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Kingston back in Congress with eyes on a Senate seat

POSTED: January 9, 2014 9:37 p.m.
Photo by Pat Donahue/

U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Savannah) talked about what’s on Congress’ plate to the Sunrise Rotary Club on Tuesday.

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Jack Kingston is back in Washington, D.C., as Congress resumes its 113th session. But he’s been pulling a lot of double duty as a sitting member of the House of Representative and an active candidate for a U.S. Senate seat.


Kingston, whose 1st District includes part of Effingham County, spoke to members of the Sunrise Rotary Club in Guyton on Tuesday morning on a wide variety of topics, including the budget, the Affordable Care Act and a pending farm bill that includes more than just subsidies for farmers.


“I strongly believe we are still the greatest country in the world,” he said, “and we have to do everything we can to make sure it’s there for the next generation.”


The race is on
Kingston, first elected to Congress in 1992, is running for the Senate seat being vacated by Saxby Chambliss. He held a grand opening of his campaign office in Gwinnett County last weekend, and the Savannah Republican has been working across the state, especially in the metro Atlanta area.


More than 200 people turned out for Saturday’s event, Kingston said, including Effingham County native son Artie Ulmer. Now, instead of visiting nearly two dozen counties to address voters and supporters, Kingston’s campaign has to cover the state from Rabun Gap to Tybee Light.


“It’s hectic,” Kingston said of the Senate campaign. “It’s a huge state, almost 10 million people, a lot of changes demographically. Johns Creek, a city only seven years old, has 79,000 people. It’s a huge challenge to get to know people in the Atlanta area. We’re spending a lot of time up there. We have a large number of supporters up there. We feel good about our social media and our hand-to-hand outreach.”


The House and the Senate have passed the Water Resources and Reform Development Act, which includes support for the Savannah harbor deepening. It still must go through a conference committee and then to President Obama’s desk to be enacted.


“I’m optimistic,” Kingston said. “It’s passed the Senate. It’s passed the House. Both bodies want this project. But sometimes what looks to be easy in Congress and Washington is not easy. I think we can get it done, hopefully in February.”


This month may be occupied by working on a budget, and Kingston voted against the deal that ended the government shutdown last fall.


“I did not support the deal because it increased the spending,” he said. “We always increase spending and promise to offset it tomorrow, and it’s never offset. That’s why I voted against it.”


Under the deal reached last fall to end a partial government shutdown, the debt ceiling was raised through Feb. 7 and extended continuing resolutions to fund federal agencies through Jan. 15.


“I am very concerned that we keep postponing for another day,” Kingston said, “and we need to be able to sit down and make some tough decisions. I’ve cut my own office budget and returned $1.3 million. When I was chairman of the agriculture appropriations committee, I cut spending $3.6 billion. You can get it done, even in today’s environment, but it’s a thankless job.”


Feeling the heat
Kingston and his campaign were thrust into a national spotlight after a video of him discussing children receiving free and reduced school lunches and if they should perform tasks such as sweeping the school floors in return aired.


The focus on his statements to the Jackson County Republicans showed, to him, that Democrats believe he is the candidate to beat in November. Michelle Nunn, the daughter for former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, is leading in polls for the Democratic nomination. She has raised more than $3.3 million for her campaign, while Kingston’s war chest tops $3.4 million.


“I think they’re good,” he said of his chances of winning the GOP nomination, “which is why they’re attacking me. I I’m the one they’re worried about. I came from the private sector. She’s a child of privilege, and I came from a middle-class family.”


Kingston said the discussion that created the maelstrom of criticism stemmed from a larger talk about work ethic in young people. He said the feedback from the incident has been people telling him that they had jobs when they were 14 or 15 and they learned a work ethic then.


“You learn the work ethic that we need so desperately in America today,” he said. “And most people who are 35 or older had jobs when they were 16 or older.


“I’m in a race against a very liberal, very well-funded Democrat. Their job is to take bits and pieces of speeches and cut and splice and make you look as bad as possible. The context of everything was when you were 14 or 15 did you have a job that learned lessons that you still apply to life. Warren Buffet’s kid should be doing work. It’s good for teenagers in America. What I think my liberal opponent wants is everybody on the entitlement system, with no strings attached. I think it’s important for us to have people who are able to work, to work.”


Kingston said he wants to be seen as someone who unites rather than divides people. He told the Sunrise Rotary members that you can get elected by 51 percent of the people but you still have to work with 100 percent.


“This isn’t about me getting elected — this is about the United States of America,” he said. “If we don’t get united, we’re going to lose our prominence and being a leader in the free world. It’s important for America to be strong, and we have to be unified to do that.”

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