Gov. Brian Kemp took to the podium at the Morgan Center on Jekyll Island and received ovations from members of the Georgia Press Association not once, but at least three different occasions, before ending his remarks and quickly departing for another scheduled appearance on the evening, at a Coastal Georgia Council Boy Scouts event on Sea Island.
The governor recounted the efforts of the state first lady, Marty Kemp, on combating human trafficking, and discussed some of the policy goals he and legislative leaders worked to address in the last session and will look at again next year.
The first applause break was for education spending, especially teacher pay raises.
“We’ve again, for the second year in a row, fully funded the public school education formula, which is just huge — it’s over $10 billion for our local school systems,” Kemp said. “We’ve given Georgia educators the largest teacher pay raise in the history of the state government. I know that is a huge issue in the areas that you are covering in your local media, because it doesn’t matter where you are — people are having teacher retention problems.”
The governor’s focus on addressing gang crime also brought acclimation from the media audience, as did when Kemp discussed the state’s hometown publications themselves.
“Hardworking Georgians make a huge difference in their local communities,” Kemp said. “Our teachers, our coaches, business owners, volunteers, public servants, those who give charitably in their local community — they’re all working for one thing, and that’s for a better tomorrow, for a better state tomorrow than it is today.
“Quite honestly, in our current political environment, a lot of these people are forgotten in today’s world. These local folks, they aren’t trending on Twitter, and you certainly won’t see their names on Fox News or CNN. But thanks to you all at the local papers and in local media, their voice is being heard. It gives me great hope for our state.”
Kemp said he still pays for three local papers every week, and while he admits that by the time he gets the editions they’re a few days old, he assured those in attendance that he does read them, regardless.
Earlier in the day, two candidates for state Supreme Court — former U.S. Rep. John Barrow and current state Court of Appeals Judge Sara Doyle, spoke to the assembled representatives of the state press. But to hear renowned media law attorney David Hudson describe it, maybe Barrow and Doyle could be best off not campaigning at all.
“For the first time in 40 years, there’s a vacancy on the Georgia Supreme Court that’s going to be filled by a contested election,” Hudson said in his introduction. “I must tell you, that the last time that happened, in 1982, there were five or six very prominent Georgians who qualified and ran in the election.”
He said one of the people who qualified for the ballot was a virtually unknown superior court judge from Decatur, Richard Bell, who chose not to campaign.
“And when the first round of voting took place, he was in the runoff,” Hudson said. “So, you’d think since he was in the runoff, he’d campaign. No — he and his wife took a vacation out of the country.”
But Bell won that election, partially, Hudson said, thanks to being alphabetically first on the ballot, and partially because of name recognition, in that there were a fair number of well-known Bells in Georgia public life.
Barrow said he would bring to the bench a lifetime of experience in how the law applies to the lives of different people. Doyle said she would bring a legal mind disposed to taking the proper time and deliberate action in making sure the law was and is decided correctly.
The judicial election, which is nonpartisan, takes place next year concurrent with the state party primaries.