If there can be said to be a front-runner in the GOP primary for Georgia’s open U.S. Senate seat, it might be Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Savannah).
The 11-term congressman has so far raised the most money in the race to replace retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss. In an interview with GPB in late December, Kingston called himself the “consensus conservative” in the race.
“I think that I can bridge the various factions in our party, and I think that, in terms of my conservative credentials, I’m as strong as any of the candidates,” Kingston said.
He and three other Republican candidates sat down with GPB to talk about their candidacies and the unique skills they would bring to the office. Some highlights of the conversation:
Kingston defended his comments that kids who receive free or reduced-price lunch should “sweep floors” to help pay for their meals.
“It’s an appeal to America to make sure we’re keeping our work ethics and passing it on to future generations. That [statement] was in the context of a broader discussion. One of the downsides of running for office [is] it’s very difficult to have a discussion without the hyperbole coming in and the sensitivity police coming out. But we do know, for example, in Montessori schools they have some work requirements that have been very positive for the children. So my question is, in the context of a broader discussion, is there something we’re missing? Can we do a better job of passing the work ethic on? Certainly you do not want to stigmatize any children, you don’t want to pick on any children, you don’t want to single anybody out.
“Now, maybe it’s not a good idea, but the status quo isn’t working. You know, today, it’s just a shame you can’t have a discussion without someone jumping on you, and I’m learning that about being a Senate candidate.”
Kingston outlined what he called a “unified platform” for the Republican Party.
“I was in Congress when we passed the Contract with America, and what I saw was we were able to get New England moderate Republicans, western libertarian Republicans and southern social conservative Republicans all on the same page. One of the big challenges for the Republican Party is that we spend a lot of time maybe fighting over the differences of [Texas Sen.] Ted Cruz on one side and [Arizona Sen.] John McCain on the other.
“The American Renewal initiative, which I have actually been working on for four or five years, seeks to bring the party together. Bolstering the military; ‘workfare’ over welfare; energy independence; balancing the budget; tax simplification; regulatory reform, including abolishment of Obamacare—those are all issues that most Republicans are going to agree on and independent voters will be attracted to.
“Let’s just talk about gas prices alone. When President Obama was sworn in in January 2009, gas was $1.90 a gallon. Now, if you see it at $3.17, you slam on the brakes, turn in and pump the gas whether you need one gallon or your tank’s empty. I think if we start exploring our own energy again and start developing it more, then we can bring gas prices down to where they used to be.”
Kingston pointed to leases oil and gas companies already hold to drill on public lands, though the Obama administration has prevented them from exploring the petroleum reserves.
“We should open those up. We should build the Keystone pipeline. We should not pass EPA rules that get in the way of horizontal drilling or [hydraulic] fracking,” Kingston said.
“Workfare” over welfare means requiring able-bodied food-stamps recipients to work, get job training or be enrolled in school, Kingston said.
“It’s not a new concept; it’s something that we have been doing. But one of the things we’re seeing in this ‘Obama economy’ is that disability claims for younger people have gone up tremendously. Since 2007, disability claims have gone up 40 percent. Did America all of a sudden get hurt? Did America all of a sudden age out? I don’t think so. I think it’s a reflection of the economy, and we need to have work requirements for public assistance if you’re able to do the work.”
Kingston said his signature accomplishment is shepherding passage of the Savannah harbor deepening through Congress.
“We originally passed that bill in 1999. When we started doing it, it was just sort of a Savannah, Ga., project. Now we have people from the governor to [Atlanta Mayor] Kasim Reed on board. Virtually every Democrat and Republican is in support of this. Nearly every chamber [of commerce] in the state of Georgia is supporting this project. It has a $1 spent, $5.50 return on it. It’s good for Georgia, it’s good for the economy, and it’s a good investment for the U.S. taxpayers.”
Congress must reauthorize the deepening project because the $652 million cost exceeds the original budget. A provision in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act would raise the 1999 spending cap. That bill is currently in a conference committee to resolve differences in the House and Senate versions. Kingston said that provision is secure, but “we’ve got to get the other unrelated provisions hammered out.”
Kingston said all new federal regulations should undergo a cost-benefit analysis before they’re enacted.
“If you have a new regulation coming out of a bureaucracy, then there would be a cost-benefit analysis to say, ‘OK this new regulation is going to cost industry $300,000, $300 million, but it’s going to give us $400 million in benefit. Or maybe it’s not even going to give us much benefit. Either way, let’s let Congress go back and pass the legislation that would require this.’ Because what we see right now is a bureaucracy that’s out of control, making it’s own rules and regulations that are killing jobs. If it’s that dog gone important, why isn’t Congress voting for it?
“What [my] Values Act says is, you’ve got to come back to Congress on your new rules and regulations and present the case. Then let us vote on it. I think that’s something that would really be helpful.”
Kingston say such a move is not adding another layer of bureaucracy.
“To create more oversight on the bureaucracy is a very positive thing. I’ll give you an example, right now the EPA has a proposal that would require one out of six dishwashers in America to be replaced. One out of six. What we want to do is fight against some of this silliness. Another one is a 206-page new regulation document on ceiling fans. The folks at one of the building supply stores tell me that will mean that a $35 fan will become a $70 fan.”
Kingston said he’ll avoid a mud-slinging primary campaign.
“I’m trying my best to say, listen, I’m going to support whoever the Republican nominee is. I not attacked any of my opponents. I think three or four of them make part of their daily stump speech attacking me. Again, part of my leadership example is, you know what, we don’t have to start attacking each other.
Can he keep that up?
“We’re coming up on almost one year now, because Saxby [Chambliss] announced his retirement January 26, so almost a year. And we’ve kept it pretty well clean and above-board so far. I hope we can make it through June and July with the same tenor. I think as soon as you start throwing that mud and somebody throws it back, it’s all over with.”
Other Senate Conversations: