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By Emma Hurt, WABE
Nearly two years after declaring his candidacy and months after winning the closest governor’s race in recent Georgia history, Brian Kemp was sworn in as Georgia’s 83rd governor Monday afternoon.
“We will put people ahead of divisive politics,” said Kemp at his inaugural address. “We will be known as a state united. It can be done.”
The former Secretary of State emerged from a field of five Republican candidates to defeat former Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle in the primary runoff, following a surprise endorsement from President Donald Trump.
His general election campaign against former State House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams received national attention and highlighted many policy differences, including health care and how to uplift Georgia’s small businesses. Ultimately, the race crystallized over voting rights.
Abrams spent years registering young and minority voters, and Kemp did not step down from his post as the state’s top election official until after the election. Abrams accused Kemp of widespread voter suppression in his time as Secretary of State, which Kemp has repeatedly denied.
The Georgia Democratic Party is not staying quiet on the issue. Party chairman DuBose Porter released a statement timed with the inauguration, calling Kemp “the architect of voter suppression” who “will forever have a cloud over his head and an asterisk by his name.”
At the opening of the inauguration, House Speaker David Ralston spoke about voting rights as well: “The right to vote is a cherished right. And it is one we should never take for granted.”
Kemp, of Clarke County, built a campaign around targeting gang activity, loosening regulations and strengthening rural Georgia. He spent last week on a victory tour through some of the places around Georgia he visited on his campaign bus trips.
Kemp, who has made clear his favoritism for the University of Georgia was sworn in before several thousand people at McCamish Pavilion, on Georgia Tech’s campus. Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan, however, is a Georgia Tech graduate.
Chris and Joanne Wrenn work in nursing homes in Athens. They drove into the ceremony support Brian Kemp and said their main message for him was about protecting Medicaid, which most of their patients use.
“We’re waiting 60-70 days in order to get Medicaid approvals, to get paid. And then if anything goes wrong, then it starts over again,” said Chris Wrenn, of Quiet Oaks Health Care in Athens.
“We’re honored to show him [Kemp] our support and we look forward to great years with him. Hopefully he’ll continue the same as Nathan Deal who did a great job supporting the nursing home industry.”
Kemp’s first speech as Governor struck a tone quite different from the campaign. He touched on some of his promises, including targeting gang activity and improving rural health care.
Briefly touching on his platform, he said, “We will spur private sector job creation but cutting taxes and red tape. We will fully fund education, stand with our farmers and protect the values that we hold dear.”
His theme rested on bringing the state together.
“Through the prism of politics our state appears divided. Metro versus rural. Black versus white. Republicans versus democrat. Elections can simply rip us apart. But after visiting all 159 counties, I can tell you this: we have so much in common,” he said.
“And as Governor I will fight for all Georgians, not just the ones that voted for me.”