Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan. Bob Andres, bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com

The Jolt: Geoff Duncan wants a two-term limit on lieutenant governors

Zell Miller served 16 years – four four-year terms – as lieutenant governor before he thought the time was right to seek a promotion. Casey Cagle held the job for three full terms, then failed in his own bid for governor last year.

If Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan gets his way, that won’t happen again.

On GPB’s “Lawmakers,” Duncan said late Wednesday that a proposed constitutional amendment limiting the lieutenant governor to two terms will be introduced.

“It’s a role that I believe sits in the executive branch. And I felt like it should mirror the rules and the timing of the governor’s term limit of two consecutive terms,” Duncan said. An accompanying press release was more pointed:

“The office of lieutenant governor is no place for academic tenure,” said Duncan. “Individuals elected to this office should focus solely on serving Georgians, and no lieutenant governor should consider this post a permanent home.”

The proposal is to be introduced by state Sen. Greg Dolezal, R-Cumming. If all goes as planned, voter approval would be sought on the November 2020 ballot. Two-thirds approval by the House and Senate would be needed by the end of the 2020 legislative session.

Given the need for a constitutional majority, Democratic assistance would be required in both chambers.

The office of lieutenant governor, who presides over the state Senate as its president, dates only to the 1940s. Miller’s service, from 1975 to 1991, holds the record.

Some may like it, some may not, but there is something nearly everyone can admire in Duncan’s conception of his position as part of the state’s executive machinery, rather than the legislative branch.

The state’s Open Records Act specifically exempts the Legislature from having to respond to public requests for documents.

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HB 481, the “heartbeat” bill that would ban most abortions in Georgia, is scheduled for a first hearing at 3 p.m. today before the Senate Science and Technology Committee. The committee is chaired by Renee Unterman, R-Buford, one of only two women in the Senate GOP caucus.

Supporters and opponents alike are summoning their people to Room 450 in the state Capitol, but they may be disappointed. In his interview on GPB’s “Lawmakers,” Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan hinted of a brief delay.

“We’re looking to bring this to the Senate floor as quickly as possible,” Duncan said. “After it’s been vetted. After it’s been heard, and after any sort of improvements that might need to take place.” He anticipated a floor vote next week.

Today’s meeting notice also included this highlighted sentence:

“The Chairwoman reserves the right to add or delete bills, call or not a bill for a vote, or change the agenda at her discretion at any time.”

One area in HB 481 that may demand some tickling: Language opening the records of physicians and hospitals to a large swath of law enforcement who presumably would be policing the anti-abortion measure. The specific wording:

“Physician, hospital, or other licensed health facility records shall be available to law enforcement agencies within the judicial circuit in which the physician, hospital, or health facility is located.”

“Shall” is one of the most powerful words used in bill-writing, amounting to a command. Previously, such access only applied to hospitals, and could only be sought by a district attorney within the jurisdiction. As currently written, HB 481 would give that access to police and sheriff’s departments across the state.

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A sign that the “heartbeat” bill will reverberate after this year? Carolyn Bourdeaux held a a state Capitol press conference this morning to assail the measure. She was the runner-up in last year’s Seventh District congressional race, narrowly losing a challenge to U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Lawrenceville. She’s an announced candidate for the 2020 contest.

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All eyes in Washington today will be on the U.S. Senate, which is slated to vote on Democrats’ bill that pronouncing Congress’ formal disapproval of President Donald Trump’s use of national emergency powers to seize funds for a southern border wall.

U.S. Sen. David Perdue has confirmed he’ll vote against it. The first-term Republican said the drug trafficking on the Mexico border constituted a “full-blown invasion.”

The vote of his Georgia colleague, however, remains a mystery. Johnny Isakson was still holding his cards close to the vest on Wednesday evening before Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell publicly announced the schedule. “I'm not a good speculator so I'm not going to speculate on something this fluid,” Isakson told reporters.

Earlier in the week, Isakson would not say whether he was seeking assurances that the White House would rule out siphoning money from Georgia’s military construction projects to pay for the wall. One Democratic estimate indicated that $234 million in funding for current Georgia projects is eligible to be tapped. The White House has previously indicated it would seek to back-fill funding for the projects and that nothing would be canceled. 

“I'm doing what I always do - I'm doing my due diligence," Isakson told reporters on Tuesday. A last-ditch GOP effort to avoid a confrontation with the president was scuttled by Trump on Thursday. Read our backgrounder on the forces shaping Isakson’s decision here.

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Speaking of Georgia’s senators, both rejected a resolution yesterday to end U.S. support for the Saudi coalition fighting in the Yemeni civil war, repeating votes they cast late last year. Supporters of the resolution sought a re-do after Democrats took over the House. It is now headed to the president’s desk, where it will likely be vetoed. 

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We are late to putting two and two together. Last week, U.S. Rep. David Scott, D-Atlanta, reported that he and Georgia colleague Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, had introduced something called “Fintech Act of 2019.” From Scott’s press release:

“My home state of Georgia is a dynamic, fast-growing national leader of fintech and payment companies, and it is very important for us in Congress to be proactive and help our fintechs get prepared to safely and successfully navigate our complex, multi-faceted federal financial regulatory structure.”

Indeed, Atlanta is becoming something of a hub for fintech – short for “financial technology.” And while it is true that the congressman from Georgia’s 13th District has long displayed an interest in the topic, he now may have an added reason for emphasizing it.

A couple weeks ago, Michael Owens announced that he would soon resign as chairman of the Cobb County Democratic party. There is talk that Owens might mount a primary challenge to Scott – he’s done so before.

In fact, his Twitter handle remains @OwensForGA13.

And what is Owens’ day job? He’s a cybersecurity expert. More specifically, he was recently named a vice president for Equifax, and is the company’s business information security officer. Owens was brought in to help with clean up in the aftermath of a massive 2017 data breach that exposed the personal information of more than 143 million people.

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We have an idea of what Nick Ayers is doing since leaving Washington. The Georgia operative and former aide to Vice President Mike Pence was selected to join the new class of the Forum of Young Global Leaders, which includes 127 executives, politicians, scientists and others. Check it out here.

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