The Republican governor primary runoff between Casey Cagle and Brian Kemp has descended into scandals as both candidates play up the other side’s failures.
For Brian Kemp, the issue du jour is a lawsuit filed in February over $500,000 in unpaid debt that Kemp backed through a company called Hart AgStrong LLC, an oilseed refinery based in Bowersville.
The lawsuit has been filed by RLP Investments and its owner, Toccoa resident Rick Phillips. While Hart AgStrong CEO Robert Davis, Kemp and the company itself are all listed as defendants in the lawsuit, the investor told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution this month that Kemp was responsible for the cash.
“He’s the only person I ever dealt with,” Phillips said. “I loaned this money to Brian Kemp. I loaned it to Hart AgStrong at the request of Brian Kemp, and he personally guaranteed it.”
In a Thursday, June 14, interview with The Times, Kemp told a different story.
“It wasn’t just me. The CEO of the company was there, he was selling (Phillips) on it,” Kemp said. “We’re in the middle of litigation there, so I can’t really say a whole lot, so it wasn’t just me who was doing that. It was a company debt that I was backing.”
Kemp was a guarantor of the loan, he said, but the cash was given to the company. The Athens businessman said the case is resurfacing after being filed in February because of the runoff between himself and Cagle.
Phillips told the AJC he supports Cagle’s campaign for governor after being initially undecided in the race.
“Have you looked at Cagle’s financial disclosures? Yeah, I think it’s political,” Kemp said of the lawsuit coming back up. “Look, this lawsuit has been going on for a long time — why didn’t (Phillips talk) when the AJC wrote the first article?”
Cagle’s camp has been making hay about the lawsuit amid its own scandals.
“Brian Kemp might not be too good at running his office, paying his bills or telling the truth about his gun record, but he sure is good at getting irrelevant cranks to do crazy stuff on his campaign’s behalf,” Cagle campaign manager Scott Binkley said in a statement.
Binkley was referring to a letter from Sen. Bill Heath, R-Bremen, and Rep. Susan Holmes, R-Monticello, requesting law enforcement investigate claims that Cagle violated state law in pushing a bill he admitted was bad policy for political gain.
“He doesn’t have any choice. I understand what he’s doing,” Kemp said of the accusations. “A lot of our supporters are calling going, ‘This is dirty politics and this makes me mad.’ Look, y’all, this is politics. This guy is desperate. He feels this race slipping away.”
For its part, the Cagle campaign has changed course on the bill. While Cagle was surreptitiously recorded saying he knew the bill was bad “a thousand different ways,” Binkley is now saying Cagle “passed strong school choice legislation because he believes in it and it’s great policy that helps Georgia families.”
As the firefight between the two campaigns escalates, Georgia Republicans still have about six weeks until the July 24 runoff — plenty of time to cause deep wounds to whichever candidate emerges to run against Democrat Stacey Abrams in the November general election.
But Kemp says it’s just the business of campaigning.
“Look, it’s no different than when Jack Kingston and (former Gov. Sonny) Perdue were beating each other up,” Kemp said, noting the run has been tough on his family. “Everyone is going to come together regardless of what happened, and I really believe that. There’s a lot of time between now and November, and in some ways it’s good.”
It’s good, Kemp said, because Abrams will be a real challenge from a motivated Democratic Party this year.
“It’s good for us to go through that process, because we have got to have a nominee that can stand up in the fall. You don’t need any fall surprises against Stacey Abrams, and believe you me, if there’s anything out there the Democrats, even if they don’t have proof, they’ll just say it anyway,” Kemp said. “They are desperate to try to make people believe that Georgia can turn blue or purple or whatever it is.”