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Candidates for Georgia’s second-highest office miles apart on health care

Georgia lieutenant governor candidates: Democrat Sarah Riggs Amico and Republican Geoff Duncan
Georgia lieutenant governor candidates: Democrat Sarah Riggs Amico and Republican Geoff Duncan

Georgia Democrats and Republicans are facing state health problems: there are a lot of Georgians who don’t have health insurance, and rural residents may not be near any providers anyway. The two folks who want to be Georgia’s second-ranking statewide elected official offer different prescriptions.

Democrat Sarah Riggs Amico said that as Georgia lieutenant governor, she’d work to expand Medicaid — publicly subsidized health insurance — to more low-income Georgians.

“We’re in a health care crisis in Georgia,” Amico said, speaking at a Tuesday debate in Atlanta.

Dozens and dozens of Georgia counties lack medical specialists such as pediatricians. Rural hospitals are closing, in part due to the cost of caring for patients who have no insurance and no means to pay for care. Amico said that a Medicaid expansion would put insurance cards in more Georgians’ pockets, create jobs and help shore up the health care system.

As it happens, Republican Geoff Duncan’s most high-profile legislative initiative in his five sessions in the state House was a rural hospital tax credit: donate to a struggling rural hospital and get some discount off your state taxes. He said Medicaid is bad health care and that Georgia needs to leverage innovation and technology to help solve the health care problem.

“Expanding Medicaid doesn’t lure doctors into rural Georgia,” Duncan said.

The lieutenant governor matters because that person presides over the state Senate, giving them a pretty big say in what pieces of legislation do — or don’t — come up for a vote.

Both Amico and Duncan make much of their backgrounds in business. Lieutenant governor would be Amico’s first elected office. Duncan’s nearly five years in the state House hardly make him a career politician.

Amico is executive chair of Jack Cooper, a family trucking and logistics firm. Duncan, with his wife, started a small marketing firm almost 20 years ago and subsequently sold it. He remains active as an entrepreneur.

Democrats are hoping 2018 is the year their exile from statewide office comes to an end.

Amico said Georgia has problems in K-12 education, health care and maternal mortality and Republicans haven’t solved them in more than a decade of dominating state office.

“Anything that they could have, should have, would have done, they should have done in those 14 years,” Amico said.

But Georgia voters do keep choosing Republicans, suggesting the party is popular.

Duncan said in the closing weeks of the election he’ll be talking to voters about what he said conservative leadership has delivered, like low unemployment, K-12 education spending and a state personal income tax cut.

“Georgia’s going to decide if we’re going continue to be recognized as a shining city ... or we’re going to elect folks like my opponent who wants to import California’s values and their problems,” Duncan said. The “shining city” was a phrase often used by Ronald Reagan to describe a place that’s a light for the rest of the world.

Both Amico and Duncan are leaning on their own wealth to run this race. Duncan reported raising some $2.2 million through Sept. 30 this year; that includes reported loans of $350,000 to his own primary and general campaign.

Amico reported raising about $1.4 million for the race. Some $676,000 of that is loans from herself to her primary and general campaigns.

Those figures do not include spending on either candidate’s behalf by the parties or other outside groups.

Election Day is Nov. 6. Early voting begins Oct. 15.

The debate between Amico and Duncan will be archived on the Atlanta Press Club’s YouTube channel and will be broadcast on GPB at 7:00 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 10.