Opinion: Character counts. Just ask Georgia governor Brian Kemp

Opinion: Character counts. Just ask Georgia governor Brian Kemp

“The bottom line in the state of Georgia, as long as I’m governor, we’re going to follow the law and the constitution regardless of who it helps or harms politically,” Georgia Governor Brian Kemp said at a news conference Thursday.

Kemp’s statement of fidelity to the law and state constitution was noteworthy, of course, for only one reason: Kemp is a Republican. The frontrunner for the Republican nomination for president is eager for fellow Republicans to break laws and shatter constitutions to shield him and his minions from the consequences of criminality, and to wreak vengeance on the forces of law and order that seek to constrain him.

It was precisely such an attack on the law that inspired Kemp’s statement. MAGA legislators in the state have been searching for extra-legal means of releasing Donald Trump from a criminal indictment stemming from his efforts to overthrow the republic. Seemingly lacking faith in Trump’s claims of innocence, they have called instead for the removal of Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis. If they can shut down the trial before a jury – and the world – can hear sworn testimony and evidence of Trump’s actions, perhaps the king of Mar-a-Lago and his criminal confederates can be spared consequences.

But Kemp is not cooperating with calls for Willis to be removed by an oversight commission. Nor is he supportive of a proposed special session of the legislature dedicated to placing Trump beyond the reach of the law.

“There have been calls by one individual in the General Assembly and echoed outside of these walls by the former president, for a special session that would ignore current Georgia law and directly interfere with the proceedings of a separate but equal branch of government,” Kemp said. “A special session of the General Assembly to end run around this law is not feasible and may ultimately prove to be unconstitutional.”

The phrase “separate but equal,” delivered with a Georgia drawl, has perhaps never been applied to such honest ends.

Kemp is not unique. But he is rare. The names of other conservatives who refused to sanction Trump’s crimes are well known. Many lost their offices as a direct result of their integrity. Former Representative Liz Cheney. Former Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, who lost his campaign for a state senate seat after refusing to treat Trump’s stolen election claims as anything more than the lies they obviously were.

Yes, Kemp, like Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger, governs a purple state with emerging bluish tints in the suburbs. But that doesn’t really explain their conduct in rebuffing Trump and following the law. Republicans in Arizona, Michigan and Pennsylvania were all in purple states. Many of them went off the rails.

Ultimately, Kemp, Raffensberger, Bowers, Cheney and the others, all of whom will be heroes of this sordid passage of American history, made moral decisions. They refused to sink in the moral squalor engulfing their party, while others, such as Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, who supplanted Cheney in the House leadership, and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, decided to dive deep.

Kemp and Raffensberger survived Trump’s attacks and were easily reelected in Georgia. They appear to have paid a minimal political price for acting with integrity. But they didn’t know that would be the outcome when Trump and his cronies came looking to subvert democracy in late 2020. The political future was unknown. Whatever you think of their politics, they are moral men. It turns out that the old conservatives were correct: Character counts.

Francis Wilkinson is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering U.S. politics and policy. ©2023 Bloomberg. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.

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