Brian Kemp set to be sworn in as Georgia’s new governor

ATHENS, GA - NOVEMBER 06: Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp attends the Election Night event at the Classic Center on November 6, 2018 in Athens, Georgia. Kemp is in a close race with Democrat Stacey Abrams. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

 – After a hard-fought election last year, Brian Kemp is set to become Georgia’s next governor on Monday.

Kemp will be sworn in Monday at 2 p.m. after a private prayer service at a local Atlanta church. His first act as governor will be a “Review of Troops” at the State Capitol before meeting with outgoing governor Nathan Deal.

The former Republican Secretary of State now faces the task of trying to unite a state that seemed increasingly divided during the 2018 election. Kemp, who campaigned as a self-described “politically incorrect conservative” and received an endorsement from President Donald Trump, eked out a close November victory after lobbing a last-minute accusation that the state Democratic Party tried to hack the election.

In the end, Kemp defeated Democrat Stacey Abrams by fewer than 55,000 votes out of 3.9 million cast in November, a result that lead to lawsuits from his opponent accusing him and the state of depriving many low-income and minority voters of their voting rights  Outgoing state Democratic Party Chairman DuBose Porter, in a final address to party members, called Kemp a “morally corrupt man who knows he has to cheat to win.”

Kemp has focused his sights on his future, saying that “the election is over.”

“Hardworking Georgians are ready to move forward,” Kemp told reporters 10 days after the election. “We can no longer dwell on the divisive politics of the past but must focus on Georgia’s bright and promising future.”

MORE: Georgia’s Kemp kicks off victory lap after contentious race

Republicans control all of Georgia’s statewide offices and both chambers of the legislature. However, in the last few weeks Kemp has highlighted an effort to focus on what he calls bipartisan issues, pointing to campaign promises to promote small business and economic growth in rural areas, and to crack down on violent gangs.

“Those are bipartisan issues,” Kemp said. “They are going to be my focus of the (legislative) session.”

While competing in a crowded field for the Republican gubernatorial nomination last year, Kemp staked out conservative positions on social issues, pledging to sign tough abortion restrictions and expand gun rights.

He also vowed to sign a version of the religious protection bill that Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed, a bill that drew criticism form major Georgia companies including Delta Air Lines and Home Depot. During the general election campaign with Abrams, Kemp said he would approve only a narrowly drawn version that mirrors an existing 1993 federal law, insisting such a law “doesn’t discriminate.”

Asked at an Augusta stop last week if his 2019 legislative agenda includes a “religious freedom” bill, Kemp replied: “I’m going to be talking about a lot of things I’m going to do legislatively when we get ready to talk about them.”

Kemp’s fellow Republican, House Speaker David Ralston, said during a Thursday news conference that he has little appetite for taking up issues that have the “potential to divide us as a state.” Ralston said he did not favor another attempt at passing “religious freedom” legislation.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.