Georgia Governor Brian Kemp projects his strength and garners endorsements from fellow Republicans during a bill-signing tour ahead of his main showdown against former U.S. Senator David Perdue and others, trying to stifle Perdue’s chances in the May 24 primary.
The latest example came Thursday as he signed a package of Conservative education bills in Cumming, a key Republican suburb north of Atlanta. They would regulate the teaching of race in the classroom and allow the state athletic association to ban transgender girls from playing sports in high school. Others would codify parents’ rights, force school systems to address the challenges of books that parents consider inappropriate, and increase tax credits for private scholarships.
“Defending the God-given potential of every child in our schools and protecting the teaching of freedom, liberty, opportunity and the American Dream in the classroom should not be controversial,” Kemp said of the bills that have been intensely contested by Democrats and teacher groups. “Ensuring parents have the final say in their child’s education shouldn’t be controversial.”
But the stop in Forsyth County was just the latest favorable backdrop for Kemp. On Tuesday, he drove through the “lost country” south of Macon, signing an income tax cut and announcing an 800-job factory.
On Monday, Kemp signed a bill expanding the Georgia attorney general’s power to prosecute gang crimes backed by a wall of state troopers in the wealthy Buckhead neighborhood, where Perdue is trying to fan the flames of the secession from the city of Atlanta.
The previous week, Kemp had signed a bill allowing Georgians to carry a concealed handgun without a license while bragging about the gun he bought his daughter.
Incumbents almost always try to use the power of their office to bolster their re-election bids. And it’s not like Perdue supporters didn’t see it coming.
“He’s doing a really impressive job using patronage, session and the budget surplus,” Randy Evans, Donald Trump’s former ambassador to Luxembourg, said in March during the Georgia state legislative session.
Perdue was personally courted by Trump to enter the race in retaliation for Kemp not doing more to undo Trump’s 2020 loss in Georgia. Federal and state election officials and Trump’s own attorney general said there was no credible evidence the election was tainted.
Some of the school bills only appeared on Kemp’s radar this year with the broader conservative frenzy over education, and may be aimed at shielding Kemp’s right flank from attacks by Perdue. Kemp, for example, ignored calls to ban transgender children from sports in previous years before embracing them in his state of the state address this year. After pushing lawmakers on the last night of the session, they gave her a watered-down provision that allows, but does not require, the Georgia High School Association to ban transgender girls.
“We put students and parents first by keeping politics awake out of the classroom and out of the ball diamonds,” Kemp said, saying he was backed by an educational record that also includes increases in salary for teachers.
Democrats see school bills as fodder for the Republican campaign, but hope to use the embrace of the culture war to hurt GOP candidates in November. Along with the transgender bill, they weighed in on Thursday against a measure that would make it easier for parents to push school systems to remove books and another measure that would ban the teaching of “divisive concepts” about race.
Angie Darnell, a Forsyth County parent and member of a group that opposes conservative efforts, told a Democratic press conference that Kemp’s claims that teachers try to indoctrinate students were a “blatant and false political ploy”.
“It’s outrageous that Brian Kemp is inserting partisan agendas into the classroom just to try to win an election,” said Cumming resident Darnell. “Because to him, that seems to be what it’s all about. Not parents, not students. Just a re-election campaign.
Republicans say there is a dire need to ban critical race theory, a term expanded from its original meaning as an examination of how societal structures perpetuate white dominance to a broader indictment of diversity initiatives and race education.
Republican-dominated Forsyth County was troubled last year by conservative activists who claimed the district was teaching harmful content about race, a controversy that sometimes centered on the school district’s efforts to include non-white students in what was once an almost entirely white county. The school system is also reviewing plans to teach the county’s history, including how white mobs drove the county’s entire black population out in 1912.
In February, the district banned eight books from libraries citing sexually explicit content, including Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye.” But that was not enough for some parents. The district is now considering letting parents restrict the books their children read or making sure parents are informed about everything their child checks out.
Becky Woomer, a Forsyth County parent and another member of the group opposed to the changes, protested the signing of the bill. She said a vocal minority of conservative activists were restricting the freedoms of others.
“There is a freedom to read that our students have that needs to be protected, and a freedom to teach that our teachers have that needs to be protected,” Woomer said.
But those may not be concerns for Republican primary voters. So far, Kemp’s strategy seems to be working. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll released Tuesday found Kemp leading Perdue 53% to 27% among likely voters. That margin means Kemp could avoid a runoff against Perdue, a scenario that could weaken the winner in a November showdown with Democrat Stacey Abrams.
Kemp, usually buttoned up and almost dour in public appearances, was loose on the tour, laughing, flashing big, toothy smiles and joking with supporters. Other Republicans are lining up to support him. On Tuesday, Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan called him “Georgia’s most conservative governor in our history.”
“Nothing screams conservative more than a good old-fashioned tax cut,” Duncan said, praising Kemp for his “bold conservative leadership,” slipping in a phrase Perdue often uses to describe himself.