The following article is an editorialized opinion piece and reflects the views of only the author and not necessarily those of AllOnGeorgia.
Though early voting for the May 22 Primary Election begins April 30, a majority of Georgians still don’t know how they will vote in the Republican Primary. That’s true, despite what polls say. With seven choices, five of whom are garnering the majority of the media and polling attention, a good number of people are still deciding between one, two, or even three candidates.
So, I figured I would offer my perspective on the candidates based on what I’ve seen in the race since October.
I had the opportunity to sit as a panelist in the first gubernatorial debate last fall and in my capacity with AllOnGeorgia, I have been able to interview each of the top 5 contenders, with the exception of Casey Cagle (though he’s been in government long enough and appeared on enough earned media spots that it’s easy to gather where he stands on certain issues).
The Republican Primary alone has drawn more than $17 million in donations to Cagle, Hill, Kemp, Tippins, and Williams and a little over three weeks remain. Even with the large amounts of money flowing to each campaign, the issues remain on the backburner of most of the media coverage.
PART I – ISSUE CAMPAIGNING
Casey Cagle – Current Lieutenant Governor, Former State Senator (website)
Cagle is a charismatic politician who is comfortable catering his message to his crowds. He has a 26 year career under his belt, meaning his laundry list of policy-based talking points runs deep and voters tend to believe what he is saying because of his high name recognition. He also has the money to push any message to any location.
- Cagle has promised to create 500,000 new jobs in Georgia in his first term.
- He has promised more reversible lanes on highways and to continuing pushing for rural broadband.
- He has promised to maintain a balanced budget without raising taxes.
- Cagle pledged, on his website, to ‘protect hunting heritage’ and law-abiding citizens have the right to protect themselves.
He’s raised about $7 million in this campaign.
PROS: You know what you’ll get with Casey Cagle. He’s presided over the Georgia Senate for the last decade so his learning curve won’t be steep. He already knows how to make sausage. He’s a moderate in every sense of the word, which would make him appealing to Democrats in a General Election as well.
CONS: His track record on the Second Amendment is abysmal. He helped block CBD oil legislation. As lieutenant governor, Cagle has not had to cast a vote (or as some might see it – take a stand) on an issue in 12 years. He’s chalked up Senate failures to ‘lacking time’ despite his own efforts to block initiatives. And if you don’t like someone who keeps score and holds grudges, a Cagle governorship would be a nightmare for you.
Hunter Hill – Former State Senator (Website)
Hunter Hill is a former State Senator who was elected in 2012, so while he is experienced in the political arena, his tenure wasn’t long enough to destroy his idealism or his conservative leanings. He’s also a combat veteran which brings about different leadership skills from someone who has never served in –understated — ‘high-stress’ situations. His slogan of being tired of politicians that ‘campaign like Ronald Reagan and govern like Barack Obama’ has brought him considerable support.
- He supports eliminating the state income tax.
- He favors religious freedom legislation.
- He opposes sanctuary cities and has vowed to block state funding to cities that shelter illegal immigrants.
- Hill has prioritized veterans in his campaign platform, something he also did while serving in the legislature.
He’s raised $2.7 million to date.
PROS: He has a legislative record we can look to for an understanding of his values. As a state senator, Hill stood against the state’s tax increases -HB 170- but still has solutions to what he opposes. He has a strong plan for where money for things that fall into the ‘proper role of government’ should originate, like infrastructure and education. He knows how the system works, but he was never part of a ‘clique’ under the Gold Dome.
CONS: Hill resigned from his State Senate seat to run for Governor, saddling taxpayers with the cost of a special election. The press around his position on the Second Amendment position and the criticism of a vocal minority focused on the intricacies of whether or not he was an Army Ranger or Ranger-qualified have kept skeptics from jumping on his campaign bandwagon. My biggest concern all along has been his metro roots and learning curve for ‘the two Georgias’ would mean rural Georgia would be left behind.
Brian Kemp – Current Secretary of State, Former State Senator (Website)
Brian Kemp was the first candidate to sit down with AllOnGeorgia after he released his plan for rural Georgia. He answered every question I asked during our interview, without skirting the issue pressed, even when he seemed to know I may not like the answer. His message has been consistent for the duration of his campaign, regardless of where he’s campaigning.
- Kemp has a ‘Track and Deport’ Plan for illegal immigration.
- His position on the Second Amendment is unwavering – as evidenced by his most recent campaign ad.
- The overall message of his campaign is to cut bureaucracy, which applies to every corner of the state, not just the heavily populated areas.
He’s raised $2.9 million to date.
PROS: Kemp has served in an executive position before, so his experience is not limited to the legislative branch. He’s also worked in an office that saw budget cuts and worked within those means. He’s traveled to all 159 counties and understands the difference between metro and rural Georgia. His campaign has been rooted heavily in itemized, well-thought out plans, not promises.
CONS: His time as SOS has been the source of considerable bad press and even some snafus. He’s been in politics for a while, so with that, comes relationships, donor histories, and favors. Also, if you’re a libertarian voting in the Republican Primary, you’re probably still really ticked about the Kemp ballot access stuff.
Clay Tippins – Businessman (Website)
Tippins is a newcomer to the political arena, but he’s taken the time to research and to meet with high-ranking Georgia officials to discuss the budget and state operations practices. His lengthy business tenure puts him in a position to see Georgia like a business that should run like a well-oiled machine.
- He opposes religious freedom legislation.
- He is a no-exceptions supporter of the Second Amendment.
- His initiatives call for reducing the state income tax, but not eliminating.
- He favors transparency and accountability in government.
- Open to the idea of in-state cultivation of marijuana for CBD oil access.
He’s raised $2.5 million to date.
PROS: He’s never held political office, so he’s not a career politician. He’s a numbers guy, so efficiency is cut and dry for him. His lacking political career would make it simpler for him to objectively weigh the value of a government service or action, as opposed to someone who has spent years in the political arena.
CONS: He’s never held political office before, so we have no record to look to, no understanding of who he is under pressure, or with the crown. We only have his word to take and have to trust his sincerity.
Michael Williams – State Senator (Website)
Michael Williams is a double-edged sword. By that, I mean, most of what many of his opponents (or those not supporting him) consider his negatives are also positives. Williams considers himself an ‘outsider,’ but says it is more of a mentality than an actual position.
- He favors a state solution for law enforcement pay problems.
- Supports the Fair Tax and the elimination of the state income tax.
- Williams wants term limits for statewide elected office holders.
- He is against casinos and supports freezing college tuition rates.
- He supports Constitutional Carry.
- Williams has vowed to support a “heartbeat bill” in Georgia and to improve homeschooling laws.
- Favors in-state cultivation for marijuana for the purpose of access to CBD oil.
He’s raised about 1.78 million to date.
PROS: Williams has donated a substantial amount of money to both his Senate run in 2014 and his gubernatorial campaign, which likely means he hasn’t made extensive promises to large organizations or lobbyists. When interviewed, he was direct in his answers and unapologetic about his responses. He went on the record to say the executive branch is too powerful and that some agencies in place need to be eliminated. His CPA background puts him in a position to analyze everything.
CONS: His pro-Trump platform has silenced some of his message tailored to Georgia. He also spends a lot of time talking about his opponents when his message is one that would resonate if he focused on it. His legislative record in 2015 and 2016 indicated a different Michael Williams than the one in 2017 and 2018.He did voted for HB 170, the largest tax increase in recent state history.
PART II – EMOTIONAL CAMPAIGNING
Experts tell those in the business world that selling something requires an emotional connection, not just an end result of customer satisfaction and politics is no difference. I recognize that not all voters operate on the black and white scale of issues, and some need feelings. So let’s talk about feelings.
Cagle leaves you feeling like everything Georgia has done is exactly right and very little change is needed. If you’ve supported the last eight years of governance, Cagle reminds you why. If you haven’t supported the last eight years, well, then, you probably don’t feel energized (or anything else) by Cagle.
Hill instills the vision that every task is a mission that needs to be (and can be) accomplished. To some, it may seem robotic, but if you listen carefully, you’re more likely to hear someone who just has a list of overhauls and policy initiatives that he’s already prioritized. He offsets any type of ‘inside baseball’ with his use of personal stories, so those not entrenched with the political process can relate.
Kemp, before embarking down the road of politics, makes you feel good, even proud, about being a Georgian. His genuine demeanor is the kind most of us wish all of our politicians embodied – one that exudes honesty. His ability to build trust amongst those he’s talking to makes it easy to unite around the rest of his platform.
Tippins espouses an aura of unadulterated hard work. He gives the feeling that he’s ready to be in control and he will be the one driving the proverbial bus. He can easily embolden someone to becomes just as knowledgeable on the budgeting process and state operations as he did in his short time since announcing for Governor.
Williams’ understanding of the proper role of government and his message to shrink the power of the executive branch leaves you thinking that is actually possible to change how things are done in the State of Georgia. His message isn’t rehearsed. I remarked after the October 2017 debate that you can feel he honestly believes what he is saying. That still rings true.
I now know who I’m supporting in the Governor’s race, but I won’t be using this platform to try to sway your opinion. This is about who you want as your next leader of the state. I urge you to look at the candidates as a whole. Don’t focus on who has the most money (or the least) and try not to focus on a single issue. There are good and bad qualities about each of them, so consider them from the perspective of character and consistency.
If you’re interested in watching the interviews with the candidates, visit the AllOnGeorgia.com Facebook page. (Note: Tippins interview will air 4/29 and Williams will run 4/30).