A conversation with Georgia’s Lieutenant Governor, Geoff Duncan

Published 3:34 pm Friday, November 22, 2019

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You might be interested to know that there have been only 12 lieutenant governors in Georgia’s history, going back to 1947 when the position was created. Four went on to become governor. One became lieutenant governor after having served as governor. Four others tried for the state’s highest office and failed. Two left politics after their term in office.It is safe to say that the 12th occupant, Geoff Duncan, didn’t have the job on his radar when he graduated from Georgia Tech. A pitcher for the Yellow Jackets, he was signed by the Miami Marlins organization and made it as far as the organization’s AAA affiliate, the Calgary Cannons of the Pacific Coast League, until a shoulder injury ended his career.

Disappointing to be sure, but Duncan told me in his office last week, “I was prepared. I had written a business plan to start a marketing company as a kind of insurance policy if I didn’t make enough money to retire from baseball. I had to pull that business plan out of a folder about two weeks after I got released.” It worked.

He and his wife, Brooke, started a small marketing company in their living room, grew it to a big one, sold it and moved on. So how did a former pro baseball player end up in politics and in the lieutenant governor’s office?

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At church one day — the Duncans attend Northpoint Community Church in Cummings — their pastor, Andy Stanley, challenged the congregants to get involved in their community instead of grousing. Duncan said, “One of the options that he threw out was to run for public office. I looked at Brooke in the parking lot after the service and said, ‘Let’s go run for office.’ She looked at me and said, ‘I did not hear that in the sermon.’ So, we discussed it for a while and then decided I should run for the state House of Representatives.” He did and beat the incumbent by 55 votes.

After five years in the House, Duncan ran for and won the job as Georgia’s 12th lieutenant governor. Why that job? “I quickly realized in the five years I spent in the House that I was really good at policy and not very good at the politics. I really just kind of woke up one day and wanted to either be in charge or go home.”

What he is in charge of has sometimes been seen as the Rodney Dangerfield of state politics. Unlike the House of Representatives, where the speaker rules supreme, the lieutenant governor doesn’t have the power to appoint the chairs or members to the various Senate committees. That is done by a Committee on Assignments, of which Duncan is a member. If that bothers him, he doesn’t let it show. Rather, he calls the process “collaborative” and says he welcomes that kind of governance.

Duncan said, “I want somebody who was elected to the Senate, who’s put their life on hold, their business on hold for 40 legislative days, three calendar months out of the year, to come here and feel like their voice matters in every committee meeting.”

While the lieutenant governor is president of the Senate, which is no small matter, it is clear this is a power-sharing arrangement, not a top-down management style as in the old days of Georgia politics. Much depends on his being able to get people to follow his lead. I would not bet against him. He is charming, whipsaw-smart and a competitor. As they say in sports, he has all the tools.

We talked about his legislative priorities. He would like to see Georgia be the technology capital of the East Coast, more broadband in the rural areas of the state and better computer training for high school students. He is also pushing for more competition and more transparency in health care.

I asked Duncan about his pledge to only serve two terms as lieutenant governor. He said he plans to honor that commitment and is even considering a constitutional amendment to limit that office to two terms. As for his own plans beyond that, he is understandably coy.

As I was leaving, I reminded the lieutenant governor that I remain unalterably opposed to using public money for private school scholarships, which I am certain will raise its ugly head in the next session. He smiled and said, “I think we may need to have some additional conversations.” I hope so. I like this guy.