SAVANNAH — Jack Kingston has officially entered a crowded field for Georgia’s soon-to-be-open Senate seat.
Kingston, who has served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 20 years, announced his candidacy Thursday morning, joining fellow Georgia Congressmen Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey in the pursuit of Saxby Chambliss’ Senate post. Earlier this year, Chambliss announced his intention not to seek re-election in 2014.
“It’s time in my political life to begin a new chapter,” Kingston said to cheers from friends and supporters along River Street.
Currently on the House Appropriations Committee, Kingston serves as the chairman of the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies subcommittee. He is also senior member of the Defense subcommittee.
“I have the work ethic, I have the record of accomplishment, I can get things done,” he said. “I can work on military issues, on agriculture issues. Six in 10 jobs in Georgia are still agriculture-related. No one has that experience I have. I want to get America working again.”
Since his first election to Congress in 1992, Kingston has never had less than 62 percent of the vote in the subsequent 10 elections and twice has run unopposed for his 1st Congressional District seat.
“To be elected and returned to office so many times is a great honor,” he said. “It would be easy to take the safe road and stay in the House and hide behind the mantle of seniority. But I am convinced the battleground for America is in the United States Senate.”
Kingston, who grew up in Athens and attended the University of Georgia before moving to Savannah to begin his professional career, said he wasn’t daunted by the prospect of being a south Georgia candidate against counterparts from more populous north Georgia.
He pointed to Chambliss, from Moultrie, Glynn County’s Mack Mattingly and Perry’s Sam Nunn as examples of candidates not from north Georgia winning a Senate race.
“Georgia has had a tradition of a metro Atlanta and a south Georgia senator,” he said. “What I have found is the people in north Georgia have the same concerns as the ones in south Georgia — jobs, balancing the budget, national security. I think that message is going to resonate in north Georgia.”
Before his announcement, Kingston had gone on a speaking tour of the state and extolled his own knowledge of the state from his years working in insurance and in politics.
“We’ve learned the challenges of those whose office might be a John Deere tractor or a corporate boardroom on the 40th floor of an office building in Atlanta,” he said. “There’s so much in common, raising kids in this sometimes crazy and morally decaying world, the worries of financial stability, high taxes, terrorist threats and high gas prices. We need to end crony capitalism, where insiders get the leg up. We need common-sense government. We need strong government policy, not laugh lines for Jay Leno. We need new leadership in the United States Senate, and that’s why I’m running.”
Dr. Ben Watson, Kingston’s brother-in-law and a member of the state House of Representatives, cheered the 11-term congressman’s entry into the Senate race.
“I’m so happy this moment has come,” Watson said. “These United States and our great state of Georgia need somebody like Jack Kingston. He’s a straight shooter, he’s honest, he’s full of integrity.”
Kingston also touted his record of fiscal conservatism, pointing out he has returned more than $1 million in office expenses allotted to him over the years.
“No one is going to get to the right of me on saving money,” he said. “I’ve returned more than $1 million in office expenses by being a tightwad.”
Kingston also pointed to his 100 percent record on behalf of the National Federation of Independent Business, a 95 percent rating for his lifetime voting from the American Conservative Union and his 85 percent rating from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
“Businesses do best without government interference,” he said. “Competition makes them stronger and if they make mistakes, they pay for it, not taxpayers through bailouts.”
An opponent of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, stimulus and tax proposals, Kingston also said he voted against President Bush’s stimulus package and his bailouts of financial institutions and of the Federal National Mortgage Association, better known as Fannie Mae, and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, known as Freddie Mac.
“Conservative principles are more important than party,” he said.
But he also said the Republicans need to take back the Senate majority to begin enacting reforms on job creation, taxes and entitlement spending. There are currently 53 Democrats, two Independents who take part in the Democratic caucus and 45 Republicans.
Democrats hold 23 of 35 Senate seats up for election in 2014. It takes 60 senators to break a filibuster attempt on a debate.
“The Senate has not passed a credible budget in four years and in the last four years, it has passed only nine out of 48 appropriations bills,” Kingston said. “It has killed any attempt to rein in entitlement, reform out-of-control spending or reducing government interference in our lives.”
He also pointed to his own work with the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project as an example of how he can work across the state and across party lines. The project, at a cost of $652 million, did not receive the anticipated funding in the president’s budget proposal.
“I think if you have good ideas, people will come around,” he said. “When we authored the bill for deepening the Savannah River, it was considered a coastal Georgia-Savannah issue. But by working across the state and convincing the people in north Georgia the jobs to be gained would be in metro Atlanta, we have a wide variety of support from all parts and all across the state.”