Jack Kingston is the current US Representative from Georgia’s first Congressional district, a position he’s held since 1993. Prior to that, he was a Georgia state representative from 1985-1993. In other words, he’s the sort of Reagan/Gingrich era Republican who toes the party line that “government IS the problem”…but who’s nevertheless been IN government nearly his entire adult life. “Sucking from the government teat,” I believe, is the preferred phrase amongst the wingers when they wish to describe undesirable persons receiving government benefits, though apparently that description is not operational when describing a lifelong government functionary with whose views one happens to agree.
At any rate, when current US Senator Saxby Chambliss announced his retirement around this time last year, Kingston was among the first to formally announce his candidacy for the outgoing Chambliss’ seat. So let me say it again: Jack Kingston should on no account be a United States Senator, ever. Join me after the jump and I’ll explain why.
Why not? I mean, isn’t Georgia already among the deepest-red of red states, and isn’t Kingston therefore one of the less-nutty Republican candidates (and, likely, officeholders)? Wouldn’t Kingston be preferable to some of the true neanderthals the GOP could potentially serve up in the 2014 Georgia Senate race?
I’ll admit, when considering the list of declared (let alone potential) candidates for Chambliss’ seat, Kingston – at least at first glance – seems to pale in comparative nuttiness to the cartoonish wingnuttery of Paul Broun or Phil Gingrey. But that’s precisely the point: Kingston doesn’t outwardly seem as lunatic as either of those two…but at the end of the day, the votes Kingston will cast as a Senator on issues that affect not just Georgians but all Americans will be indistinguishable in nearly every case from the more theatrically loony potential candidates. Kingston even says so, in no uncertain terms:
In announcing Wednesday he’s joining the race for retiring U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ seat, the Savannah Republican told the AJC he’s a workhorse who “will yield no ground to any of my opponents as to who is the most conservative.” (emphasis added)
Why would Kingston say such a thing? Because, like virtually every other Georgia Republican officeholder outside of the Atlanta metro area, he knows how far right the party base in his district is. In the 2012 Presidential election, only two of the counties Kingston represents voted for President Obama. The rest racked up numbers for Mitt Romney that I’m sure Romney would love to have seen in the rest of the country. One county, Echols, along the Florida border, went Romney 83% to Obama 16%. When that’s your base, you can’t be seen as any further left, politically, than…oh, say…Attila the Hun. At least, not in a primary.
Yet Kingston is a canny enough politician to be able to recognize that what’s good for the base isn’t necessarily good for the general election. Kingston has a history of keeping his finger in the wind on traditional GOP issues that may be starting to blow against the GOP position, and making equivocal statements on them which he then doesn’t back up. It’s a neat balancing act: Kingston gets press for being “reasonable,” but – as long as nobody follows up to see whether he actually acts on these reasonable-sounding statements, he gets to play both sides of the issue.
For example, when GOP intransigence on their traditional “no new revenue (taxes), EVER” position began to hurt the GOP politicians nationally last year, Kingston was among the first signers of Grover Norquist’s infamous pledge to publicly “distance himself” from it:
“I viewed it as a statement of political philosophy more than a promise,” Kingston said Thursday of the anti-tax pledge that he signed at the request of anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform.
To a casual glance, that might make Kingston seem to be a thoughtful kind of moderate Republican who’s both able and willing to change his views over time. But notice I put “distance himself” in quotes, because, as the Florida Times-Union story is sharp enough to observe:
But whether it’s a promise or statement of philosophy, Kingston, who represents Southeast Georgia, has not voted to raise taxes once since he was elected to Congress in 1992. In fact, no Republican congressman or senator has voted to raise taxes since 1990.
In fact, it’s precisely Kingston’s understanding that appearing as unvarnished a loon as a Broun or a Gingrey damages him in a general election, coupled with his “aw, shucks, ma’am” image, that makes Kingston the more dangerous threat in this Senate race. If Kingston truly were the kind of moderate Republican that is all but extinct in today’s GOP, it might be worth hoping that the GOP primary process sent him on to the general as their candidate. But he’s not.
This is the real Jack Kingston:
In case you didn’t catch that, here’s the relevant part:
But one of the things I’m talking to the Secretary of Agriculture about: why don’t you have the kids pay a dime, pay a nickle, to instill in them that there is, in fact, no such thing as a free lunch. Or maybe sweep the floor in the cafeteria. And yes, I understand that that would be an administrative problem and I understand that it would probably lose you money — but think what we’d gain as a society in getting the myth out of their head that there is such thing as a free lunch.
If you found the sound of a career elected official who’s often plied with food and drink by lobbyists and others who wish to curry favor with him complaining about poor children receiving a free lunch to be both grotesque and hypocritical , well, you weren’t the only one. Local TV station WSAV pointed out that Kingston had expensed thousands of dollars worth of free (to him) lunches to the taxpayers, and accepted thousands of dollars more in free (again, to him) lunches as gifts from Georgia Bankers Association and the Congressional Institute (to name just two), in just the last three years
As tempting as it might be to focus on the admittedly delicious “gotcha” aspect of pointing out the hypocrisy of such a statement, the real obscenity here is not Kingston’s unselfconscious “do as I say, not as I do” mentality (which is, although newsworthy, not too out of character for GOP officeholders), but rather the notion that Kingston obviously feels (despite his salary and other perks) that he’s entitled to not pay for lunches. Apparently, though, children born into poor families who already have to contend with the everyday reality of, well, being poor, need to be made to grovel just a bit more for their daily ration of state-provided midday nutrition. Too bad they didn’t have the good sense to become politicians.
Of course, as soon as the outraged pushback began, Kingston began simultaneously trying to both spin and downplay his comments, telling CNN “This was not an indictment on anybody in a particular socioeconomic group. This would be good for all children…I never did say ‘poor children’.” That’s technically true, but since Kingston’s words were directed at those children receiving free lunches, it’s quite clear that’s who he indeed meant, since only poor children qualify for such assistance. Kingston doesn’t sound all that different from a Paul Broun or a Phil Gingrey after all, does he?
That’s because, in truth, he isn’t.
Either Broun or Gingrey may, at first blush, seem like the worse candidate to a progressive perspective, but in fact, they are the very candidates progressives should hope win the Georgia GOP primary. A Broun or a Gingrey emerging victorious from the primary would result either in (unlikely though it may be) a Democratic victory in the Georgia Senate race (which would have huge implications for the direction of politics nationally, on both sides of the aisle), or it will result in a Republican winning the Senate seat in Georgia who is not, in reality, much different from Kingston, but who appears far more loony.
By contrast, a Kingston win would make it virtually impossible for any potential Democratic candidate (likely to be Michelle Nunn) to win the general. Worse, it would put in place yet another GOP Senator with far-right views, but one with the political savvy to appear less extreme than he is.
Fortunately, the GOP electorate here in the Peach State appears reliably to prefer their nuttiest (caveat: this may have changed, since the most-recent polling on this issue seems to be from nearly six months ago, in August):
That may be changing, though. It appears as if the establishment GOP in Georgia understands the changing demographics of the state enough to know that either Broun or Gingrey might be poison to their brand, perhaps even at the cost of the seat:
Here’s the idea that rose up at a meeting called last week by Gov. Nathan Deal and attended by House Speaker David Ralston, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp: Move next year’s primary vote to May 20, a spring-time date that would be the earliest in Georgia history.
A pre-Memorial Day primary would ensure a larger GOP turnout with a voting population more akin to a November general election, and less likely to be dominated by the GOP’s most fervent and conservative activists.
In other words, the establishment Georgia GOP know that the sands of demographics are shifting under their feet, and they’re already taking what steps they can to make the GOP primary electorate look more like what a general election electorate might resemble, and less like the local tricorner hat convention-o’-loons. That should prick up progressives’ ears.
I don’t know of any official push behind a Kingston candidacy at this point, but it wouldn’t surprise me were one to emerge — and progressives here and everywhere else who care about turning things blue should make sure the word is out that although Jack Kingston may seem, when he’s campaigning or talking to national TV news cameras, to be more reasonable and moderate than Phil Gingrey or Paul Broun, he isn’t…and he won’t vote that way if he becomes the next Senator from Georgia.