Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp speaks to the crowd at the Miller Learning Center in Athens, Georgia, on Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2021. During the talk hosted by the College Republicans at UGA, the governor discussed matters concerning Afghanistan, voting and COVID-19. (Photo/Jessica Gratigny; @jgratphoto)

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp visited the University of Georgia Wednesday evening, discussing the pandemic, state election integrity and national issues to a group of around 100 attendees, hosted by the UGA College Republicans.

The event was initially supposed to be held in room 253 of the Miller Learning Center but was moved to a larger room just before the event began. Kemp was introduced by Alex Huskey, chairman of the College Republicans.

After thanking the group for supporting him, Kemp reflected on the challenges Georgians have faced over the last year with COVID-19 but also defended fully reopening the state. Kemp issued a shelter-in-place mandate in early April 2020, but also began reopening certain establishments less than a month later.

“We’ve been very resilient as a people in a lot of ways, fighting COVID, but also reopening our economy, when many around the country were heckling us and calling it a death experiment,” Kemp said.

Wednesday was also the same day that Georgia recorded one of its highest daily COVID-19 case counts to date, with the Georgia Department of Public Health reporting 10,937 new cases. The single-highest case count occurred on Jan. 8, with 12,845 new cases.

“That’s kind of surprising. I didn’t think that when I looked at the numbers,” Kemp said when informed of Wednesday’s case count.

Kemp said he has been consulting with other members of the state government, such as Adjutant General Thomas Carden and DPH Commissioner Kathleen Toomey, to determine how the state can do more to fight the disease. Tuesday, Kemp sent 105 National Guard members with medical training to hospitals around the state to assist health care workers as the pandemic overwhelms them.

Georgia currently has 90.4% of its available ICU beds in use, according to the Georgia Geospatial Information Office. Hospitals in Athens-Clarke and surrounding counties are using 98.7% of their beds.

Kemp said he would encourage listeners to talk to their doctors, pharmacists and faith leaders to make a decision about receiving a COVID-19 vaccine but vowed that he would not implement a vaccine or mask mandate in the state.

When discussing election security, Kemp touted the Election Integrity Act of 2021, which he said makes it “easy to vote but hard to cheat” in Georgia.

“We had a lot of things that happened mechanically in the election that we needed to address,” Kemp said. “We had a lot of people that had lost confidence in the election process last year ... so it was time for us to put all these things to bed ... and that’s what we did.”

Kemp signed the bill on March 25, despite backlash from many Democrats who opposed the measure, saying it would lead to voter suppression primarily against minority voters.

When an audience member asked Kemp if he believed that President Joe Biden won a fair and honest election, Kemp replied, “I believe Joe Biden is the president of the United States. The election got certified. There’s nothing anybody can do about that.”

He encouraged the College Republicans to begin working to register new voters for the upcoming gubernatorial and midterm elections. He said all Republicans can unite around “pushing back against the Biden administration.”

Kemp also discussed issues at the U.S. border with Mexico and his opinions on the Biden administration’s withdrawal of the U.S. military from Afghanistan.

“The people that we are hanging out to dry … people that have saved American and Georgia soldiers’ lives those last few years … those are the kind of people we need to protect,” Kemp said.

He supported allowing Afghan refugees into the U.S. with a proper vetting process in place to protect them from potential retribution for helping U.S. soldiers during the war.

A protester was removed early on during Kemp’s talk after interrupting him, but many of the event’s attendees agreed with Kemp’s major points.

“I like that he’s pro-life and that he’s giving people the choice to mask up or get the shot,” said sophomore UGA student Allison Fletcher. “If they want to mask up, that's great. If they want to get the shots, great, but he’s not going to enforce anything, and he’s helping everyone keep a normal school year.”

Jake Drukman is The Red & Black's news editor, and has worked for the paper since 2019. He is a senior journalism major with a minor in criminal justice. He especially enjoys covering local politics and crime.

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