“I want to create a culture in Georgia as Lieutenant Governor that rewards good policy over good politics.”
On January 11, 2018, former Georgia State Representative, retired professional baseball player and businessman Geoff Duncan, joined Merion West’s Henri Mattila for an interview to discuss his vision for Georgia as he campaigns for Lieutenant Governor.
Henri Mattila: Thank you for joining us today, Rep. Duncan. As my first question, why as a small business owner did you want to get involved in the often thankless job of politics?
Rep. Geoff Duncan (R-Ga.): There’s nothing in my background that points to politics. My first paycheck came-in as a minor league baseball player. So, after baseball’s over, I got into the business world and started several companies from scratch, and I was able to sell one.
Politics came into our family’s life when we were sitting in church in Atlanta, and Pastor Andy Stanley gave a speech called “Recovery Road,” and it challenged us as individuals to stop complaining and instead get involved. He used some pretty important examples such as education: too many people in America have gotten too comfortable pointing their fingers at teachers, administrators, and the curriculum. But not enough folks are spending time at the kitchen table talking about homework and the importance of that education to their future. So the call was to make a difference in your own family or community, or maybe even go run for office. And that launched us into a first-time political campaign against an incumbent here in Georgia for a State House position, which we ultimately won.
Henri: Do you have any pieces of advice for aspiring politicians—or those already in office for that matter—about balancing public life with life at home?
Rep. Duncan: You know for me, what makes me uniquely qualified is that the voter now has a great smell for folks that have a real perspective. I look through the lens of a person who has three young kids in the public school system, who is truly a small business owner, and faces the same challenges that the folks who are electing us.
The advice I would give to anyone aspiring for office is not to lose the perspective that has gotten them to think about all of these issues in the first place.
Henri: What would you consider to be your top accomplishment when you were serving in the Georgia legislature?
Rep. Duncan: I wrote a tax credit bill that was a fresh idea at the time. I wrote it at my kitchen table and introduced it into the General Assembly. It’s a rural program that allows corporations and citizens to write checks directly to one of 54 rural hospitals, and, in return, you get a 90% tax credit. It’s a $200 million program. And I think it’s a big accomplishment because—I look at it from my conservative point of view—it allows me to not grow the size of government or increase taxes, but instead truly try to address a real problem we have in this state.
I wrote an op-ed shortly after I wrote the bill, which was called the “Four Cs: Churches, Charities, Corporations, and Citizens,” and I feel that those ought to be the front lines against poverty, not just big government programs. The Four Cs are able to come to work every day to solve problems related to poverty, and bring things in that government programs never can, like innovation, volunteerism, and probably most importantly, an exit strategy. Government programs in their finest day and finest hour simply only stabilize a problem; they’re never truly able to change the trajectory of somebody’s life.
That was the learning lesson from this bill: today, other states have begun to copy the program and use it as an opportunity to solve some of the crises in their own states regarding poverty.
Henri: You touched on the importance of education. According to the most recent federal data from the National Center for Education Statistics which analyzed high school graduation rates from 2015-2016, Georgia ranked 44th out of 50 states, with a graduation rate of 79.4%. Do you think Georgia could do better—and do you think Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ controversial school choice plan would help or hurt students in your state?
Rep. Duncan: To answer your first question: absolutely, Georgia could do better at educating our kids across the state. Absolutely.
I think school choice is one of the tools that we need to continue to perfect here in Georgia. I’m one of those folks who thinks that the ultimate school choice ought to be at the kitchen table, with the family that surrounds that child and understands that child’s needs better than anybody else. One of the challenges I’ve realized during my five years in the General Assembly here in Georgia is that we continue to try to educate kids outside the Atlanta area, as though they live inside the Atlanta area. I think we need to do a better job of allowing communities to be more involved in how they educate their kids.
We’ve got to take it seriously: if education is important to every single economic initiative we have in this state as we continue to grow, we need to have an educated workforce, we need to have students that graduate from high school, go off to college and work hard to get good grades in a subject matter they’re interested in, and then stay here in Georgia to start great businesses and help to grow companies.
Henri: Related to growing companies, recent speculation has been mounting that Amazon will build its second headquarters in the Atlanta area. This has been a fairly controversial issue around the country, since many people liken the Amazon tax incentives to corporate welfare. Do you support giving heavy tax incentives to outside companies, such as Amazon, to build new offices or factories in Georgia?
Rep. Duncan: It would be a great opportunity for Amazon to call Georgia home. I think they’re seeing what so many other companies from around the world have noticed, that is, Georgia is a great place to run your business, this is a great place to raise your family, and ultimately a great place to retire. We get a lot of things right in Georgia. And then, hopefully, Amazon is going to see that story play out in the selection process.
However, what I’m guarded against is making any sort of tectonic shifts to who we are as a state just to accommodate one company. I think we have a great culture and a hard-working community here in Georgia, and so hopefully they continue to recognize that. But from an incentives standpoint, what surprised me in the General Assembly was how targeted some of these tax incentives were. They were actually isolated all the way down to an individual company. I was of the mentality that we do a better job for the taxpayers’ dollars when we incentivize an industry instead of one single company.
I’ll give you an example. Down here in Georgia, we have a film credit program that leads to something around $7 billion in economic impact. We haven’t just picked one winner or one studio. We’ve incentivized an entire industry and allowed it to organically grow. And I think those are jobs that stay here past a short-lived period of economic incentives. As a state, I would like to see us continue to look for opportunities to incentivize industries and not just isolated companies.
Henri: You touched on a good point. Throughout history, different states and cities have given single companies generous tax-based incentives to move jobs in their areas, but the thousands of promised jobs never came.
Rep. Duncan: Yes, but I would still be extremely excited for Amazon to come to Georgia. I think we’re a great place for them to call their second home, and I think we would have an incredibly eager workforce to take on their challenges and help their company grow.
Henri: In a recent video you posted on Twitter, you said that “We have our own version of the swamp in Georgia.” What did you mean by that?
Rep. Duncan: Sure. I’m definitely the outsider in this race. One of my main opponents is a gentleman by the name of David Shafer, and he has been in politics for nearly 30 years. He has been in the General Assembly for, I believe, 17 years.
It caught me off-guard when I first got elected a few years ago, and I walked into the room and saw too many individuals asking questions about who supported them and who is publicly endorsing them now. To me, I want to create a culture in Georgia as Lieutenant Governor—specifically in the Georgia State Senate—that rewards good policy over good politics. That is, in my opinion, what we need to do here in Georgia.
The “swamp” is where politics outmaneuvers good policy. And there’s not a person on either side of the aisle that elects anybody to office expecting them to play good politics over good policy. Nobody. That is a bipartisan problem that we’re trying to work to through. Until we solve that problem here in Georgia and as nation, we’re going to continue to have disgruntled voters.
Henri: As the final question, how might your experience as a professional pitcher help you effectively serve as Lieutenant Governor of Georgia?
Rep. Duncan: There’s a lot of life lessons I learned on the baseball field. Standing on the mound, in front of tens of thousands of people, with the bases loaded, no outs and the inning is over in seven minutes — you learn how to deal with pressure. Other life lessons I learned in the baseball world was knowing how to work hard, and how to chase the dream. I think those are qualities I continue to use not just in the baseball field, but also in the business world, and now in politics.
Chasing the dream isn’t just about waking up one day and being lucky; chasing the dream is about working away at the goal every single day, continuing to work hard on the easy days as well as on the hard days. So for me and our entire family, baseball has been huge part of our story and continues to be that way every day.
Henri: Thank you very much for your time today, Rep. Duncan.
Rep. Duncan: It was my pleasure, thank you.