April 2020, when he allowed the reopening of businesses that had closed as COVID-19 spread across the state. “People in high places got on me,” Kemp said, without mentioning that Republican President Donald Trump was among the critics.
“I wasn’t listening to the media…I wasn’t listening to Stacey Abrams…I was listening to working Georgians,” Kemp said. He similarly hailed his efforts to return Georgia children to their classrooms. “And when we looked at the data and the science…they were following the political science.”
Kemp, Raffensperger and Carr defended changes made to the state’s voting laws approved by the Republican-controlled legislature following the 2020 election. The changes were made amid disproven claims that widespread fraud was behind Democrat Joe Biden defeating incumbent Republican President Donald Trump in Georgia by nearly 12,000 votes.
“The Election Integrity Act was designed to deal with issues we saw during the pandemic,” Kemp said. The law limits access to ballot drop boxes and tightens requirements for absentee ballots, among other provisions. Most elements thus far have withstood court challenges.
Passage of the voting law prompted Major League Baseball to remove the All-Star Game from Atlanta. Kemp was applauded when he said, “We stood our ground even though we lost the All-Star game. We got poetic justice because the Braves won the World Series.”
Raffensperger, whose office oversees elections, said that Trump lost in Georgia not because of fraud, but because 28,000 voters “skipped the top of ticket,” not voting in the presidential contest while casting ballots in other races.
Raffensperger did not discuss his Jan. 2, 2021, phone call in which Trump said, “I just want to find 11,780 votes,” to reverse Biden’s winning margin in the state.
“Nobody wanted to lose in 2020. I did not want us to lose in 2020,” but “there’s not evidence of widespread voter fraud such that would overturn the election,” Carr said.
Kemp said that his administration’s response to inflation will be $1 billion tax refund and $1 billion in property tax relief, measures that will require action by the General Assembly when it reconvenes in January.
Asked about crime, specifically in Atlanta, Kemp cited the demonstrations and incidents of violence that followed the killing of an African American man, George Floyd, in May 2020 by Minneapolis police.
“It was your state government that stood up and kept the city of Atlanta from burning down,” the governor said. “It was state resources that sent in the Georgia National Guard, that went in and brought control to the city. We didn’t allow these out-of-state instigators or anyone else to burn your property or to assault our police and National Guard.”
Israel was addressed after the domestic subjects.
Kemp noted his 2018 campaign pledge to visit Israel plans were canceled because of COVID. “We’re going to fulfill that promise in the second term,” he said.
The governor boasted that the state now holds some $25 million in Israel bonds. He also touted the state’s anti-BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) law. A federal district judge called the decision unconstitutional, but Carr expressed confidence that the law will be upheld by the federal Court of Appeals in Atlanta. The BDS movement seeks to employ economic pressure to force a change in Israeli policies regarding the Palestinian Arabs.
Kemp was not asked about two other current headline-making issues, the Supreme Court’s rejection of a constitutional right to abortion and actions of Republican governors in Florida and Texas to fly and bus migrants to cities and states where Democrats control the state government.
Kemp’s only reference to the latter subject was to say that the Biden administration “wants to hire 87,000 IRS (Internal Revenue Service) agents but won’t go fix the border.”
Georgia election law requires that a winning candidate receive a majority of the vote. The presence of Libertarian Shane Hazel on the gubernatorial ballot could push the race to a Dec. 6 runoff. “We cannot rely on anybody but ourselves to win this election and we need to work like we’ve never worked before,” Kemp said.
Neither Raffensperger nor Carr spoke of their opponents by name. Raffensperger is being challenged by Democratic state Rep. Bee Nguyen and Libertarian Ted Metz. Carr, who initially was appointed attorney general in 2016 by then-Gov. Nathan Deal, is being challenged by Democratic state Sen. Jen Jordan and Libertarian Martin Cowen.