Ironies of Being State’s Second in Command
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Ironies of Being State’s Second in Command

Although the duties are limited, in Georgia the lieutenant governor is elected on a separate ticket from the governor. Yet, those two positions must work in tandem.

Sarah Riggs Amico, Geoff Duncan
Sarah Riggs Amico, Geoff Duncan

The role of lieutenant governor in Georgia is peculiar.

Unlike many other states, in Georgia the lieutenant governor is elected on a separate ticket from the governor. Yet, those two positions must work in tandem.

The lieutenant governor’s official duties are limited, the primary role being to preside over the state Senate and cast any necessary tie-breaking votes.

No matter whether Democrat Stacey Abrams or Republican Brian Kemp wins the top job, the person next in line must work with the chief executive.

That means Democrat Sarah Riggs Amico could be elected along with Kemp. Or, conversely, Republican Geoff Duncan with Abrams.

An Atlanta Journal-Constitution survey of 1,232 likely voters, conducted Sept. 30 to Oct. 9, gave Duncan a lead of 45.4 percent to 39.3 percent for Amico, with 15.3 percent undecided.

How Amico or Duncan would work with a governor from the other party was one of the most revealing questions at the Atlanta Press Club debate.

Duncan, who opposes the expansion of Medicaid in the state, was asked how he could work with Abrams – a strong proponent of Medicaid expansion – if she were elected governor. His response suggested no willingness to compromise on this or other issues.

Amico said that, as the executive chairperson of a company employing nearly 4,000, she is accustomed to bringing together people who see a problem from different points of view. “There’s plenty of places to work together,” she said of potentially working with Kemp.

While both candidates have worked in family-owned businesses, Amico is a first-time candidate. Duncan was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 2012. He resigned in 2017 to run for lieutenant governor.

Another anomaly about the number two job is that if the serving governor were to leave office, the lieutenant governor – potentially from the opposite party – would fill the remainder of that person’s term.

The job comes with an annual salary of $135,000, an increase from $91,609, taking effect after the election.

Candidate for Lieutenant Governor:
Geoff Duncan-R

Geoff Duncan, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, was walking out of his Alpharetta church a few years ago when he felt called “to action” and decided to enter politics.

Duncan was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 2012 from the 26th District. He gave up that seat in September 2017 to run for lieutenant governor.

On the campaign trail, Duncan runs as an outsider. His Democratic opponent, Sarah Riggs Amico, claims that Duncan, as a former deputy majority whip in the state House, is more of an insider.

“I’m an outsider in my approach,” he contended in an Atlanta Press Club debate.

When he voted in the House, he “looked through the lens of a small business owner,” thinking of the small marketing company that he and wife owned and later sold. The 43-year-old Duncan left Georgia Tech after his junior year when he was drafted as a pitcher by the Florida Marlins. He reached the AAA level before shoulder problems ended his baseball career.

Duncan told the AJT that he sees the role of the lieutenant governor as being independent. “If I don’t agree with what (agenda) the governor is putting forward, I will work against it,” said Duncan, acknowledging the possibility of Democrat Stacey Abrams winning the governor’s seat.

Duncan opposes the Democratic platform for the state. He added that if he were to serve under Abrams and she wanted to increase taxes or open sanctuary cities, he would work against her.

While Abrams and Amico favor the expansion of Medicaid in Georgia, Duncan contends that Medicaid would not increase access to medical care in rural Georgia.

“We need to embrace telemedicine to cut costs,” he said.

On the question of proposed religious freedom legislation, Duncan said, “This nation was founded on freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. Religion drives me. I never want someone to feel threatened in how they worship, but I also don’t want anyone to feel discriminated against. This isn’t a Christian bill, but a faith bill.”

Asked about the issue of separation of church and state, Duncan suggested, “There’s a place for religion everywhere in the world. I take my religion everywhere I go. We should not be pushing faith outside of our lives. I don’t check my religion at the door when I enter a public building.”

Duncan believes, “We, the people, are better to solve problems than we, the government,” and cites what he calls the four C’s: churches/synagogues, charities, corporations and citizens. “Government programs just stabilize people; they don’t help people get out of the cycle,” he told the AJT.

If he wins, Duncan would like to take on the title of Georgia’s “business ambassador. I speak their language.” During his campaign, Duncan came up with the concept of BIG: Built in Georgia. “As I traveled around rural Georgia, I saw that communities never thrive if they are just being subsidized.” He wants Georgia to become the technology center of the East Coast and rural Georgia to be known as the production capital of the Southeast.

Duncan added that he supports Israel, Gov. Nathan Deal’s efforts to build an economic relationship with Israel, and President Donald Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

According to Duncan’s September campaign finance report, he has raised $2.21 million, spent $1.08 million, and had cash on hand of $1.12 million.

Candidate for Lieutenant Governor:
Sarah Riggs Amico-D

Democrat Sarah Riggs Amico, a self-described “policy nerd,” calls the office of lieutenant governor “one of the most fascinating roles in government. This role is a tactician’s dream,” determining which legislation is moved forward for votes in the Georgia Senate.

Amico is the Democratic candidate for the state’s number two job, running against Republican Geoff Duncan, a former member of the Georgia House.

The 39-year-old is the executive chairperson of Jack Cooper Holdings Corp., a car-hauling company that her family bought, near bankruptcy, in 2009, and since has grown from 120 employees to more than 3,000.

Amico cites her experience bringing together diverse coalitions such as union and non-union employees, institutional investors, and “Fortune 100” clients as helping her deal with divergent groups in the state legislature.

Amico, who received an MBA degree from Harvard, told the AJT that she chose to seek a statewide office in her first political foray to avoid running in a gerrymandered district and because “I wanted an executive function that fits my skill set.”

She campaigns in tandem with Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate for governor, although Georgia law requires them to run separately. “We have complementary skill sets,” Amico said, citing Abrams’ resume as a lawyer who has served as House minority leader. “We can speak to all constituencies.”

The issues Abrams promotes, including expansion of Medicaid, funding of public education, and changing the direction of the state government after 14 years of Republican control, are also Amico’s goals.

Amico said that 64 Georgia counties don’t have a single pediatrician and 79 are without an OB-GYN. Georgia ranks 47th in access to healthcare and last in the country in maternal mortality. Healthcare is an “issue that doesn’t matter if you are a minority, young or old, male or female. It touches all of us,” she told the AJT.

Amico was a Republican, but changed her political affiliation, first to independent, and then to Democratic, in 2012. “The (President Barrack) Obama era moved me to be a Democrat during the healthcare debate. I can’t get on board with a party that takes away heath care,” she said, referring to Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and actions that have weakened the measure.

Amico was thrilled when Obama recently endorsed her, along with Abrams. “I found out from Twitter like everyone else.”

During an Atlanta Press Club debate with Duncan, the Kennesaw resident and mother of two daughters complained that Republicans had fully funded public schools only once in the past 16 years, and that was this past year.

When Duncan charged that the Democrats were willing to allow “illegal aliens” to receive the HOPE Scholarship, which helps fund tuition for in-state students, Amico responded by paraphrasing a Jewish biblical belief: “We don’t punish children in this country for the sins of their parents,” referring to undocumented youth.

According to Amico, 626,000 Georgians lack access to high speed Internet, an issue the state must address to promote economic growth. “I’ve met families driving kids to McDonald’s parking lots to get Wi-Fi,” she said.

On the subject of religious freedom legislation, Amico said that the state should not discriminate based on how people look, whom they love, and how or if they pray.

According to her Sept. 30 campaign finance report, Amico has raised $1.43 million, spent $1.09 million, and had cash on hand of $345,068.

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