Brian Kemp

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Brian Kemp
David Perdue and Brian Kemp (cropped).jpg
83rd Governor of Georgia
Assumed office
January 14, 2019
LieutenantGeoff Duncan
Preceded byNathan Deal
27th Secretary of State of Georgia
In office
January 8, 2010 – November 8, 2018
GovernorSonny Perdue
Nathan Deal
Preceded byKaren Handel
Succeeded byRobyn Crittenden
Member of the Georgia State Senate
from the 46th district
In office
January 3, 2003 – January 3, 2007
Preceded byDoug Haines
Succeeded byBill Cowsert
Personal details
Born
Brian Porter Kemp

(1963-11-02) November 2, 1963 (age 55)
Athens, Georgia, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)
Marty Argo (m. 1994)
Children3
ResidenceGovernor's Mansion
EducationUniversity of Georgia (BS)
Signature

Brian Porter Kemp (born November 2, 1963) is an American businessman and politician who is the 83rd and incumbent governor of the U.S. state of Georgia, in office since 2019.[1] A member of the Republican Party, he previously was the Secretary of State of Georgia and a member of the Georgia State Senate.

Born in Athens, Georgia, Kemp is a graduate of the University of Georgia. Prior to entering politics, Kemp owned several agribusiness, financial services, and real estate companies.[2] In 2002 he was elected to the Georgia State Senate. In 2010, Kemp was appointed Secretary of State by Governor Sonny Perdue following the resignation of Karen Handel to run for governor. Kemp was subsequently elected to a full term as secretary of state in 2010, and he was reelected in 2014.

During Kemp's tenure as secretary of state, his office was affected by several accusations and controversies. In 2015, a data breach within Kemp's office distributed the Social Security numbers and dates of birth of over 6.2 million Georgia voters.[3] Kemp was the only secretary of state to reject help from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to guard against Russian interference in the 2016 election.[4] He also implemented Georgia's controversial "exact match" system for voter registration.[5] Critics have described Kemp's actions as secretary of state as an example of democratic backsliding,[6] although Kemp denies that he actively engaged in voter suppression.

In 2018, Kemp was a candidate for governor. After coming in second place in the Republican primary, he defeated Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle in the Republican runoff with 69% of the vote. In the general election, he faced Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams. Kemp notably refused to resign as secretary of state while campaigning for governor, a move that some critics claimed constituted a conflict of interest.[7] Following the general election on November 6, Kemp was declared the winner with 50.2% of the vote. Abrams subsequently suspended her campaign on November 16.[8]

Early life and education[edit]

Kemp was born in Athens, Georgia, the son of William L. Kemp II. Kemp's grandfather, Julian H. Cox Sr., was a member of the Georgia Legislature.[9] Kemp graduated from Athens Academy in 1983.[10][11] He later graduated from the University of Georgia, where he majored in agriculture.[9]

Career[edit]

Kemp was a home builder and developer before entering politics.[9]

Political career[edit]

He served as a Georgia State Senator from 2003 to 2007 after defeating the Democratic incumbent, Doug Haines.[12] In 2006, Kemp ran for Agriculture Commissioner of Georgia. He came second in the primary,[13] but he lost the runoff to Gary Black.[14] Kemp initially declared intent to run for State Senate District 47 when incumbent Ralph Hudgens planned to run for Congress in Georgia's 10th congressional district. Hudgens withdrew and ran for reelection, changing Kemp's plans.[15]

Georgia Secretary of State[edit]

In early 2010, Kemp was appointed to Georgia Secretary of State by then-Governor Sonny Perdue.[16] Kemp won the 2010 election for a full term as Georgia Secretary of State with 56.4% of the vote, to 39.4% for his Democratic opponent, Georganna Sinkfield.[17] Four years later, Kemp was reelected.

Kemp rejects the conclusion by the United States Intelligence Community that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.[18] Amid Russian interference in the 2016 election, Kemp denounced efforts by the Obama administration to strengthen the security of election systems, including improving access to federal cybersecurity assistance.[18] He denounced the Obama administration's efforts, saying they were an assault on states' rights.[18]

After narrowly winning in the 2018 gubernatorial election, he resigned his office of Secretary of State in anticipation of becoming Governor.[19][20]

Federal efforts to secure state voting systems[edit]

As evidence mounted that Russian hackers were attempting to disrupt the 2016 elections, President Obama directed Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to work with states to secure their voting systems as "critical infrastructure." Kemp was the only state election official who declined the help.[4] In a 2017 interview, Kemp denounced the effort as an assault on states' rights, stating, "I think it was a politically calculated move by the previous administration," adding "I don’t necessarily believe" Russia had attempted to disrupt the elections.[21][22] In August 2016, amid Russian attempts to disrupt the 2016 elections, Kemp said that an intrusion by Russian hackers into voting systems was "not probable at all, the way our systems are set up" and accused federal officials of exaggerating the threat of Russian interference.[23]

Georgia is one of fourteen states which uses electronic voting machines which do not produce a paper record, which election integrity experts say leaves the elections vulnerable to tampering and technical problems.[24] The 2018 indictment against Russian hackers (as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe into 2016 interference) said that the Russian hackers targeted county websites in Georgia.[4]

In December 2016, Kemp accused the Department of Homeland Security of attempting to hack his office's computer network, including the voter registration database, implying that it was retribution for his previous refusal to work with DHS. A DHS inspector general investigation found there was no hacking, but rather it was "the result of normal and automatic computer message exchanges generated by the Microsoft applications involved."[25][24]

Exposure of personal voter data[edit]

In October 2015, the Georgia Secretary of State's office, under Kemp's leadership, erroneously distributed personal data (including Social Security numbers and dates of birth) of 6.2 million registered Georgia voters. This data breach occurred when the office sent out a CD with this information to 12 organizations that purchase monthly voter lists from the office. The office was not aware of the breach until the following month and did not publicly acknowledge the mishap until the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported the class action lawsuit against the office as a result of the data breach.[3] Within a month of the breach becoming publicly known, it had cost taxpayers $1.2 million in credit monitoring services for those whose data had been compromised, and $395,000 for an audit into Kemp's handling of the unauthorized data disclosure.[26]

Kemp drew criticism again in 2017 when it was revealed that a flaw in the State voting system exposed the personal information of all of Georgia's 6.7 million voters, as well as passwords used by county election officials to access voter files, and went unfixed for 6 months after it was reported.[27][28] After a lawsuit was filed, a server at the center of the controversy was wiped, preventing officials from determining the scope of the breach.[29] Kemp denied responsibility, instead saying researchers at Kennesaw State University, who managed the system, had acted "in accordance with standard IT procedures" in deleting the data.[30]

Voting rights controversies[edit]

Kemp has frequently been accused of voter suppression.[31][32][33] Emory University professor Carol Anderson has criticized Kemp as an "enemy of democracy" and "an expert in voter suppression" for his actions as Secretary of State.[34] Stacey Abrams, a voting rights advocate and Kemp's 2018 gubernatorial opponent, has called Kemp "a remarkable architect of voter suppression."[35] Critics say that voter suppression tactics in subsequent elections have been considerably lessened after Kemp resigned his position as Secretary of State in anticipation of becoming Governor.[36] Kemp denies that he engages in voter suppression.[37]

Kemp introduced a controversial "exact match" policy during his first year as Secretary of State in 2010.[5] Under the system, eligible Georgians were dropped from voter rolls for an errant hyphen or if "a stray letter or a typographical error on someone’s voter registration card didn’t match the records of the state’s driver’s license bureau or the Social Security office."[34] In a 2010 explanation defending the practice to the Department of Justice, Kemp's office said the policy was "designed to assure the identity and eligibility of voters and to prevent fraudulent or erroneous registrations."[38] The policy was initially rejected by the Department of Justice, but allowed to go into place with additional safeguards, though a later lawsuit claimed "it is not apparent that the Secretary of State ever followed the safeguards."[39] The process was halted after a lawsuit in 2016,[39] but the State legislature passed a modified form of the policy in 2017 and the process began again.[39]

These types of "exact match" laws are considered by critics to be a form of voter suppression designed to disproportionately target minorities,[40] and African-American, Asian, and Latino voters accounted for 76.3% of the registrations dropped from voter rolls between July 2015 and July 2017.[39][37][41] Critics say that minority names are more likely to contain hyphens and less common spellings that lead to clerical mistakes, resulting in rejection of the registration.[42] In a 2018 ruling against Kemp, District Judge Eleanor Ross said the system places a "severe burden" on voters.[43]

After changes to the Voting Rights Act in 2012 gave states with a history of voter suppression more autonomy,[44] Kemp's office oversaw the closing of 214 polling locations, or 8% of the total number of locations in Georgia.[45] The closings disproportionately affected African-American communities.[46] In majority minority Randolph County, a consultant recommended that 7 of the 9 county polling locations be closed ahead of the 2018 midterm election for failure to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.[47] After the plan was challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union the locations were allowed to remain open.[48] Kemp denied knowledge of the plan, but a slide from a presentation given by the consultant stated "Consolidation has come highly recommended by the Secretary of State and is already being adopted by several counties and is being seriously considered and being worked on by many more."[49] Officials claim the locations were closed as a cost-saving measure.[45]

Georgia has been the most aggressive state in removing registered voters from voter rolls for not voting in consecutive elections.[50] Between 2012 and 2018, Kemp's office cancelled over 1.4 million voters' registrations, with nearly 700,000 cancellations in 2017 alone.[51][37] On a single night in July 2017, half a million voters, or approximately 8% of all registered Georgia voters, had their registrations cancelled, an act described by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution as what "may represent the largest mass disenfranchisement in US history."[52] Kemp oversaw the removals as Secretary of State, and did so eight months after he declared that he was going to run for governor.[53]

By early October 2018, more than 53,000 voter registration applications had been put on hold by Kemp's office, with more than 75% belonging to minorities.[39][37] The voters are eligible to re-register assuming they still live in Georgia, and they have not died.[54][37][53][55] An investigative journalism group run by Greg Palast found that of the approximately 534,000 Georgians whose voter registrations were purged between 2016 and 2017 more than 334,000 still lived where they were registered.[55] The voters were given no notice that they had been purged.[56] Palast ultimately sued Kemp, claiming over 300,000 voters were purged illegally.[57] Kemp's office denied any wrongdoing, saying that by "regularly updating our rolls, we prevent fraud and ensure that all votes are cast by eligible Georgia voters."[58]

Kemp's office was found to have violated the law before and immediately after the 2018 midterm elections.[59] In a ruling against Kemp, District Judge Amy Totenberg found that Kemp's office had violated the Help America Vote Act and said an attempt by Kemp's office to expedite the certification of results "appears to suggest the Secretary’s foregoing of its responsibility to confirm the accuracy of the results prior to final certification, including the assessment of whether serious provisional balloting count issues have been consistently and properly handled." [60][61] Kemp said the expedited certification was necessary to facilitate his transition to the role of Governor.

After Totenberg's ruling thousands of voting machines were sequestered by local election officials on Election Day in 2018, an action that critics say was designed to increase wait times at polling locations.[62] The sequestration of machines disproportionately affected counties that favored Kemp's opponent[63] and caused voters in some locations to have to wait in line for hours in inclement weather in order to vote.[64][65] Other locations suffered delays because machines had been delivered without power cords.[66] Kemp himself experienced technical problems attempting to vote in the election.[67]

Kemp opposes automatic voter registration,[68] a change that advocates say would help make voting easier for eligible citizens and help prevent voter suppression.[69] In a leaked 2018 recording Kemp can be heard saying that attempts to register all eligible voters "continues to concern us, especially if everybody uses and exercises their right to vote."[70] In a separate 2018 recording made by a progressive group he can be heard saying "Democrats are working hard ... registering all these minority voters that are out there and others that are sitting on the sidelines, if they can do that, they can win these elections in November."[34][71][72]

On November 4, 2018, 48 hours before his gubernatorial election, Kemp's office of Secretary of State published the details of a zero day flaw in the State registration website,[73][74] accusing Democrats of attempted hacking for investigating the problem but providing no evidence.[75] Critics say the announcement was further evidence of voter suppression and gave hackers a window of opportunity during which voter registration records could be changed.[76] In response to criticisms of the announcement, Kemp said "I'm not worried about how it looks. I'm doing my job."[77] In a ruling on the matter, Judge Totenberg criticized Kemp for having "delayed in grappling with the heightened critical cybersecurity issues of our era posed [by] the state’s dated, vulnerable voting system" and said the system "poses a concrete risk of alteration of ballot counts."[78] In December 2018, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that Kemp made the hacking claims without any evidence to support the allegations.[79] The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said that Kemp may have made the unsubstantiated accusations against Democrats as a ploy and diversion to help him win the election; the "examination suggests Kemp and his aides used his elected office to protect his political campaign from a potentially devastating embarrassment. Their unsubstantiated claims came at a pivotal moment, as voters were making their final decisions in an election that had attracted intense national attention."[79]

As a result of the controversies surrounding the 2018 Georgia midterms Kemp's gubernatorial victory has been referred to by critics as illegitimate,[80] with others, such as Senator Cory Booker, going so far as to say the election was "stolen."[81]

Massage Envy controversy[edit]

On September 5, 2018, an attack ad was released[82] claiming that Kemp chose not to pursue accusations of sexual assault against therapists employed by Massage Envy during his time overseeing the Georgia Board of Massage Therapy because of donations made by franchisee owners to Kemp's campaign.[83][84] The offenders were able to renew their Board licenses after the accusations.[85] Republican State Senator Renee Unterman said that there "appears to be a direct connection between campaign support from Massage Envy franchisees in exchange for non-action and suppression" and asked U.S. Attorney B.J. Pak to investigate "what seems to be a quid pro quo scheme being perpetrated through the secretary of state’s office and the Kemp for governor campaign." [86] Kemp said that he did nothing illegal and refunded the illegal contributions after the revelations.[87]

In response to the accusations, a spokesperson for Kemp's campaign mocked Unterman's history of depression and her son's suicide, saying Unterman was "mentally unstable" and suggested she "seek immediate medical attention before she hurts herself or someone else."[88] In response Unterman said she "won't be intimidated, blackmailed, belittled, or sexually harassed" into silence by Kemp's campaign.[89] The campaign did not apologize for the remarks.[90][91]

2018 gubernatorial campaign[edit]

Primary campaign[edit]

In March 2017, Kemp announced his candidacy in the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election.[92] In a field of six candidates, Kemp and Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle came in the two top places in a six-way Republican primary in May 2018, advancing to a runoff election.[93]

During the runoff campaign, Cagle sought to portray Kemp as an incompetent Secretary of State, whereas Kemp sought to portray Cagle as scandal-prone and corrupt.[94] Cagle frequently criticized Kemp's behavior during the campaign, and accused him of "dirty tricks" and launching a "sexist attack" against one of Cagle's supporters.[95]

During the primary and primary runoff campaigns, Kemp ran sharply to Cagle's right, benefiting from provocative campaign advertising (with a tag line "Yep, I just said that"), as well as by a endorsement from President Donald Trump late in the campaign, which Trump made at the request of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.[96] In the runoff election, Kemp was endorsed by the GeorgiaCarry.org and the Family Research Council as well as by Republican candidates who were eliminated in the primary, Michael Williams, Clay Tippins, and Hunter Hill.[97] Many believe Perdue's support for Kemp was in response to Governor Nathan Deal's endorsement of Cagle.[96]

In the runoff election, Kemp defeated Cagle by a broad margin, receiving 408,595 votes (69.45%) to Cagle's 179,712 (30.55%).[98]

General election campaign[edit]

Kemp ran against Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams, the minority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives, in the 2018 general election. During the gubernatorial campaign, Kemp embraced Trump-like policies and themes.[97][99][100] Kemp ran on a policy of imposing a state spending cap,[101] opposing Medicaid expansion,[102] and implementing the "strictest" abortion laws in the country.[103] Kemp favors repealing the Affordable Care Act, describing it as "an absolute disaster," and supports litigation seeking to eliminate the law's protections for persons with a pre-existing condition.[104] He has said he would sign a bill of "religious freedom and restoration", vetoed twice by governor Nathan Deal, which would allow refusal of contraception to women or services to LGBT couples on the basis of religious beliefs.[105]

A screen capture taken from a Brian Kemp for Governor campaign ad, entitled "Jake"

Kemp provoked controversy with a series of video campaign ads in which he set off an explosive device,[106] posed surrounded by rifles equipped with assault-style vertical forward grips,[107] made threats of kidnapping illegal immigrants,[108] and held a shotgun in the direction of a young man playing someone interested in dating one of Kemp's daughters.[109] The lack of proper gun safety in handling the shotgun in the "Jake" ad attracted criticism from the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence, which said that the ad "delivers a message perpetuating domestic violence and misogyny while modeling egregiously unsafe behavior," and prompted criticism that the ad depicted irresponsible handling of guns.[110][111] Kemp's supporters, by contrast, viewed the campaign ad as a "lighthearted portrayal of a protective, gun-wielding Southern father vetting a potential suitor" and Kemp dismissed the criticism, telling critics to "Get over it."[110] Members of Kemp's family spoke out against the ads, but also said that the ads do not accurately reflect their experiences with Kemp.[112]

During the 2018 campaign, former President of the United States Jimmy Carter,[113] as well as a number of Georgia-based organizations, such as the Georgia NAACP and Georgia Common Cause, called upon Kemp to resign as Secretary of State while running for governor, thus ensuring that he would not be overseeing his own election. Kemp declined to do so.[7]

Almost a week before election day, Kemp cancelled a scheduled debate so that he could instead attend a Trump rally in Georgia. Kemp blamed Abrams for the cancellation, saying that she was unwilling to reschedule it. The date of the debate had been agreed-upon since mid-September.[114]

Two days before the election, Kemp's office announced that it was investigating the Georgia Democratic Party for unspecified "possible cybercrimes"; the Georgia Democratic Party stated that "Kemp's scurrilous claims are 100 percent false" and described them as a "political stunt."[115]

The election was marked by widespread accusations Kemp engaged in vote suppression, a recurring topic in his career.

Congressional Investigation[edit]

On December 4, 2018, U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings, the incoming chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, announced that he would like to call Kemp before Congress to testify about the fairness of his actions during the 2018 elections.[116][117][118] "I want to be able to bring people in, like the new governor-to-be of Georgia, to explain ... to us why is it fair for wanting to be secretary of state and be running [for governor]," Cummings said.[119]

On March 6, 2019, it was revealed that Brian Kemp and his successor as Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger are both under investigation by the House Oversight and Reform Committee for allegations of voter suppression in the 2018 election. Elijah Cummings will oversee the investigation as chairman of the committee. Kemp was given until March 20, 2019 to comply with document requests or face a subpoena.[120]

Governor of Georgia[edit]

Kemp with his wife Marty as he takes the oath of office as Georgia's 83rd governor

Tenure[edit]

Kemp was inaugurated as governor in a public ceremony in Atlanta on January 14, 2019.In May 2019, Kemp signed into law a highly controversial and restrictive abortion bill that would prohibit abortions after a heartbeat can be detected in a fetus, which is usually when a woman is six weeks pregnant.[121] Most women who are unintentionally pregnant are unlikely to know that they are pregnant six weeks from their last period, which would effectively narrow the legal limit to a minimum of cases.[122] Most women who have an abortion do so after six weeks.[122]

Personal life[edit]

Kemp is married to Marty Kemp (née Argo); they have three daughters. The family belongs to the Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Athens.[123] Kemp's father-in-law was Bob Argo (1923–2016), an Athens insurance executive and longtime member of the Georgia House of Representatives.[124]

In May 2018, Kemp was sued for failure to repay $500k in business loans.[125] The suit is related to Kemp having personally guaranteed $10 million in business loans to Kentucky-based company Hart AgStrong, a canola crushing company.[126] The company is under investigation after making guarantees using assets it did not own and repaying suppliers using proceeds from insurance settlements.[127] An attorney for the Georgia Department of Agriculture has said these actions "may be a felony under Georgia law." [128]

In October 2018, Atlanta television station WAGA-TV reported that companies owned by Kemp owed more than $800,000 in loans to a community bank where he is a founding board member and stockholder. Such "insider loans" are legal, so long as they are on the same terms as the bank would extend to any other lender. Kemp's campaign declined to make public the terms of the loan.[129]

Electoral history[edit]

Georgia State Senate 46th District Election, 2002
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Brian Kemp 17,504 50.7
Democratic Doug Haines (inc.) 17,015 49.3
Georgia State Senate 46th District Election, 2004
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Brian Kemp (inc.) 29,424 51.6
Democratic Becky Vaughn 27,617 48.4
Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Republican Primary Election, 2006
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Gary Black 153,568 42
Republican Brian Kemp 97,113 27
Republican Bob Greer 57,813 16
Republican Deana Strickland 54,318 15
Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Republican Primary Runoff Election, 2006
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Gary Black 101,274 60
Republican Brian Kemp 67,509 40
Georgia Secretary of State Republican Primary Election, 2010
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Brian Kemp 361,304 59.2
Republican Doug MacGinnitie 248,911 40.8
Georgia Secretary of State Election, 2010
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Brian Kemp 1,440,188 56.4
Democratic Georganna Sinkfield 1,006,411 39.4
Libertarian David Chastain 106,123 4.2
Georgia Secretary of State Election, 2014
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Brian Kemp (inc.) 1,452,554 57.47
Democratic Doreen Carter 1,075,101 42.53
Georgia Gubernatorial Republican Primary Election, 2018
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Casey Cagle 236,498 39.0
Republican Brian Kemp 154,913 25.5
Republican Hunter Hill 111,207 18.3
Republican Clay Tippins 74,053 12.2
Republican Michael Williams 29,544 4.9
Republican Eddie Hayes 739 0.1
Georgia Gubernatorial Republican Primary Runoff Election, 2018
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Brian Kemp 406,638 69.45
Republican Casey Cagle 178,877 30.55
Georgia Gubernatorial Election, 2018
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Brian Kemp 1,978,408 50.22
Democratic Stacey Abrams 1,923,685 48.83
Libertarian Ted Metz 37,235 0.95

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External links[edit]

Georgia State Senate
Preceded by
Doug Haines
Member of the Georgia State Senate
from the 46th district

2003–2007
Succeeded by
Bill Cowsert
Political offices
Preceded by
Karen Handel
Secretary of State of Georgia
2010–2018
Succeeded by
Robyn Crittenden
Preceded by
Nathan Deal
Governor of Georgia
2019–present
Incumbent
Party political offices
Preceded by
Karen Handel
Republican nominee for Secretary of State of Georgia
2010, 2014
Succeeded by
Brad Raffensperger
Preceded by
Nathan Deal
Republican nominee for Governor of Georgia
2018
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Mike Pence
as Vice President
Order of Precedence of the United States
Within Georgia
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Mayor of city
in which event is held
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Otherwise Nancy Pelosi
as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives
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Phil Murphy
as Governor of New Jersey
Order of Precedence of the United States
Outside Georgia
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Ned Lamont
as Governor of Connecticut