Rep. Jack Kingston (R)
Georgia 1st District
Georgia’s south Atlantic coast was settled in the 1730s by Englishman James Oglethorpe as a refuge and reformatory for convicts. But before long, the sea islands and lowlands along the wide rivers and inlets were plantation country. It is here that Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman and his troops famously marched from Atlanta in 1864 and, without supplies or lines of communication, burned plantation houses, destroyed crops, and captured the Confederacy’s leader. When their march was complete, they left behind memories of property destroyed and slaves freed, which have been handed down as family lore through several generations.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 1st Congressional District of Georgia includes much of the southeast and south part of the state. It includes the state’s southern Atlantic coast and runs west approximately to Interstate 75 at Valdosta, the largest city in the district. It heads toward the center of the state just short of Vidalia and runs from the Ocmulgee and Altamaha Rivers in the north to the Florida border. It takes in almost one-third of Chatham County’s population but only a sliver of Savannah, most of which is now in the 12th District. It contains the Sea Islands, with their vibrant resort economy and efforts to preserve the African-American Gullah culture and its eponymous West African-originated Creole language. One of those coastal communities is the historic black settlement of Pin Point, 11 miles southeast of Savannah. Its 300 citizens are mostly descendants of the first slaves in the area. Its most famous son is Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
It has a few modest-sized cities, like Brunswick, a World War II shipbuilding center that has been revitalized as the gateway to the Sea Islands, and isolated Waycross, a railroad junction and gateway to the Okefenokee Swamp, the largest swamp in North America. Prior to the abolitionist movement, this swamp-filled area was a site of the Underground Railroad, with trails to north Florida. Much of the district is rural, with cotton and tobacco fields and softwood forests inhabited by wild hogs and bears. Appling County and Berrien County are known for their turpentine and bell peppers. Many popular films have been produced in the region, including Glory and Forrest Gump. Shipping has grown at the Savannah and Brunswick ports, and Savannah is now the country’s fourth-busiest port for container cargo.
This was Democratic country for a century after Sherman’s troops marched through Georgia, but voters here are solidly conservative on most issues. For two decades, this part of south Georgia voted for national Republicans but Georgia Democrats. Since 2000, it has voted solidly Republican for governor and senator as well. Redistricting changes in 2005 increased the black population and reduced President Bush’s vote in 2004 from 68% to 66%. In 2008, Republican John McCain did nearly that well, with 63%.
Rep. Jack Kingston (R)
Elected: 1992, 9th term.
Born: April 24, 1955, Bryan, TX .
Education: U. of GA, B.S. 1977.
Family: Married (Libby); 4 children.
Elected office: GA House of Reps., 1984–92.
Professional Career: Insurance agent, 1979–92.
The congressman from the 1st District is Jack Kingston, a Republican first elected in 1992. The son of a college professor, Kingston grew up in Texas and Georgia, but also spent time in Ethiopia. After college, he moved to Savannah to be a commercial insurance agent. In 1984, at age 29, he was elected to the Georgia House and served eight years. In 1992, when Democratic U.S. Rep. Lindsay Thomas retired, Kingston ran for Congress, against Democrat Barbara Christmas, a school principal. He won decisively, 58%-42%, and has not been seriously challenged since.
|Jack Kingston (R)||165,890||(67%)||($873,385)|
|Bill Gillespie (D)||83,444||(33%)||($136,150)|
|Jack Kingston (R)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (69%), 2004 (100%), 2002 (72%), 2000 (69%), 1998 (100%), 1996 (68%), 1994 (77%), 1992 (58%)
In the House, Kingston has a mostly conservative voting record but he is not among the hard-liners in the Georgia delegation. During the Clinton era, he parted company with Republicans on trade issues, notably the North American Free Trade Agreement and normal trade relations with China. But he gave President Bush his vote on the 2005 Central American Free Trade Agreement. During a 2007 visit to Cuba, he softened his opposition to trade with that country, at least where the market for Vidalia onions was concerned.
He is the ranking Republican on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, where he has been an advocate of the peanut-warehousing program. He also has a seat on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. In 2008, working with House Minority Leader John Boehner, he crafted a proposed moratorium on earmarking while permanent guidelines were set up for the practice, in which individual lawmakers slip pet projects into spending bills. But the proposal hinged on cooperation from the Democratic majority, which was unlikely. In the meantime, Kingston has made it his business to grab his slices of pork. In 2007, he had more earmarks than anyone else in the Georgia delegation, according to taxpayer watchdog groups. “I am convinced there are good earmarks and bad earmarks,” he said, while conceding that they got out of control when Republicans ran the House.
Kingston has been a party activist in the House. In 2004, he played a key role in persuading the Republican leadership to back the $10 billion tobacco buyout, which ended the quota system in place since 1938. In 2005, he joined Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., in a bipartisan initiative to reduce oil consumption by increasing auto fuel efficiency. “The age of cheap oil and gas is over,” Kingston said, a view that proved to be prescient in the late 2000s as gas prices soared. As head of the Republicans’ “theme team,” which coordinates the party’s national message, he became a spokesman for the House GOP on television talk shows. He encouraged colleagues to make appearances on Comedy Central and to make more use of blogs. In 2002, he was elected vice chairman of the Republican Conference. But he may have been the victim of a desire for change in 2006, after Republicans lost their majority in the House. Kingston fell short in a bid for chairman of the conference, losing to Adam Putnam of Florida on the third ballot.
On local issues, Kingston has fought for historic preservation and looked after local military facilities. As an appropriator, he has brought millions of dollars home to improve the water flow of the Savannah River and to complete the Sidney Lanier drawbridge in Brunswick. Kingston considered but turned down opportunities to run for the Senate in 2002 and 2004, when less senior Republicans prevailed. He seems comfortable with patiently reaping the benefits of seniority in the House.