It’s no secret that I’m a big David Shafer fan and supporter, so last night was hard. Those of us watching the results come in knew it was going to be tight, but we didn’t think we would end up drawing the short straw. Former State Representative Geoff Duncan will become the Republican nominee, but I sincerely hope that Duncan will work to mend fences with Shafer supporters. A good number of Shafer supporters will be Duncan’s future colleagues if he is elected in November.
The primary was an ugly campaign where topics focused on smearing a good man rather than focusing on what sort of policy Duncan can bring to the table. He’s going to have to work on wooing Republicans who supported Shafer through this primary, and now he’s going to have to focus on his agenda and how he’s going to work with the Senators in order to get that agenda through. Success is by no means guaranteed.
So, Geoff Duncan has caught the car…he has four months to figure out what he’s going to do with it. One question I’ve pondered aloud is “how hard will Senators make life be for Geoff Duncan in 2019?” I ask the question because Senators set their own rules for the chamber, and there’s a pretty good amount of leeway that the Georgia constitution gives Senators to make those rules and how much power is given to the Lieutenant Governor. In fact, we have seen times where the Senate has given a good amount of power to the Lieutenant Governor (for example, Casey Cagle) or to strip most of it away to where they are nothing more than a glorified gavel banger (for example, Mark Taylor when Republicans took the majority in the Senate). Where will he end up on this scale? My hunch is that, if Duncan wins in November, he’ll be put on a short leash.
“But what if he loses to Democrat Sarah Amico?!” Good question. The reality is that Amico would have no power (see Mark Taylor above) in a Republican-led Senate. Now that I answered that question, let’s take a look at the choppy waters (at best) that lie ahead for Duncan.
Duncan comes from across the hall. A House member jumping straight into the leadership of the Senate. It’s…strange and somewhat unusual since lieutenant governors in Georgia, in recent years, were once senators themselves. I don’t know what relationships Duncan has with the members of the Senate, but I’ve picked up on that members of their respective chamber tend to be a bit weary of the other chamber. You have a former State House member who is going to come across the hall and, for lack of a better phrase, tell the Senators how it’s going to be. I suspect that won’t be well received….especially if Duncan wants his agenda to move forward.
Discussions between Senate leadership, Senators, and the GOP nominee for LG will happen over the next few days and weeks if they haven’t started to occur already. Senate President Pro-tem Butch Miller will, more than likely, operate as the lieutenant governor in practice during the next legislative session. Depending on how the Senate is warming up to Duncan, they may loosen his leash a little, or they may pull it tighter. The Senators will definitely remind Duncan where the power lies within the Senate. No matter what, Butch Miller is in high cotton. Duncan, now the nominee, will need to start making close friends in the Senate chamber.
With Casey Cagle not moving into the house in West Paces, the Senate will, more than likely, be more stable. A stable Senate could work against Geoff Duncan’s work on gaining allies. There was speculation that Cagle would have tapped a few senators to fill positions in his administration and opening up seats in the Senate for fresh senators to come in. A Governor Cagle, assuming he did appoint a few senators, could have been a boon to a Lt. Governor Duncan. New blood in the Senate could have made wooing allies a bit easier for Duncan. Now, Duncan will have win the hearts and minds of Senators who may be looking at him with a jaundiced eye especially if they believe Duncan will turn the Georgia State Senate into an extension of the Georgia House. He has an uphill battle, and he will need people who can help build bridges with the members of the Senate.
Brian Kemp is a former member of the Senate, so it’s possible Duncan could persuade Kemp to have a team effort to help ease the transition of the new LG. Kemp, of course, would have a vested interest in making sure that the Senate isn’t locked in a battle with itself: more time Duncan and the Senators battle or try and sort out the “new reality”, the less time is spent on passing Kemp’s legislative agenda. Conversely, Kemp will have his hands full entering into the governorship, so he may not be a willing peace broker if the costs of political capital are steep.
All in all, Geoff Duncan may have won the election to become the Republican nominee for Lieutenant Governor on Tuesday night, but the real winner, in terms of power, is Senator Butch Miller.