Georgia Republicans and Democrats pick their nominees for the state’s open U.S. Senate seat in just four months, the earliest primary date in the state’s recorded history.
Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Marietta) is part of a crowded GOP field that hopes to replace Saxby Chambliss and keep Georgia’s Senate seat in Republican hands. Gingrey is an obstetrician and gynecologist who has served in Congress since 2003. He was among a group of Republican candidates who visited GPB’s studios in late December to talk about the race and their candidacy (see below for links to the others).
Some highlights from the conversation:
Gingrey says the difference between the Republican U.S. Senate candidates is more style than substance.
“If you look at the voting records of those three of us who are in the House, our voting records are similar. Not identical, but similar. There will be differences, and those differences, I’m sure, we’ll have time over these next five months to talk about that…. But I honestly believe, from a policy perspective, we’re all—and I certainly am—for traditional, Georgia, conservative values.
“I think likability is a big factor. It’s sometimes the way you say things, the way you approach people, your ability to listen without hurting someone’s feelings if you disagree with them, and coming across with too much rhetoric. These are subtle differences, but it means a lot to the electorate.”
Gingrey says comments supporting former Missouri Rep. Todd Akin and suggesting schools teach about traditional gender roles were awkward and taken out of context.
Gingrey said Akin was “partly right” when he said during a Senate campaign in 2012 that women could avoid becoming pregnant in cases of “legitimate rape.” Gingrey says now he made “an awkward attempt to explain the unexplainable” when trying to clarify what Akin meant.
“Todd Akin’s a great friend of mine. He’s a wonderful human being. But he put his foot in his mouth and he made a bad mistake.”
Gingrey has also taken heat for a House floor speech in support of the Defense of Marriage where he said elementary schools should teach children about traditional roles of a mother and a father in marriage.
“I was trying to say—and maybe [I was] not too articulate in the way I said it--[was that] a child has their best opportunity in life [when they are] raised by a mom and dad. I stand by that. I feel very strongly about traditional family values. Whether the mom is the breadwinner and the dad is a stay-at-home dad or the roles are reversed, it really doesn’t matter. But there are differences, and I think children benefit so much from the talent, skills and information that can be given by a mom and a dad.”
Gingrey says “traditional Georgia values” include things like morality, staying within a budget and limited federal government.
“People in Georgia believe in federalism…. Federalism, as our founding fathers intended it to mean, is the states have all the rights that are not enumerated to the federal government. Unfortunately, we’ve seen a slow erosion of that.”
He said Georgians want senators and representatives who are not embarrassments.
“[They want someone who] has moral character, moral fiber; has family background like I do. My wife and I have been married 43 years. We’re both native Georgians. We have four children and 13 grandchildren. We regularly attend church on Sunday. When I describe traditional Georgia values, that’s the things that I’m talking about: conservatism, don’t spend beyond your means, don’t borrow a third of your money that you spend each month, as the federal government does.
“When it’s necessary, tighten your belt. And teach your children good values, fiscal values, moral and religious values.”
Gingrey says a bill encouraging pharmaceutical companies to develop new antibiotics is a signature achievement.
“You remember a couple of years ago the young girl who was injured on a zip line and had a horrible infection. I drafted a bill to help pharmaceutical companies get back into the business of developing new, fifth-generation antibiotics that would’ve treated her and patients like her. It gives the companies a longer period of exclusivity before generics can come in, encouraging them to make that investment.”
Gingrey praised outgoing Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ for working with Democrats on big ideas.
“[Chambliss] has been criticized at home for some of the compromises he has tried to make, but I think he did that in the spirit of trying to move the ball in the conservative direction.”
“I don’t see myself sitting down and forming a ‘gang,’ if you will, with the [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid’s of the world. But certainly there will be Democratic members of the Senate—Blue Dog Democrats, moderate Democrats—that certainly we can talk to, but it’s always got to be that I’m not going to give up our principles, my principles, or Georgia traditional values in any kind of negotiation.”
Gingrey says Congress can bring out the worst in people.
“Working in Congress can bring out the worst in an individual. I think working in medicine usually brings out the best in an individual as far as honesty and compassion and thinking about the other person more than you dwell on your own success and ambition.
“What I like the best about Congress is policy and getting the policies right, whether it’s talking about reforming Social Security or Medicare—holding harmless, of course, those individuals who are currently on those wonderful programs—but Congress can be a little lonely.
“I think it was Harry Truman who said once, ‘If you want a friend in Congress, get a dog.’ I haven’t gotten a dog yet, and I do have some good friends in Congress—I’m very thankful for that—but it can be a lonely place.”
Other Senate Conversations:
Click here to listen to our conversation with Rep. Paul Broun (R-Athens).