Karen Kemp is attempting to win the House District 150 seat now held by Rep. Winfred Dukes.
ALBANY, Ga. -- While Republican Karen Kemp acknowledges that her opponent in the state House District 150 race, incumbent Democrat Winfred Dukes, has more political experience, she says that doesn't necessarily make him the better candidate.
"The thing I keep coming back to is the effectiveness of the leadership that's been provided," Kemp said Friday. "While I salute Mr. Dukes for his years of public service, I believe we can't keep sending the same people to Atlanta expecting a different outcome.
"I think it's important that some new ideas be taken to Atlanta."
Kemp, the executive director of the Lily Pad, a sexual assault and children's advocacy center in Albany, surprised many political followers when she announced plans to run for the seat held by Dukes for the past 14 years in what is seen as a Democratic stronghold. But she is no stranger to the political process.
Kemp's grandfather (P.M. Lancaster) was a state senator, and he took her to Atlanta as a page to get a first-hand view of government in action. She worked to help elect candidates "from both sides of the aisle" while a student at the University of Georgia, and she's maintained a keen interest in local and state politics.
She'd gradually over the last few years contemplated a run for office, and she said the remarks of a speaker at an event in Thomasville convinced her the time was right to throw her hat into the ring.
"I was speaking on behalf of the Lily Pad, and I mentioned the concept of 'two Georgias,' " Kemp said. "Another speaker said that, with pending reapportionment, we're about to become 'three Georgias.'
"It dawned on me that with reapportionment, we're expected to lose five to seven state government seats south of Macon. We need effective representation."
Kemp said she's enjoyed the campaign process, the door-to-door visits that have opened her eyes to the needs and concerns of the people in District 150, which includes most of Dougherty and Baker counties.
"One of the greatest joys of running for office has been the people I've met and the things they've shared with me," she said. "Let me tell you a story: There was one lady, a senior citizen, who told me she didn't open her door after 7 p.m. when I visited. I told her who I was, and she opened her door a crack.
"We started talking, and I sat on her porch while she shared her thoughts with me for 30 minutes or more. I could see in her eyes how important the issues of this race are to her. I wouldn't trade that experience for anything."
Kemp said jobs is the overwhelming No. 1 issue people have talked with her about.
"I've talked with single moms out of work, dads who said they had no hope of getting a job and even people who are employed who have strong ideas about the need to create jobs," Kemp said. "And focusing on District 150, one of the most important things we must realize is that we can't afford to lose another job that
"We've got to make sure our employers are at the table when we talk about jobs. We've got to find out what we need to do to help Procter & Gamble expand; we've got to create logistics opportunities not just for the Marine Corps Logistics Base but for private companies in the logistics arena. And we have to realize that our greatest opportunity to add jobs is not a major manufacturer -- and how wonderful it would be to have one -- but small businesses that are three-, five- and seven-man operations."
Kemp said her work with the Lily Pad has afforded her an opportunity to seek and utilize private, state and federal funds. That same plan, she said, could impact small businesses in the district.
"I met yesterday with a group of 50 Baker County farmers and came away excited about the opportunities in agribusiness that
exist there," she said.
"There are farmers there who market organic manure for fertilizer and organic row crops. A consortium of that kind would, I think, be a prime candidate for a OneGeorgia grant.
"We've had success leveraging local dollars with state and federal grants at the Lily Pad, and that same approach could be applied to agribusiness in Baker County."
In Dougherty County, Kemp said crime and public safety make up the centerpiece of her legislative plan. As director of the Lily Pad, she notes that she sees the impact of sexual and domestic violence on the community.
"I see in a thousand families a year the human and the financial costs of crime," she said. "I will be law enforcement's strongest ally in Atlanta. I will advocate for zero tolerance with any crime that injures a police officer or for violent offenders against children.
"And I also believe we must allocate funding for crime prevention. We have to wake up to the reality that every dollar spent on prevention is worth $10 spent on enforcement."
Kemp said she wants to be the voice for women, for children and for nonprofit organizations under the Gold Dome.
"Nonprofit agencies deal with society's most vexing and most important issues," she said. "I don't know if people really grasp the tremendous cost of the services provided by (nonprofits). If they weren't in place, where would we turn for these services?"
In a district whose registered voters are around 59 percent black, Kemp knows she has obstacles to overcome. But she said she's ready to meet the challenge.
"In my campaigning, I've connected with a lot of like-minded women," she said. "It's never been a question of color with them. It's been about the things women value: wanting a better life for their children and their families. I'm very energized by that.
"The people in Albany and in District 150 have great hearts; we saw that after the floods (in 1994 and '98). I sense a change in the people here, a willingness to consider something different. I don't believe race defines this district. And I want to be someone who brings effective leadership and positive change to their lives."