Kemp celebrates 'resilience' of Georgia to start second term
Gov. Brian Kemp started his second term in office Thursday, using his inauguration address to reflect on the sometimes turbulent past four years leading the state and offering an optimistic yet open-ended outlook for the next four years. That includes billions in tax refunds and rebates along with more pay raises for state employees and teachers.
Georgia State University's convocation center was filled with lawmakers and lobbyists, state employees and special guests as the pomp and circumstance of the swearing in of Kemp and fellow statewide officeholders kicked off.
Accompanied by his wife, Marty, and daughters Jarrett, Lucy and Amy Porter, the governor entered to a standing ovation and the University of Georgia brass band playing an arrangement of the iconic "Battle Hymn" as he shared his thoughts about his time in office so far.
"We could not have anticipated the historic challenges and the tremendous headwinds that the Peach State would face throughout my first term in office," he said. "But thanks to the character of our people and the determination of public servants and local heroes in every corner of our state, I believe now, more than ever, Georgia's best days are ahead of us."
Kemp added that his "hair has gotten grayer, my face has more wrinkles, and as you know, my family and I have taken our fair share of arrows," but through it all he remained resilient.
Knocking those who spoke of "pie-in-the-sky proposals" and "what is popular on the cocktail circuit," the governor defended his decisions during his first term, including being the earliest state to begin rolling back coronavirus restrictions, while promising to build on the state's record economic development and low unemployment rate.
"We listened to the people of our state, not the Atlanta paper, the media, the pundits or the so-called experts," he said. "We gave Georgians the opportunity to go back to work, to get their kids back in the classroom and protect freedom to live their lives without fear of more government lockdowns, mandates and overreach, and because we did that, Georgia came roaring back."
Kemp's budget proposals will be released Friday morning, and will include plans for $2,000 pay raises for state employees, state law enforcement, teachers and other certified school personnel, as well as more one-time grants for school security, tackling learning loss and helping paraprofessionals become fully certified teachers.
"From the classroom to the state patrol, if you want to keep good people in jobs critical to the safety and well-being of our children, our communities and our state as a whole, we must be willing to be competitive with state salaries," he said.
Over the course of his first term, the governor managed to secure $5,000 pay raises for teachers and state employees as the state became flush with cash thanks to federal coronavirus relief money and record tax collections. State leaders will have to account for more than $6 billion in surplus revenue, which Kemp has indicated will partially return to taxpayers through an income tax refund and one-time property tax relief grant.
"At a time when hardworking Georgians across our state are feeling the effects of Washington, D.C.'s broken agenda in their wallet, we are putting you and your families first because that's your money, not the government's," he said.
Kemp enters his second term at the height of his political power, garnering national (and international) attention after roundly defeating Democrat Stacey Abrams in their rematch, garnering a more moderate image while managing to still retain support of his conservative base despite attacks from former President Donald Trump.
He's overseen a rapidly expanding state economy with a steady drumbeat of massive economic development announcements, including this week's news that Korean solar manufacturer Qcells would undertake a $2.5 billion expansion in the state. Georgia is also a growing hub for electric vehicle manufacturing, already a major player in the television and film industry and boasts several major hometown corporate giants like Delta, Coca-Cola and Home Depot.
The state's economic growth has also fueled rapid demographic and political changes that have made the Peach State one of the nation's new political battlegrounds for the foreseeable future, making the governor's second-term decisions reverberate far beyond the Gold Dome.
There is still much to learn about what Kemp's second term may have in store. In addition to the budget proposal, Kemp will deliver his State of the State address to lawmakers later this month.