Gov. Kemp, a Republican, says he wants Georgians to wear masks–but won’t tolerate anyone ordering residents to do so.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is suing Atlanta, claiming the city is breaking the law by requiring residents to wear face masks in public.
Kemp, a Republican, previously issued an executive order prohibiting any county, city, or town in Georgia from enacting mask mandates. However, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has refused to adhere to the order’s restriction.
Bottoms’ apparent defiance prompted quick action from Kempt and Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, who filed their lawsuit against Atlanta on Thursday.
“Governor Kemp must be allowed, as the chief executive of this state, to manage the public health emergency without Mayor Bottoms issuing void and unenforceable orders which only serve to confuse the public,” the lawsuit states.
Kemp, somewhat paradoxically, has also claimed that Atlanta’s mask mandate is a “disastrous” policy which “[threatens] the lives and livelihoods of our citizens.”
Nevertheless, Bottoms maintains that the governor has “overstepped his bounds.”
“As of today, 3,014 Georgians have died and I and my family are amongst the 106,000 who have tested positive for COVID-19,” Bottoms said in response to the lawsuit. “A better use of taxpayer money would be to expand testing and contact tracing.
“If being sued by the state is what it takes to save lives in Atlanta, then we will see them in court,” she said.
The New York Times notes that Atlanta is following federal guidance—a recent report, distributed by the White House’s coronavirus task force, recommends that several states, including Georgia, enact and enforce state-wide mask mandates.
But Brian Robinson, who served as spokesman for former Georgia Gov. Brian Robinson—also a Republican—said Kemp’s argument about executive authority is likely correct.
“Governor Kemp is making a legal argument that is correct,” Robinson told the Times. “It’s much trickier to determine, long term, who is making the right political calculation. Maybe they’re both playing to their bases.”
However, the New York Times observes that Kemp’s aggressive re-opening of the Georgia economy in April was met with widespread public skepticism. Although the governor has retained significant support among Georgia conservatives, even President Donald Trump said the state’s re-opening came “too soon.”
In recent weeks, Georgia—along with other Southern states—has seen a resurgence in coronavirus cases. Bottoms and the Atlanta City Council responded by rolling back re-opening restrictions to Phase One, alongside ordering all residents to wear face masks in public.
Kempt, somewhat interestingly, has “encouraged” Georgians to wear face masks. But he has refrained from making mask use a state-wide policy.
“While we all agree that wearing a mask is effective, I’m confident that Georgians don’t need a mandate to do the right thing,” Kemp said in a statement.
But other Georgia officials have questioned the wisdom of Kemp’s refusal to heed expert advice. Van Johnson, the mayor of Savannah, suggested the state at least let cities decide what’s right for them.
“How can we take care of our local needs when our state ties our hands behind our back and then says, ‘Ignore the advice of experts?” Van Johnson asked.