He may be a Republican, but Jack Kingston’s an Athens kind of guy. The Savannah congressman rides his bike to work, keeps a rock encyclopedia at his bedside and cut the ribbon on the Allman Brothers’ renovated Big House museum in Macon.
A rally at the Five Points fire station today was the last stop on Kingston’s statewide tour after announcing his Senate candidacy Thursday. He was introduced by former mayor Doc Eldridge, who was two years ahead of the 58-year-old at Clarke Central High School—and even back then wore saddle shoes and schmoozed with the teachers, according to Kingston. His mother was involved in the Athens GOP “when it was a tiny, fledgling organization. I’m not sure it’s grown much since,” Kingston joked.
He moved to Savannah to sell insurance after graduating from UGA, but he still has ties to Athens. The son and brother of college professors, he frequently speaks at UGA, where his son attends classes.
“He’s been my go-to guy in Washington for years,” Eldridge said. (His endorsement is a personal one, not in his role as president of the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce.)
Of course, a common complaint about another Senate candidate, Rep. Paul Broun (R-Athens) is that he’s more interested in grandstanding than getting anything done. Kingston didn’t take any swipes at Broun or another opponent, Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Marietta), but he emphasized his effectiveness and experience in the private sector, working on agriculture issues and representing five major military bases.
As chairman of the House Appropriations Committee’s agriculture and food subcommittee, he said he cut spending 14 percent. He also said he returned $1 million in taxpayer funds for office expenses to the treasury. (Broun, on the other hand, once blew through most of his office budget mailing thinly-veiled campaign literature to constituents.)
Make no mistake: Kingston is conservative, maybe more conservative than Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss, whose impending retirement sparked the melee we’re seeing now. He voted against TARP, the Wall Street bailout, for example. And whereas Isakson and Chambliss both voted to allow debate on the gun control bill before helping to vote it down, Kingston said he would not have voted for cloture.
“The concern I have about background checks is it leads to registration,” he said.
He is not as severely conservative, though, as Broun and Gingrey, both of whom voted against the draconian Ryan budget because it didn’t cut spending enough.
“It balances the budget,” Kingston said. “It’s a solid budget that works.”
The conventional wisdom is that Kingston isn’t well-known enough in Republican North Georgia strongholds to win. He’ll have plenty of money to change that, though, having already raised nearly $2 million.
“Whether you go to work on a John Deere tractor or you’re on the 44th floor of an office building in Atlanta, you still want the same thing,” he said.
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