Eugene Yu of Augusta, qualified last week to run as a challenger to U.S. Rep. Rick Allen within the Republican Party.
The race will be decided in the May 24 primary, and the winner will face one of two Democratic candidates in the Nov. 8 general election. Allen captured the district from former Rep. John Barrow, a Democrat, in 2014. That year, Allen had first won the Republican primary over Yu and three other candidates without a runoff.
An in-party challenge at this stage is unusual, Yu acknowledged in an interview Friday. If Allen, as a Republican member of Congress, were doing a good job, Yu said, he would be supporting and applauding him.
“But he’s not doing what he said he’s going to do, and I care about my people, I care about my district, I care about my country,” Yu said. “I’m not like somebody that’s going to go up there that just cares about themselves. That’s why I’m running.”
He accuses Allen of breaking campaign promises. When asked for examples, Yu, 61, noted that he and Allen appeared in several debates together in 2014. At that time, Allen said he would oppose the then-current Republican congressional leadership, but after Allen was elected, he supported those leaders, Yu said.
That wasn’t a stance of Allen’s the newspaper took note of in the 2014 Statesboro debates. In fact, when another 12th District Republican candidate vowed opposition to the leadership during an earlier event, Allen had said, “I’m not running against our leadership in Washington in the Republican Party,” as reported in a Sept. 22, 2013, Herald story.
But Conservative Review, a media organization that posts ratings of Congress, has reported that Allen said he would oppose keeping former Rep. John Boehner as speaker of the House, but then backed him. In any case, Boehner resigned last October and was replaced in the top House post by Speaker Paul Ryan.
Yu was also referring to Conservative Review when he said that a conservative organization that once gave Barrow a 75 percent approval rating has given Allen a 50 percent rating.
“That’s really disgraceful for our party,” Yu said. “Academically, he scored ‘F.’ Even though he’s (in his) first year in the Congress, just like any other college student, if you don’t make it great, you flunk.”
Exactly what Conservative Review bases this rating on was not readily apparent from its website. The Statesboro Herald, which interviewed Allen separately Thursday, has not followed up with him on anything Yu said Friday.
Spending and trade
Yu noted that Allen voted for the December 2015 omnibus spending bill and supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, things Yu opposes.
December’s compromise spending bill, officially the Consolidated Appropriations Act, funds the government through September 2016.
“His excuse was, the reason he did it, was if he didn’t vote for it, they’re going to try to close Fort Gordon down,” Yu said. “I mean, that’s not going to happen.”
Yu asserts that NAFTA, the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, has been bad for the United States. Signed last month in New Zealand, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, includes 12 countries, the largest three being the United States, Japan and Mexico.
“I say we haven’t learned yet from experience how much damage NAFTA did to us, but yet now we are getting to TPP, which is much bigger than NAFTA. …,” he said. “Free trade sounds so good, but nothing is free. Especially (with) all these trade deals, the other countries are taking advantage of us.”
Yu also criticizes Allen for supporting reductions in country of origin labeling requirements on food items in stores.
“People need to know where their food comes from, and why do we want to get rid of it?” Yu said. “That is purely that he is influenced by, or swayed by, Washington lobbyists and the party leadership. He’s not really caring about what really (is) going to be damaging to our community, as well as our nation.”
Born in South Korea, Yu arrived in the United States as a teenager with his parents. They settled in Augusta, where he has lived ever since. He first became a firefighter and then served three years in the U.S. Army before taking a test and becoming a U.S. citizen in 1977.
He served as a Richmond County sheriff's deputy for five years, and for 20 years owned a company that refurbished used U.S. military trucks for export under a government program. He is now retired.
“As a legal immigrant, I feel insult whenever government tries to give amnesty for these illegal immigrants,” Yu said. “I take it as a personal insult, because there are people coming into the country the right way, but yet all these people coming illegally, the government tries to give amnesty? Come on!”
During a 2014 interview, he said he would support a 10-year path to citizenship for otherwise innocent people in the country illegally. It would involve getting a work permit first, then lawful permanent resident status after five years, and citizenship after 10, he said then.
He wasn’t asked Friday whether he still likes that idea, but he indicated that he still supports an expanded guest worker program.
“I welcome immigrants, but come in the right way,” Yu said. “Also, I understand in this area we may need the seasonal workers. That is also, I would consider, to come in the right way, to come in to work, when the season is over, they go back. I’ll vote for that.”
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.