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Republican challengers gang up on Kemp in final gubernatorial primary debate

By Dave Williams
Bureau Chief
Capitol Beat News Service

ATLANTA – Four Republican gubernatorial candidates played tag team Sunday night, attacking incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp for failing to back efforts to overturn the 2020 president election, being soft on crime and letting schools close during the pandemic.

Three lesser-known candidates – Catherine Davis, Kandiss Taylor and Tom Williams – joined former U.S. Sen. David Perdue in going after Kemp in the final televised debate of the Republican primary campaign, leveling many of the same charges Perdue made during the first two debates last week.

Perdue blamed Kemp for putting Democrat Joe Biden in the White House by refusing to go along with the then-president’s attempts to reverse Biden’s victory in Georgia.

“He let it happen,” Perdue said. “He denied it happened. He’s covering it up.”

Kemp said local election officials, the secretary of state and the State Election Board had jurisdiction over the 2020 elections – not the governor. However, he said legislation he pushed through the General Assembly last year and this year should go a long way toward preventing future election shenanigans by putting new restrictions on absentee ballots and giving the Georgia Bureau of Investigation the authority to investigate allegations of election fraud.

“We’ve tied photo IDs to absentee ballots,” he said. “We’ve secured drop boxes.”

Davis said the police departments in Atlanta, Columbus and Macon are understaffed.

“We should deploy the National Guard to assist our police forces,” she said.

Kemp said when the 41 new state troopers who graduated from the academy on Friday get out into the field, the Georgia State Patrol will have the same number of troopers as when he took office.

Taylor, an educator, criticized Kemp’s response to the pandemic’s impact on Georgia schools.

“The schools shouldn’t have been shut for as long as they were,” she said.

While students are back in class, some schools are still enforcing mask mandates, Taylor said.

Kemp said he has followed through with his promise to raise teacher salaries $5,000 across the board, in part because teacher burnout has been a problem.

“We were losing 44% of our teachers in their first five years,” he said. “That’s why we designed the pay raise.”

Kemp and Perdue renewed their argument over the state’s decision to offer rich tax incentives to attract electric vehicle startup Rivian to invest $5 billion in a manufacturing plant to be built along Interstate 20 east of Atlanta.

Perdue said local residents were never consulted about the Rivian project, unlike the Kia plant in West Point, an economic development deal hatched in 2005 during the administration of his cousin, Sonny Perdue.

“We still don’t know what the state is spending,” Perdue said. “It wasn’t done in the right way. It was done in the dark of night.”

Kemp said the same process was used to lure Rivian that brought Kia to Georgia.

“I support 7,500 great-paying jobs going to rural Georgia,” he said.

While Kemp took a lot of punches Sunday night, unopposed Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams was an even bigger target.

“We all agree we don’t want Stacey Abrams to ever get in the Governor’s Mansion,” Williams said.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

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