Jack Kingston knows his way around Washington, D.C. (sometimes even by bike) after serving 20 years as a Congressman from Savannah. But the Republican representative is not as familiar in these parts despite his upbringing in Athens, where he attended Clarke Central High School and the University of Georgia.
With a possible Senate run in the offing -- he told the Daily Post he's "close" to making a decision and the Savannah Morning News has reported Kingston is 95 percent sure he'll run for Saxby Chambliss' seat in 2014 -- he's trying to change that. Which is why he visited our Lawrenceville offices this past Friday afternoon.
En route to a Young Republicans meeting that he was to address at UGA, Kingston got a full dose of Gwinnett rush-hour traffic, fighting it through Spaghetti Junction all the way up Highway 316 to the Daily Post offices. It was a rough commute -- he even called once to apologize and cancel the meeting if need be -- but nothing compared to the gridlock he's used to in Washington.
That, he told the Daily Post, is the impetus to his interest in the Senate. Kingston, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, said he thinks he can more easily break issues open as a senator and would like the chance to work with the other side of the aisle while staying true to his own values as a fiscal conservative. Of course, it's not often a Senate seat comes open that is this up for grabs (Athens Congressman Paul Broun is the only announced candidate), which explains why he's on the cusp of risking his safe seat for a new one.
If (more likely when) he announces an intention to run, you'll be hearing much more from him here in Gwinnett. Major fundraising will need to be done and Kingston knows this county is important for that and to a campaign in general.
"It's very much a battleground area," he said of Gwinnett and a possible Republican primary. "I think it's an extremely important county."
The congressman may soon be reacquainting himself with the area, and voters will find him to be both passionate and measured. During our meeting he pounded the familiar Republican drums of distrust in the president -- "(his) habit is to believe everything (has to become) a fiscal cliff" -- and the left in general -- "We need to be focused on President Obama and Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid" -- without coming across as half-cocked. He seems like a man more prone to discussion than diatribe, and his easy-going manner makes you believe he could indeed reach out to his rivals.
He's very adamant in his beliefs but also in the way they are relayed.
"You run voters off and you run constituents off when you preach and chest-pound," said Kingston, who received 53 percent of the vote in last year's election in Chatham County despite Obama polling at 55 percent. "You don't want to be the party of 'no' and (be the one represented by) a sour face."
At our meeting, the congressman was accompanied only by his son Jim -- a Kingston duo, if you will. Return trips will bring more of a crowd as Kingston tries to navigate another tough road, one that may lead to a Senate seat.
Email Todd Cline at email@example.com. His column appears on Wednesdays.