Kemp asks for unity in Ge­or­gia as Abrams prom­ises law­suit

The Wichita Eagle (Sunday) - - News - BY BILL BAR­ROW AND RUSS BYNUM

Repub­li­can Brian Kemp praised Demo­crat Stacey Abrams as a tough op­po­nent and asked Ge­or­gia vot­ers to unite be­hind him as the state’s new gov­er­nor Sat­ur­day, even as Abrams blamed Kemp for “gross mis­man­age­ment” of an elec­tion that she ac­knowl­edged she did not win.

“I cer­tainly ap­pre­ci­ate Stacey Abrams’ tenac­ity, how hard she worked, the cam­paign she ran,” Kemp told re­porters at a state Capi­tol news con­fer­ence. “The fact of the mat­ter is the elec­tion is now over and I’ve got to fo­cus on gov­ern­ing this state.”

Abrams ended 10 days of post-elec­tion drama in Ge­or­gia’s closely watched and even more closely con­tested race Fri­day evening when she ac­knowl­edged that when the state’s fi­nal vote gets cer­ti­fied, Kemp will be the next gov­er­nor.

Still, Abrams de­fi­antly re­fus­ing to con­cede, and in­stead promised to file a fed­eral law­suit over the way Ge­or­gia elec­tions are run. She ac­cused Kemp of us­ing his of­fice sec­re­tary of state’s of­fice to ag­gres­sively purge the rolls of in­ac­tive vot­ers, en­force an “ex­act match” pol­icy for check­ing vot­ers’ iden­ti­ties that left thou­sands of reg­is­tra­tions in limbo, and en­act other poli­cies to tilt the out­come in his fa­vor.

Kemp, who stepped down as sec­re­tary of state when he de­clared vic­tory that day af­ter Elec­tion Day, de­fended the out­come of the race.

“Look, we have laws on the books that pre­vent elec­tions from be­ing stolen from any­one,” Kemp said, in­sist­ing those laws “make sure we have se­cure, ac­ces­si­ble, fair elec­tions.”

The speech Abrams de­liv­ered at her cam­paign head­quar­ters Fri­day evening marked the close of the 44-year-old at­tor­ney and former law­maker’s un­suc­cess­ful at­tempt to make his­tory as Amer­ica’s first black woman gov­er­nor. Since Elec­tion Day her cam­paign fought on, in­sist­ing ef­forts to sup­press turnout had left thou­sands of bal­lots un­counted that oth­er­wise could erode Kemp’s lead and force a runoff elec­tion.

“Let’s be clear: This is not a speech of con­ces­sion,” Abrams said. “Be­cause con­ces­sion means to ac­knowl­edge an ac­tion is right, true or proper. As a woman of con­science and faith, I can­not con­cede that.”

Kemp, the 55-year-old busi­ness­man who over­saw the elec­tion as Ge­or­gia’s sec­re­tary of state, will keep the gov­er­nor’s of­fice in GOP hands as the state’s third Repub­li­can gov­er­nor since Re­con­struc­tion.

The race grabbed the at­ten­tion of the na­tion, with Barack Obama and Oprah Win­frey cam­paign­ing for Abrams in the fi­nal days and Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump hold­ing a rally for Kemp.

Un­of­fi­cial re­turns showed Kemp ahead by roughly 60,000 votes out of nearly 4 mil­lion cast on Nov. 6. Kemp de­clared him­self gov­er­nor-elect the next day and stepped down as Ge­or­gia’s sec­re­tary of state, though thou­sands of ab­sen­tee and pro­vi­sional bal­lots re­mained un­counted.

Abrams, mean­while, sent vol­un­teers across the state in search of vot­ers whose bal­lots were re­jected. She filed suit in fed­eral court to force county elec­tions boards to count ab­sen­tee bal­lots with in­cor­rect birth­dates. Her cam­paign even planned for pos­si­ble lit­i­ga­tion to chal­lenge the elec­tion’s cer­ti­fied out­come.

Abrams didn’t take that route. She said she had con­cluded “the law cur­rently al­lows no fur­ther vi­able rem­edy.” In­stead, she said she would fight to re­store in­tegrity to Ge­or­gia’s elec­tion sys­tem in a new ini­tia­tive called Fair Fight Ge­or­gia.

“In the com­ing days, we will be fil­ing a ma­jor fed­eral law­suit against the state of Ge­or­gia for the gross mis­man­age­ment of this elec­tion and to pro­tect fu­ture elec­tions from un­con­sti­tu­tional ac­tions,” Abrams said, though she gave no de­tails.

Kemp had been sec­re­tary of state since 2010. He was backed by and had em­braced Trump as he tried to main­tain GOP dom­i­nance in a state that hasn’t elected a Demo­crat to the gov­er­nor’s man­sion since 1998.

Abrams’ cam­paign sparked huge en­ergy across the state and she be­came a na­tional Demo­cratic star. Elec­tion turnout among both sides’ en­er­gized bases nearly equaled that of the 2016 pres­i­den­tial vote.

Brian Kemp

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