Life of a Henchman: Sore Winner Brian Kemp Sics Georgia Ethics Commissioner on Stacey Abrams

Photo: Alex Wong (Getty Images)

Do you know what a henchman is? They’re faceless, nameless, losers who do the dirty work for the villain in movies or TV shows. Henchmen are easy to recognize; just look for the endless stream of guys in ridiculous matching outfits getting knocked down, thrown off of bridges, or set on fire in a climactic battle with the hero on a windswept mountain top. In The Avengers they’re the guys in black T-shirts that Captain America beats up in an elevator. In Star Wars they’re the stormtroopers getting outsmarted by Ewoks. In Kung Fu movies, they’re the 12 guys who run at Jason Statham so he can take them out with whatever is handy from Ikea’s spring collection. In politics, we call them Georgia Ethics Commissioner David Emadi. The problem is, what’s happening in Georgia isn’t a movie and Emadi isn’t some faceless guy in the credits.

You wouldn’t know it if you asked almost any voting-age black person in the state of Georgia, but Stacey Abrams actually isn’t governor. While everyone from local politicians, journalists and even presidential candidates like Cory Booker and Beto O’Rourke have said that Abrams was robbed of her keys to the governor’s mansion, Gov. Brian Kemp now sits upon the Iron Throne in Georgia. You would think that serving as secretary of state and presiding over his own “election” as governor would be enough for Kemp. But you would be wrong. Brian Kemp is an insecure direct-to-DVD-level villain living in fear of the rightful owner of the crown that’s too big for his cowardly shoulders.

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Stacey Abrams is still out there, fomenting rebellion through her Fair Fight Action Pac, raising more money than Kemp, filing successful lawsuits against his corrupt regime, and generally being more popular than him despite “losing” the election. So what is Brian Kemp to do? He sends his most loyal and clumsy henchman after her.

Enter David Emadi.

David Emadi is the perfect henchmen for a glorified overachieving desk clerk like Brian Kemp. He donated to Kemp’s campaign, endorsed him during the primary, was an officer in the Douglas County Republican Party and lacks any true ambition or redeemable political skills in his own right. The perfect henchmen.

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This past March, Kemp made Emadi the director of Georgia’s Ethics Commission, which is charged with looking into politicians and elections in the state of Georgia. Did David Emadi decide to investigate Brian Kemp for hiring a private company to count the votes for his own primary and general election? No. Did he look into the mysterious voter purges by then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp? No. Did he look into why Georgia’s new secretary of state has failed to properly investigate a wiped server of voter data? Not at all! Emadi’s first move as director was to subpoena every single check stub, memo, and email from the Abrams for Governor campaign in 2018. It’s a ridiculously burdensome request meant to punish and intimidate Abrams. You can almost see Brian Kemp with a Dr. Evil pinky to his lip demanding “ONE MILLION EMAILS!” and Emadi in a white jumpsuit scurrying into the streets of Atlanta to do his boss’ bidding.

The new ethics director also subpoenaed similar information from organizations dedicated to registering minorities like Higher Heights Georgia, the New Georgia Project, Mijente, Georgia Engaged, New Georgia Project Action fund, Care and Action, and Third Sector Development. To be clear, this is not mere death by red tape, it’s an opening salvo. When Brooks County Georgia elected a majority black school board for the first time in 2010, Georgia Republicans had registration activists arrested. Brian Kemp has routinely sent the Georgia Bureau of Investigations to raid the offices of voter registration groups on trumped-up charges. Now he’s using David Emadi, at taxpayers’ expense, to disenfranchise Georgia voters, especially black and brown Georgia voters, again.

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However, like some movie henchmen, David Emadi might have a fatal flaw. Some small part of him clings to his humanity and a shred of personal and professional integrity. Back in 2017 when he was a mere assistant district attorney for Douglas County, Emadi was part of a team of prosecutors that sent Jose Torres and Rachel Norton to jail for 28 years after the couple drove through Douglas County waving Confederate flags, hurling racial slurs and pointing a shotgun at a black family during a child’s birthday party. Emadi is on record saying the prosecutor’s office was forced to get creative and charge the couple with “gang activity” because Georgia is one of only four states without a hate-crime law. Perhaps, some of that David Emadi is still in there. A man who could spot racist actions and get creative to solve the problem instead of looking the other way when evil is afoot. Maybe he’s that lone henchmen who has a crisis of conscience and conveniently drops the prison keys so the hero can escape, or “forgets” to tie up James Bond right before the death ray count down begins.

According to political operatives I’ve spoken to, the rumor around Atlanta politics is that Emadi has been calling and emailing Democratic friends from law school, trying to salvage his reputation and assure them he’s not a henchman for Brian Kemp’s political vendettas. David Emadi, if he chooses to, could put an end to this abuse of power by Brian Kemp fairly easily. He could collect all of this information and report that there was nothing to be found. Play the dutiful henchmen that reports back to his boss that he couldn’t find the rebel base or that the princess escaped, knowing full well he let them go. David Emadi could do that if he were his own man. If he wanted to be on the right side of history. If he wanted to stand up against racism, corruption, voter suppression and be a representative of the people of Georgia instead of being Brian Kemp’s bootlick in a cheap Casual Male XL suit.

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Brian Kemp’s plans to suppress Georgia voters with Emadi’s phony ethics investigation won’t work. The Kemp administration is being investigated or sued for everything from discriminating against Puerto Rican voters to hackable voting machines. Stacey Abrams isn’t going anywhere, but David Emadi might. There’s no retirement plan for being a henchman. When the villain’s plan comes crashing down, it’s the henchmen who end up at Congressional hearings or going to jail or blowing up on the Death Star. The last two Georgia ethics commissioners? One got fired for hiding a whistleblower case and the other got removed for watching porn at work. If David Emadi thinks Brian Kemp will have his back when these illegitimate investigations go sideways, he’s never been to the movies.

Nobody remembers the henchmen, but we do remember when Quintus stood up and refused to help the emperor cheat at the end of Gladiator. We do remember Darth Vader, the most evil henchmen of them all, who redeemed himself by finally betraying Emperor Palpatine and restoring justice to the galaxy. David Emadi is a henchman, but he can be the hero. We’ll find out what kind of man he wants to be in the coming months.

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