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Gov. Brian Kemp: Southern charm meets political prowess

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp opened the 2019 Resurgent Gathering on Friday, and appreciation for the Governor’s conservative principles was evident before he even took the stage. The moment Kemp casually strode through a side doorway at the Grand Hyatt in Buckhead, Georgia, dozens of attendees lined up at the Secret Service checkpoint gave him a standing ovation.

Okay, they were standing already, but it was an ovation nonetheless.

The first thing one notices about Brian Kemp is his relaxed and laid-back demeanor. In fact, he always seems to border on a Sunday-afternoon, back-porch nonchalance.

But those who pay attention see something vastly different.

Kemp may not sound like the most effective leader, but his words and actions defy that image. This is no political or intellectual slouch, and he possesses one trait that most politicians lack: The ability to actually answer a question.

The laid-back twang so familiar to many Georgians shouldn’t distract from the fact that Kemp’s words reflect solid leadership, sound ideas, and a genuine love for the state. Where Donald Trump’s New York attack dog temperament turns off many, Kemp’s drawl is welcoming to all but the snootiest of snoots.

But behind that warm drawl lies the heart of a fighter. Behind the scenes, Kemp has already developed a reputation as a hard-nosed conservative willing to stand against some of the most powerful political operatives in Georgia to further his agenda. Case in point: the passage of a fetal heartbeat bill in the 2019 legislature.

State House Speaker David Ralston – a self-proclaimed but rarely verified conservative – had made it clear when the bill had come up in recent years that it would never pass under his leadership. During the lame-duck years of Nathan Deal’s gubernatorial term, Ralston was the single most powerful politician in Georgia – and he took every possible advantage of that power. Kissing Ralston’s ring earned House members cushy spots as committee chairs – not to mention the huge increase in pay that comes with those spots. Failing to support the Speaker’s agenda – or making him look bad in any way – would lead to a member being stripped of any measure of influence at all. As recently as this summer, Ralston was still threatening to destroy any member of his own party who dared to question his leadership.

With the assumed impending governorship of heir-apparent and squishy-as-a-wet-sponge Casey Cagle in 2018, Ralston was set to extend his reign as top dog for several years. The selection of Kemp as the Republican nominee not only shocked the establishment but set the stage for a power struggle between His Majesty Ralston and a governor-elect whom everyone (including now self-proclaimed rightful Governor Stacey Abrams) underestimated because of his laid-back demeanor.

Despite support from Kemp, the heartbeat bill seemed doomed to failure yet again during the early days of the legislative session. Ralston remained adamant that his minions remain lock-step against it, but three factors came together to force passage of the bill and rip the sails right off the SS Ralston.

First, the story of Ralston’s frequent use of legislative privilege to continually postpone his criminal clients’ trials blew up in his face – particularly so with the stories of those clients who had sexually abused women and children.

Second, our own Erick Erickson and many other lesser-known grassroots activists inundated legislators’ office phone lines voicing support for the fetal heartbeat bill.

The third factor was the internal pressure on Ralston and other House members from the Kemp administration to pass the bill so that the governor could sign it and thereby live up to one of his most popular campaign promises (the bill had pretty much been assumed safe in the state Senate).

The absence of any of those three elements would have rendered the effort fruitless. It was the proverbial perfect storm of media, political, and individual efforts that pushed the heartbeat bill across the finish line. If anything, rebuke from Hollywood elitists helped the effort as well.

Though passage of the bill is seen by conservative Georgians as one of the most significant events in the recent history of our state government, another result will likely cause a long-term ripple effect across Georgia’s political arena: The seemingly unbeatable David Ralston is no longer the most powerful political figure in Georgia politics.

That position now belongs undeniably to Governor Brian Kemp.

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