Gov. Brian Kemp delivers remarks at the Family Research Council’s 2022 Pray Vote Stand for Life Summit. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder
This story was updated at 8:45 a.m. Friday.
Gov. Brian Kemp stuck mostly to his campaign script Thursday morning as he gave a speech to the Family Research Council’s 2022 Pray Vote Stand for Life Summit in Atlanta that was long on his past accomplishments but short on the abortion policies he would pursue if re-elected.
Founded in 1983, the Family Research Council is a right-wing Christian group that advocates against abortion and LGBTQ rights. In 2010, the Southern Poverty Law Center labeled the council a hate group, citing unfounded smear campaigns against LGBTQ people.
Democrats were quick to condemn the appearance.
“Today, Kemp is lending his voice to a designated hate group, known for their malicious and extreme anti-LGBTQ advocacy,” said state Sen Kim Jackson, a Democrat from Stone Mountain and the state’s first and only openly LGBTQ senator. “The FRC has equated LGBTQ Americans to pedophiles and said homosexuality embodies a hatred against religion — as an Episcopal priest and member of the LGBTQ community, I can tell you firsthand how false, bigoted, and extreme these views are. It shouldn’t be too much for LGBTQ Georgians to ask that our governor not align himself with hate groups and be complicit in bigotry against us.”
Kemp’s speech to the group did not mention LGBTQ issues. Instead, he touted his administration’s record: the state reopened quickly after the initial pandemic shutdown despite skepticism, GOP legislators passed sweeping voting legislation without caving to “woke” corporations and First Lady Marty Kemp has spearheaded the state’s crackdown on human trafficking.
Kemp gave relatively short shrift to an accomplishment the crowd seemed to really appreciate: his signing of the 2019 bill that went into effect this year after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Under it, most abortions are illegal in Georgia after fetal cardiac activity is detected early in the pregnancy, usually at about six weeks.
“We also protected the sanctity of God’s greatest gift, life,” Kemp said. “As the parents of three daughters, as a family of faith, and as a small-business owner for over 35 years, Marty and I will continue to work hard every day for hardworking Georgians and future generations, because we believe we need to protect life at many stages.”
Kemp quickly pivoted from the abortion bill to other accomplishments.
“You know, we passed a heartbeat bill here, but we’ve also done adoption reform,” he said. “We have done foster care reform. I mentioned our efforts on human trafficking. We passed a huge Mental Health Parity Act last year. And we’ve also worked very hard back in 2019 to make sure that we protected lives of our students and our administrators and our teachers in the classroom.”
The governor has announced his education priorities for the 2023 legislative session if he is re-elected. He has said how he would like to spend the state’s $5 billion surplus. But Democrats say he has yet to answer key questions about the abortion ban and the state’s post-Roe future.
“Kemp has already stated his belief that abortion should be outlawed, with no exceptions for survivors of rape or incest,” said Atlanta Democratic state Sen. Elena Parent in a press conference last week. “Again, very out of touch with the majority of Georgians. Disturbingly, he has repeatedly refused to answer crucial questions on how his extreme abortion ban could lead to investigations of women and prosecutions of doctors for seeking and providing abortion care. So now, as he joins a group of extremists who want to rollback the rights of millions of Americans, Georgians deserve answers on questions that could impact their health, their lives and their freedom, such as does Brian Kemp support a national ban on abortion like the extremist senators he’s campaigning with?”
It’s a tricky balancing act for Kemp, who markets himself as a gun-toting Christian conservative in a state that has been tracking left in recent elections.
A July Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll found 42% of Georgians were more likely to vote for a candidate who wants to protect access to abortion, while only 26% said they would prefer a candidate who wants to limit access to abortion.
And while many conservatives are singing Kemp’s praises for helping guide the abortion restrictions into law, others have called for him to go further and issue a complete ban on the practice.
Polls show Kemp with a small but consistent lead in his re-election race against Democrat Stacey Abrams, with an average advantage of 5.3%, according to Real Clear Politics. But a Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday declared the race too close to call, with Kemp receiving 50% of the vote to Abrams’ 48%.
Kemp’s office Thursday did not respond to an emailed question asking whether he will seek new abortion restrictions if re-elected.
‘We spent 50 years to get to where we are right now, we don’t want to blow it in 50 weeks’
Speaking at a panel discussion directly after Kemp’s remarks Thursday, South Carolina State Sen. Josh Kimbrell said at the council’s summit that he advises politicians to stay mum on the topic of future restrictions.
“A lot of y’all are involved with your elected officials. Some of y’all are elected officials. We spent 50 years trying to overturn Roe vs. Wade. That’s great. I understand the impatience,” he said. “I’m just going to say, from a messaging standpoint, we spent 50 years to get to where we are right now, we don’t want to blow it in 50 weeks. And some of the messaging is bad. And we’ve got to stop talking about – we let the media control this narrative.”
Kimbrell said instead of answering media questions about their future plans, anti-abortion activists should reframe the question to paint their opponents as bloodthirsty killers.
He gave the example of two Republican members of the South Carolina state Senate with contrary views on abortion. One wanted it to be legal, he said, and she will have her caucus funding cut off for the next election cycle.
“I had another guy in our caucus who’s got a great heart, but he’s basically saying, I want to put moms in jail,” he said. “Okay, those are two extremes we don’t need to tolerate, ladies and gentlemen, because if we go and start putting moms in jail, we’re going to lose the public debate.”
“That’s my message to everybody,” he added. “Don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good. Let’s stop letting them talk about what we’re going to do. Let’s talk about what they want to do, and that is let those children be killed ‘til the day that they’re born.”
Panel moderator Connor Semelsberger, director of federal affairs for the council, said Kimbrell “hit the nail on the head.”
“If you’re all here for the same goal, which is protecting unborn children in the womb, valuing mothers and fathers – every child, as we heard last night, has a mother and a father – supporting and valuing them and we have to be united. And like you said, we can’t let perfection be the enemy of the good. If we can gain ground, if we can save as many unborn lives as we can today, we need to do that and continue to push the ball forward. And that’s what we’re trying to do in South Carolina, and that’s what state legislators across the country are trying to do, so that’s a great insight into what we’re facing.”
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