Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp came from the small business community. The mentality of being a business owner, he says, has driven him to make government more modern, streamlined and easier to deal with for the small business community.
How did being a business
owner prepare you for being Secretary of State?
That’s really one of the things that drove me to run for public
office in the first place—being a small business owner. I think it prepared me
greatly. Small business owners have to deal with a lot of different issues
every day in their businesses and I think that really prepares you when you’re
in an office like this where you have a lot of different responsibilities.
Being a small business owner taught me how to prioritize and be able to deal
with those things and handle them, but also not let those issues bog you down
from the things that we want to do. We continue moving the ball forward and
make our agency better every day.
What surprised when you
became Secretary of State?
It’s been surprising to really watch how government works while
being outside the legislative process but being involved from the executive
branch side. There are a lot of things sometimes that are done in government to
appease certain groups of people that are not necessarily the best things from
a small business standpoint or for making government smaller and more
efficient. That’s frustrating at times, which is why I think it’s good to have
someone with a small business background in statewide office.
What are some small
business priorities in the Secretary of State’s office?
What we try to do in the Secretary of State’s office is remove
some of that red tape for people who have to deal with our office. We deal with
a lot of working Georgians every day from our licensing division, where we
license over 500,000 people. Our corporations division is where people file for
new businesses here in the state and renew their annual registrations. In both
of those places, we’re trying to make it easier for people to do it online and
not have to deal with a person from the government. It’s a seamless process,
which has [business owners] spending less time with the government and more
time focusing on their businesses.
What have you not
achieved yet that you would like to?
One of the big projects I’ve taken on is restructuring our IT
department to bring us into the 21st century. [We want to] change the way we’re
dealing with IT from a government perspective, which is a lot different than
dealing with it from the private sector. I’ve made great headway in that, but I
still have a lot left to do.
Why did you join NFIB?
I’ve been a member of NFIB for a long time because of their
willingness to fight regulation and red tape for small business owners.
Everybody in their small business has to work overtime to take care of their
financial obligations and provide for their families. Many times they don’t
have the time to get their voice heard at the state capital, and I think that’s
the vital role that NFIB plays and I’m a big supporter. You’ve got a watchdog
there that is doing that on your behalf—that’s NFIB.
What do you read?
I don’t read a lot of books. I’ve read a few good ones over the
last few months, but I finished Team of
Rivals from Doris Kearns Goodwin not long ago and it was a very long book,
but it was excellent.
How do you define
Success is people being in a place in their lives where they
really enjoy getting to go to work every day and it’s gratifying for them
regardless of how much money they’re making. In terms of the Secretary of
State’s office, success is not financial. It’s more us being able to roll out a
new project like our new corporations system and having the people who use that
site every day like it. Knowing that we made government better is a good
definition of success. That’s really what we strive for here.
What policies contribute
to the positive business climate in Georgia?
I think certainly, from a big manufacturing standpoint, the
decision by Gov. Deal to remove the sales tax on energy for manufacturing has
been huge for the state. We’ve been very successful at bringing traditional manufacturing
back. Our policies and state governments have balanced our budget. Our
government has a AAA bond rating. We have low per capita spending. Our tax
climate is good. I think all of that contributes a lot to Georgia being
successful. We’ve got great airports, good roads and bridge systems. We’ve also
got a great rail network. All of that is good for business.