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Geoff Duncan speaks as newly elected Lt. Governor for the state of Georgia during Brian Kemp’s election night party during the early morning of Wednesday, November 7, 2018, at the Classic Center in Athens, Georgia. Kemp is the Republican candidate in Georgia’s 2018 gubernatorial race. (Photo/Miranda Daniel, mirandadanielphoto@gmail.com)

Georgia Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan has visited Athens three times in the past four days for football and community speaking events.

“And that’s saying something because I went to Georgia Tech,” Duncan said, which was followed by laughter from members of the Clarke County Republican Party. The group held its monthly meeting at the Country Inn Hotel on Old Epps Bridge Road on Sept. 9 to discuss local and state legislation.

Before the meeting began, copies of the recent resolution passed by the Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission supporting Latinx citizens and undocumented Athens residents were placed on empty chairs.

ACC District 6 Commissioner Jerry NeSmith was present, and explained that his decision to vote in favor of the resolution was in his belief in Jesus and the U.S. Constitution.

“I believe that Jesus taught us to welcome strangers,” NeSmith said. “I believe in the Constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment, which is equal justice to all, which has been upheld in the Supreme Court twice.”

While NeSmith emphasized that the resolution had no impact on local government issues, Athens GOP Chairman Gordon Rhoden had a different opinion.

“We disagree, because I think undocumented is illegal,” Rhoden said. “It has no effect, but it lets us know where [the Mayor and Commission] stand.”

During the meeting, a petition was passed around stating Clarke County GOP members’ opposition to wording in the ACC Mayor and Commission’s proclamation that will be given to local state legislators. The proclamation, which will be voted on at a Sept. 10 Special Called Session of the Commission, features a declaration that would infer a mandatory registration of firearms.

As lieutenant governor, Duncan is the president of the Georgia Senate and thus instrumental in deciding what issues pass through state legislation. Duncan highlighted the passage of Senate Bill 2 and Senate Bill 17, which seek to provide broadband access to rural Georgians. He also emphasized Gov. Brian Kemp’s budget featuring teacher pay raises and creating discussions on healthcare reform.

“I think the ideas we come up with, the strategies we develop here in Georgia can be so good that other states are envious of what we’re doing,” Duncan said. “We were bold in what we did around a couple big areas.”

Duncan referenced the high number of healthcare bills that were proposed in the previous General Assembly session, as well as access to telehealth.

Telehealth is described as “a broad variety of technologies and tactics to deliver virtual medical, health and education services… a collection of means to enhance care and education delivery” by the Center for Connected Health Policy,

For the future

Duncan also talked about what he’s looking forward to working on in the upcoming legislative session.

Education was one of two such topics. He explained the need to empower teachers, reform standardized testing and engage parents and teachers to “center the education system in their communities around the child.”

“Quality K-12 education is the greatest gift we can give a child as this gives them the opportunity to provide for themselves and their family for a lifetime,” Duncan said.

The other goal Duncan mentioned is to help Georgia become “the technology capital of the East Coast.”

While Duncan acknowledged he doesn’t want to use the phrase as a marketing strategy, he wants to encourage business growth in the state’s technology sector and train an increasingly knowledgeable workforce.

“I want it to be just absolutely obvious that this is the best place to bring your big ideas, to raise your capital for your business, to grow it and to call Georgia home,” Duncan said.

Sen. Bill Cowsert, who represents Athens-area District 46, was also in attendance. Both Cowsert and the lieutenant governor agreed that budget cuts to prepare for a slower economy and healthcare reform could be hot-button issues in the next session.

Another controversial subject could be the impending lawsuit from American Civil Liberties Union against House Bill 481, known as the “heartbeat bill.” The bill bans most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.

Duncan said he hopes the bill would not be challenged since “both chambers passed it and the governor signed it,” he said.

Get out the vote

Duncan told attendees to vote for local Reps. Houston Gaines and Marcus Wiedower of House Districts 117 and 119 who Duncan said support “you and your values down at the Capitol.”

“Y’all got a big, big job in front of you making sure that you keep this thing going,” Duncan said.

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