Some unsolicited advice for Gov. Brian Kemp

Published 8:30 pm Thursday, June 6, 2019

Dear Gov. Kemp,

I have been wanting to share some thoughts with you about your first 100 days in office, but I have been distracted with other matters, like watching House Speaker David Ralston trying to scramble out of a hole he dug for himself.

I am still getting used to calling my Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity brother from UGA “governor,” but I am pleased to do so. You have earned the title. Your election as Georgia’s 83rd governor was a slugfest to say the least.

You were a clearly an underdog in the Republican primary until the leading candidate, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, suffered a historic case of foot-in-the-mouth disease. You then defeated one of the highest-profile Democrats in the nation in one of the closest and most acrimonious elections in my long memory. Now it is on to governing.

In your inaugural address, you said, “Through the prism of politics, our state appears divided. Metro versus rural. Black versus white. Republican versus Democrat. Elections can rip us apart. As governor, I will fight for all Georgians — not just the ones who voted for me.”

After 140 or so days in office, I think you would agree that we are still trying to repair the tear. How we heal — if we do — is going to depend in large part on how you lead.

You have a lot of smart people advising you. I’m sure they have told you to shore up your conservative base. I would remind them that the Republican majority in Georgia is shrinking like a cheap suit. Passage of the anti-abortion bill may have energized your base, but it has energized the other side too. Who will be the most energized when the next elections roll around is the question.

I assume you have already factored in how serious the entertainment business is about following through on threats to boycott Georgia and what that might mean to the state’s bottom line. Last I looked, that’s over $9 billion annually, and it employs a lot of local people.

This issue will end up in the United States Supreme Court, no doubt, and they will make the final decision. I suspect you may have already thought of that.

Let’s talk a minute about taking money from public funds to send kids to private schools. Proponents have tried to put a new spin on these schemes, calling them Education Savings Accounts. That is putting lipstick on a pig. Let’s call them what they are — vouchers.

I know public schoolteachers were gratified that you followed through on your campaign to get them a deserved pay raise. They have earned it and it is long overdue. But I doubt many go into the profession in order to make money. Teachers are in it to change lives for the better. And they do. What they are looking for is respect. Vouchers aren’t the way to show it. Fixing the problems outside the classroom would help a lot more.

One of the problems that needs fixing is stopping the growing presence of gangs in Georgia. I’m not sure many people understand just how serious the problem is. I applaud your intentions to combat that problem with your anti-gang task force as well as taking on the opioid crisis in our state and the first lady’s initiative on human trafficking. Those are issues that transcend political parties and impact our quality of life. Please keep them on the front burner.

I share your disgust at how Georgia’s farmers devastated by Hurricane Michael are caught in the middle of a partisan fight not of their making in Washington. I don’t know how that bunch up there sleeps at night. Keep after them.

Finally, thank you for using your considerable influence to get the field at Sanford Stadium named for our mutual friend, Vince Dooley. I know that was a Board of Regents decision, but I have a feeling you had a bit to do with it. I have gotten a lot of mail about my advocacy over the years for such a recognition and have told everyone it would not have happened had it not been for you.

Again, sorry to be so late in sharing some thoughts with you. I know it has been hard trying to manage the state without my input. I will try to do better in the future. In the meantime, please don’t hesitate to call on me. It’s no bother. Consider it a public service.

Fraternally yours.