Geoff Duncan stood in front of the Georgia Senate, looking out in the chamber.
“The chair recognizes the majority leader to speak on the bill,” he said, calling on state Sen. Mike Dugan to discuss the legislation being debated on the floor.
But instead of Dugan, a woman rose to urge passage of the measure.
She was one of about five staffers standing in for various senators last week to help Duncan prepare for his new role as Georgia’s lieutenant governor. It was Duncan’s fifth and final training session before he spends at least the next four years presiding over the chamber.
“I wanted to go to spring training,” the former minor-league baseball player said. “I really wanted to actually be in the chamber … to be comfortable.”
Not only did he get hands-on training, he said he went back and watched several years’ worth of Senate floor sessions — or “game film.”
Duncan, who will be sworn in Monday, pulled off an upset during last year’s Republican primary runoff to best the presumed front-runner, former state Sen. David Shafer. The Cumming resident said he’s also spent the time since he prevailed in the general election meeting with as many senators as he can to learn about their legislative goals for the session.
“I’m not just anxious to meet a senator, I’m anxious to build a relationship with a senator,” Duncan said.
A self-described outsider, Duncan served five years in the House before resigning in 2017 to focus on his campaign. But he will have to quickly shed that outlook, former Sen. George Hooks said.
“He’s no longer an outsider, he’s going to be an insider,” said Hooks, who served 22 years in the Senate under three lieutenant governors. “I think that’s the way he needs to play it. Be attentive to what they need because the Senate is a little different than the House.”
Duncan will preside over a chamber where all the Republican senators lined up behind other candidates in the primary election, most supporting Shafer. Republican senators quickly endorsed Duncan after the primary.
Former state Rep. Allen Peake, who didn’t run for re-election this year, was one of few in the General Assembly to support Duncan from the beginning.
“I know Geoff,” Peake said. “And I know he’s got a commitment to doing what’s fair and right and reasonable when it comes to governing. But politics is rough and tumble, and there’s going to be times I’m sure he’s going to prove his mettle.”
Duncan said he’s up for the challenge.
The owner of a small marketing business who consulted with health and construction companies, Duncan said he plans to bring that leadership experience to governing. Peake said he thinks Duncan’s experience in the House and running small businesses will serve him well in the Senate.
“Leadership is leadership whether it’s in the business world or political world or academia,” Peake said. “The same principles apply.”
As far as his policy priorities, he said he wants to focus on improving access to health care and providing a quality education to Georgia’s students.
On health care, Duncan said he wants to tackle requiring price transparency for those receiving medical care and improve access to telemedicine.
“And I want to make moves in this state that empower teachers to do what they want to do and love to do, and that’s teach,” he said.
Duncan said he doesn’t plan to shy away from some of the state’s more controversial issues such as passing “religious liberty” legislation or bills limiting access to abortion, both issues he campaigned on.
“I want a chamber with a great atmosphere for strong, rigorous, fact-based debate,” he said. “I want to allow senators to express their opinions and bring legislation forward.”
He was already beginning to make himself at home in his new job last week, with photos of his family — his wife, Brooke, and their sons Parker, 16, Baylor, 13, and Ryder, 8 — hanging on walls throughout the lieutenant governor’s office.
Duncan’s family played a central role throughout the campaign — appearing in campaign commercials — and thanking them is one thing he said he’s excited about as he goes through the ceremony of his first day presiding over the Senate on Tuesday.
“The part that actually brought a tear to my eye is that I’m given an opportunity to recognize my wife and three boys on the Senate floor,” he said. “That is a unique moment that I am really looking forward to.”
Then, he said, it’s down to business.
“My passion is to get up every day and make the state better in the afternoon than it was in the morning,” Duncan said.
Stay on top of what’s happening in Georgia government and politics at ajc.com/news/georgia-government/.
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