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Lieutenant governor vouches for rural Georgia
Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan
Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan addresses Effingham County residents in the James H. “Sloppy” Floyd Building during Effingham Day at the Capitol on Feb. 11. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff
He is the original author of the rural hospital bill that has meant so much to rural hospitals all around the state. He is a person who thinks outside the box.
Sen. Jack Hill

 ATLANTA — Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan lives on the cusp of metro Atlanta but governs like he is from a rural part of the state.

Duncan spoke to Effingham Day at the Capitol participants in the James H. “Sloppy” Floyd Building on Feb. 11. He was introduced by Sen. Jack Hill.

“Geoff Duncan has been a friend to rural Georgia long before he ran for lieutenant governor,” Hill said. “He is the original author of the rural hospital bill that has meant so much to rural hospitals all around the state. He is a person who thinks outside the box.”

The lieutenant governor, a Cumming resident, explained  his support for people in the rural parts of the state.

“So often, I think people arrive at the Georgia Capitol from different districts all over the state — and I don’t think they are evil when they do this, they are just maybe a little misinformed — but they think folks live in rural Georgia because they have to,” Duncan said. “Folks live in rural Georgia because you want to, right? You want to raise your family there, you want to run your businesses there and you want to worship there.

“That’s just who you are and it’s woven into your fabric.”

Duncan said rural Georgians should be taken into account when legislators make decisions.

“I think it makes us more in tune with what rural Georgia needs,” he said. “Y’all are up here just wanting to be a part of your own success.”

Duncan then shared his thinking regarding the Rural Hospital Tax Credit he championed as a senator in 2017. It allows taxpayers to reduce their state income tax bill by donating to eligible rural hospitals, including Effingham Health System.

Many of the state’s rural hospitals are under tremendous financial stress. At least seven have closed since 2010.

Duncan’s program has generated tens of millions of dollars that hospitals have used to upgrade equipment, offset expenses and pay salaries, among other things.

“The Rural Hospital Tax Credit wasn’t about Atlanta telling your rural hospitals what to do,” he said. “It was giving you a tool to help yourselves and raise those dollars, and what I like to call the ‘four Cs,’ — churches, charities, corporations and citizens — to be on the front lines of defense against the challenges that face our community.”

Duncan said rural Georgian can improve its overall health through telemedicine.

“The No. 1 prize possession of telehealth should be rural Georgia because it gives opportunities for your providers to gain more access and more affordable care,” he said.

Duncan has extended his rural focus into other areas since becoming lieutenant governor last year. Those include K-12 education, technology, safety and foster care.

“I look through the lens of what we can do to empower you and your communities to be part of your solutions,” he said.

Duncan credited Hill and the other members of Effingham County’s powerful legislative delegation — House Majority Leader Jon Burns and Rep. Bill Hichens — for helping him achieve his goals.

“It’s a learning curve for me each and every day,” he said. “I think of my days as a state rep (of Senate District 26 in 2013) and it was only the second time I had ever walked into this building — the Capitol. It was the day I got sworn in.

“... I really realized early on that if I was going to be successful I had to focus on policy over politics. I was going to have to dig into the weeds and surround myself with people smarter than me who could help me negotiate a lot of the issues.

“We try to get that right everyday. We don’t do it 100 percent of the time but we certainly try to.”