Gov. Brian Kemp in his State of the State address touched the right bases and gave credit to his predecessors, Sonny Perdue and Nathan Deal, for laying a “solid foundation” of “incredible growth and economic opportunity” over the past 16 years.
Kemp cited rising wages for workers and the state’s lowest jobless rate in 18 years, Georgia’s ranking as the top state in the country for business, low taxes and other assets. He concluded: “The State of the State is rock solid.” His challenge will be to build on that record. And he laid out his plan in a speech highlighted by a proposed $3,000 pay hike for Georgia teachers with a goal of raising it to $5,000, plus a 2 percent salary increase for all state employees.
The governor expects to meet the challenge of continuing economic growth in part by going after regulations imposed on businesses. On his first day as governor, he signed an executive order establishing the Georgians First Commission to be composed of 18 members appointed by him. In his order, he emphasized the importance of small businesses, noting that more than 99 percent of Georgia enterprises employ fewer than 50 workers but in aggregate employ roughly 1.6 million people. “To secure Georgia’s designation as the best state in the nation for small businesses,” he said that entrepreneurs must review “existing state regulations, policies and procedures to streamline government, remove inefficiencies and cut red tape.”
He broadened this in his Thursday speech, saying, “we will review regulations that make it difficult for job creators to hire, expand and invest.” He expressed confidence in building “a stronger, more diverse economy,” and adding “a new designation to Georgia’s resume: No. 1 for small business.” The outcome could be a good move for businesses small and large after the commission gives its report by June 30, 2020, and assuming the governor and the legislature follow through with necessary changes.
Another good move by the governor was his signing an executive order renewing the code of ethics issued in March 2017 by Gov. Deal covering executive branch officers and employees. Under the order, state employees cannot make any financial gain or benefit from work outside their government salaries. The ethics code prohibits conflicts of interest, bans nepotism and gifts from lobbyists and state vendors, and requires expenditure reports for government employees to be submitted to an ethics officer within 30 days. Employees are barred from communicating on official government matters with any lobbyist who was an officer within the preceding one-year period.
Kemp in his closing remarks spoke of his family — his wife, Marty, and daughters Jarrett, Lucy and Amy Porter, all present for his speech. Then came a poignant moment when he directed attention to his wife, sitting in the seat occupied by her late father, Rep. Bob Argo, who was a member of the House from 1977 to 1986.
“Mr. Bob was a good ole Southern Democrat who never met a stranger,” Kemp said. “He loved the University of Georgia and worked across the aisle to deliver for his district. Rep. Argo raised Marty to be a fighter and a public servant. When I was a frustrated business guy who wanted to make a difference, he encouraged me to run for office. He stood with our family through thick and thin. His legacy inspires us daily. Representative Argo was a wise man and knew that building is faster when there’s more people involved — that we have more that unites us than divides us.” No doubt, Kemp wanted that to resonate with Democrats unhappy about his election.
“So join us,” he urged the assembled lawmakers, “and let’s put hardworking Georgians first. Pick up a hammer and nails. Together, we can build a safer, stronger Georgia.”
Kemp faces plenty of challenges in building on the foundation laid by his predecessors and trying to defuse the bitterness and anger still simmering among Democrats from the hard-fought governor’s race against Democrat Stacey Abrams. But, clearly he wants to mend fences if possible. On their part, Democrats need to put aside animosity, accept the outcome of the election and be willing to work with the governor on policies of common good for this state.