Five bid for places in race to become one of Georgia’s most powerful politicians

By Maggie Lee

By January, one of the people running for lieutenant governor will hold one of the most powerful posts in state politics. That’s because the winner presides over the state Senate, giving them great influence over what bills move through — and which don’t.

Right now, the primaries are on, with candidates seeking the nod from their party’s voters to head to the general election. All the major party candidates met in debates in Atlanta on Thursday.

Geoff Duncan (left), Rick Jeffares and David Shafer, Republican candidates for lieutenant governor, at Thursday's Atlanta Press Club debate. Credit: Maggie Lee

Geoff Duncan (left), Rick Jeffares and David Shafer, Republican candidates for lieutenant governor, at Thursday’s Atlanta Press Club debate. Credit: Maggie Lee

First, the Republicans who want to be lieutenant governor, all three of whom have held elected office: Geoff Duncan, Rick Jeffares and David Shafer.

Shafer is likely the frontrunner, going by fundraising and a late April poll — though all three are in the same league. Shafer raised almost $1.6 million through March 31, to Jeffares’ roughly $826,000 and Duncan’s approximately $788,000 (about a quarter of which are loans to his own campaign.) Cash has since continued to run into campaigns on both sides of the aisle, sometimes as much as several thousand of dollars a day.

But “undecided” still beat all three candidates in a poll of 507 likely Republican primary voters for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in late April. In that poll, Shafer took 14 percent, Duncan 12 percent and Jeffares 7 percent. The poll has a 4.4-point margin of error.

All three said they’re strong Second Amendment supporters and talk on their websites about values or conservative values.

Duncan sat in the state House — representing a Forsyth County district —from 2013 through late 2017, when he departed to focus on the statewide lieutenant governor campaign. He said he’s looking for voters who are looking for an outsider and a business owner. Nearly 20 years ago, he and his wife started a marketing firm, which they later sold. He’s subsequently worked as an entrepreneur and investor. While in the state House, probably his most high-profile committee assignment was Ways and Means, which reviews tax bills.  One of his most high-profile pieces of legislation was the creation of a state tax credit for donations for rural hospitals — many of those hospitals are losing money as they serve populations that are poorer, sicker or older than folks in cities and suburbs. But some hospitals have struggled to attract donations, even with the tax break.

Duncan said he thinks that churches, charities, corporations and citizens ought to be the front line of defense against poverty, working on things like foster care, adoption, hunger and health care for low-income people.

“On its best day, a government program can only stabilize a situation. I think the four Cs are better equipped to come in and help folks transition out of poverty,” said Duncan.

Jeffares has come to the race down a path of local government and of business. He’s worked at the water departments of Henry County and of Covington, and he’s founder of a company that builds and services water and sewer infrastructure.  He became a Henry County commissioner in 2008 and in 2010 was elected to the state Senate, which he left in late 2017 for this campaign. For a time in the state Senate, he chaired the Regulated Industries Committee, which hears bills on industries like utilities and and brewing. In 2017, he made headlines for carrying the so-called “beer bill.” It ended a long-running fight about beer sales by giving smaller brewers the right to sell a few six-packs directly to customers, bypassing Prohibition-era regulations that generally require brewers to sell through distributors.

Jeffares said Georgia is the No. 1 state to do business, but it’s got to do some things to maintain that, like improve transportation and get broadband into rural Georgia. On the higher education side, he said half of young people don’t go to college. “We need to accept that, so we need to get more technical high schools, we need to get them with trained skills, so at 18 years old they can go get a job,” he said.

Shafer has the longest political career, having joined the state Senate in 2002. The top photo on his website is not him on a farm or posing in front of an American flag. It’s a shot of him standing behind the ornate state Senate podium that would be his as lieutenant governor. He’s been president pro tempore of the state Senate, which gives him a couple of extra powers, including a voice in making committee assignments. And he’s a member of the powerful Finance and Appropriations committees. Outside of politics, he’s been part or full owner of several businesses, including in warehousing and taxi insurance.

One of the main planks in his platform is the phased elimination of state income tax, and he endorses former Congressman John Linder’s “Fair Tax.” That, as proposed by Linder, is a national sales tax that would replace several taxes, including income taxes.

“I believe that everyone should pay into the system,” said Shafer. “On the federal level, nearly half the people in this country don’t pay any federal income tax at all. And I think that everyone ought pay into the system because we all enjoy the benefits and the blessings and liberties of being Americans.”

Sarah Riggs Amico (l) and Triana Arnold James (r), candidates in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor. Credit Maggie Lee

Sarah Riggs Amico (l) and Triana Arnold James (r), candidates in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, at the Thursday debate in Atlanta. Credit Maggie Lee

On the Democratic side are two women, both of whom would be new to elected office: Sarah Riggs Amico and Triana Arnold James.

Amico had raised some $711,000, which includes roughly $326,000 in loans to her own campaign. James raised a little less than $10,000.

Most Democratic likely primary voters were undecided, according to an mid-April poll for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. But James got 20 points in the poll of 473 people and Amico got 10 points. The poll has a 4.5-point margin of error.

Both made a point of saying they think teachers should be paid more — and that those educators shouldn’t be armed at work, as they have enough to do already without being in charge of security too.

Amico runs a car transport company, and she says the family-owned business employs thousands of union truckers and mechanics. At the debate, she said she’d draw on skills honed while managing a large and complex organization to solve problems in a chamber that’s likely to be controlled by a different party.

She said she wants her daughters to be able to grow up into a world where they can expect equal pay and equal treatment. But she said she’s coming to the race as a businesswoman as well. She said she’s spent the last 15 years solving problems that many political leaders said weren’t solvable.

“While your elected officials were talking about how to solve health care, I’ve been providing it to 3,500 families. While they were talking about what to do about parental leave, Ive been providing paid parental leave to my employees.”

James is an entrepreneur with many things on her resume, including as founder of The Susan Jolley Awareness Program, which aims to educate women on the impact and prevention of gynecological cancers.

Her fundraising total is low — incredibly low for someone trying to achieve name recognition across the state. But James said she thinks big money ought to be out of politics, and too many politicians make decisions based on the pocket, not on the people. She said it’s fine that she doesn’t have big endorsements because she’s endorsed by the people.

“I’m an advocate standing on advocating for Medicaid expansion, paying our teachers a livable wage, protecting our veterans, ratifying the equal rights amendment here in the state of Georgia,” said James, adding that she’d also aim to ban assault weapons and move to paper ballots, among other measures.

Early voting in the primaries is already underway. Election day is May 22.

Care to see the entire debates? They’re a half-hour each and are on the Atlanta Press Club’s Facebook page: Republicans and Democrats.

Maggie Lee is a freelance reporter who's been covering Georgia and metro Atlanta government and politics since 2008.

2 replies
  1. Melanie says:

    Wondering where the “conversation” is about “conservation” in our state with these candidates? It’s interesting that 2 small letters, simple little letters, can mean so much in a word.

    Georgia’s made WABE headline news as Stephane Stokes reports us as the #1 state in the country for tree canopy destruction. http://bit.ly/2jPRi7L The study reported recent findings that “Georgia lost an average of 18,000 acres of urban tree cover per year — more than any other state” and estimated that “tree loss in Georgia has cost the state more than $5 million dollars per year.” I would say that’s conservative when you consider we have the highest cost of water in the entire country. https://bit.ly/2KxMqjS

    Yet we have some of THE most valuable forests in the country, if not the world. Old Growth. Big ones in undisturbed, pre-European soils and wetlands with 25′ girths and heights of 120′. They cannot be replicated. Only destroyed or protected.

    Top states for loss of tree coverage: Georgia, Alabama and Florida.

    Top states with the greatest loss of tree coverage in Urban areas: Georgia, Alabama, Rhode Island, Nebraska and Washington DC,

    Where is that finger pointing? I’m talking about the once beautiful City-in-the-Forest. http://bit.ly/2jR1cWH

    “The research estimates the approximate loss of benefits from trees in urban areas is $96 million per year. The annual benefits from trees, including natural air pollution removal, carbon sequestration, decreased building energy use and the resulting decreased power plant emissions are an estimated $18.3 billion.”

    Where are our trees going? To development’s land fills. To failed stream buffer protection. To failed tree ordinance protection. To failed zoning protection that requires hydro and geologic engineering studies before granting developers carte blanche to those last remaining remnant canopied parcels. To the lack of soil and wetland protection in a state with unique and shallow top soils on top of highly viscous clay. To the energy industry that converts our high-value SE trees into pellets, including 1,000 year old cypress trees, and exports them to Europe under the false pretense of “green bio-fuel”. With subsidy incentives? Where are these industries focused? Our Deep South. Our rural communities. Our urban “wild” pockets not yet conceived of as valuable. Our own back yards as cypress mulch or 4,000 square foot homes for 2 people. We’ve invited them in.

    Why are we not talking about our risk of stormwater costs that impacted Houston which in turn impacted the rest of the country in tax dollars spent to repair what mis-managed development broke? Why don’t we address the cost of biodiversity slowly collapsing around us which will impact agriculture, food supply chains and the life cycle built around our keystone trees? What about the health consequences in diseases that will continue increasing as we continue to let our high value trees perish. It’s hard to measure what removing something that’s been here longer than us will do to us.

    I’m not sure who to vote for here since what’s important to me in this life isn’t included in the conversation.

    Do we dare have this conversation at the state level? Do we care? How much longer can we afford not to care? Care deeply.

    Georgia, this is very risky business. http://bit.ly/2I8OfWZReport

    Reply
    • Noel M says:

      Melanie, you are spot on in raising this issue in terms of what should be a key point for those running for statewide public office.

      I also agree with the way you are framing it, which is as an economic and quality of life issue – not just one of concern to so-called “tree huggers.”Report

      Reply

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