Elected: 1992, 11th term.
Born: April 24, 1955, Bryan, TX
Home: Savannah, GA
Education: U. of GA, B.S. 1977
Professional Career: Insurance agent, 1979–92.
Family: Married (Elizabeth (Libby) Morris) , 4 children
Jack Kingston, an amiable and media-savvy Republican first elected in 1992, is known for his ability to dispense partisan sound bites while remaining on good terms with Democrats. He is also known for occasionally taking stands that set him apart from other conservatives, such as a willingness to debate gun control legislation. He narrowly lost a Senate primary runoff in July 2014, falling victim to anti-Washington sentiment.
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. As a result, he has been able to raise substantial funds for his leadership political action committee to benefit colleagues.
In the House, Kingston has a mostly conservative voting record, but he is not among the hard-liners in the Georgia delegation. After the December 2012 school massacre in Newtown, Conn., he was among the first Republicans to say that gun control should be part of the solution to preventing future incidents. “Put guns on the table. Also, put video games on the table. Put mental health on the table,” he said. Kingston was the only one of Georgia’s House Republicans in 2006 to support renewing the 1965 Voting Rights Act. He also rebuked former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, at the height of her popularity in 2010, for wading into the GOP gubernatorial primary to endorse Karen Handel over former Rep. Nathan Deal, who eventually won the race. In 2005, Kingston joined Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., in an initiative to reduce oil consumption by increasing auto fuel efficiency, not exactly a conservative position.
During the Obama administration, he has made several attempts at pleasing the right, calling in September 2009 to cut back the use of White House policy “czars” whose jobs did not require Senate confirmation. He also introduced legislation in December 2011 to mandate drug testing for those receiving unemployment benefits, which Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., called “just another attempt to demonize the unemployed.”
In 2008, Kingston helped then-House Minority Leader John Boehner craft the party’s position on earmarking after the practice came under widespread criticism as wasteful government spending. But Kingston also has made it his business to grab his slices of pork. 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. “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 from 1995 to 2006. In 2012, Kingston got into a tiff with NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. when he supported banning military sponsorships of professional sports. “I’m very pro-military, but at some point we have to get in the habit of cutting programs that are less efficient, less effective,” he said.
Kingston has been a party activist in the House. As head of the Republicans’ “theme team,” he became a spokesman for the House GOP on television talk shows. He encourages colleagues to make appearances on Comedy Central and to make more use of blogs. (He himself was the first lawmaker to appear on comedian Stephen Colbert’s “Better Know a District” segment, and in February 2011, he said during an appearance on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher that he didn’t believe in evolution: “I believe I came from God, not from a monkey.”)
In 2002, he was elected vice chairman of the House Republican Conference. But he was a victim of a desire for change in 2006, after Republicans lost their majority. Kingston fell short in a bid for chairman of the conference, losing to Adam Putnam of Florida on the third ballot. He considered but turned down opportunities to run for the Senate in 2002 and 2004, when less-senior Republicans prevailed. More recently, he was interested in taking over the top job on the powerful Appropriations Committee and formally announced his bid two weeks before the 2010 election. He stressed his conservatism as well as his media-friendly credentials in communicating the panel’s work, but the Appropriations chairmanship went to Harold Rogers of Kentucky.
When Georgia GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss announced he would not seek another term, Kingston joined what eventually became a crowded seven-person 2014 primary field. He finished ahead of his most-conservative House colleagues Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey, but could not avoid a runoff with business executive David Perdue, the cousin of former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue. In a highly contentious race, Perdue hammered Kingston for being a Washington insider who couldn't control his appetite for spending while touting his own credentials as CEO of Dollar General and Reebok and getting help on the campaing trail from 2012 presidential contender Herman Cain.
Kingston fought back, focusing on his conservative positions and his accomplishments in Congress, but discovered that being a sitting member of the House was not necessarily something that motivated many voters. He got a boost from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which spent more than $3 millon on his behalf. In the runoff, Perdue eked out a 51%-49% win to face Democrat Michelle Nunn, the daughter of former veteran Sen. Sam Nunn.