by Jim Kingston
Last year, I drove my Dad around the Peach State helping him campaign for the United States Senate. While in the end our efforts came up short, I do not consider the effort wasted. I made many friends from all different walks of life and I learned a whole lot about the fight for smaller government— something both my parents have spent years doing.
After many successful years in the House of Representatives, my Dad felt that our country needed better leadership in the Senate. When you consider the Senate has not met their constitutional requirement of passing a credible budget in over five years, I think you might agree with him.
The results of that campaign have given my dad and everyone who had helped him run a lot of great opportunities in both the public and private sectors— opportunities that likely would not have been available otherwise. So, with that being said, here are a few key takeaways from my brief political experience.
Freedom of speech is alive and well in the Peach State.
We can all relax. After 238 years, the first amendment continues to be well protected. If you want to hear some great, unfiltered political feedback, the Walton County GOP monthly meeting led by chairman Roy Roberts is a great place to start. County GOP BBQs, rotary club meetings, tea party rallies, and chamber of commerce luncheons across Georgia have some of the most strongly opinionated citizens in the country.
A lot of passionate people might come off as rude at first, and demand a lot of your time, but I think that you should not campaign to be a public servant unless you are ready to serve and answer to the public. Our team always made a point to return phone calls and show up to meetings even when if we knew it was not going to be a “Kingston-friendly” crowd.
While some argue that political correctness filters a lot of people from speaking their minds, my experience was that most do not mind telling a United States Congressman or their staff about how they feel about almost anything.
One fellow in West Georgia was kind enough to inform me about landmines on cattle fields and their relation to the ghost of President Lincoln. Topics like these seem as though they would have a simple enough resolution and yet somehow we managed to talk it out for 45 minutes.
In another Southwest Georgia town I asked someone for their vote only to be told “I quit voting after The Peanut Guy down the street moved into the White House.” I also had someone hang up the phone on me because “they do not take calls inside except on days when it rained” because they do not like to “waste the sunshine.”
I recall these memories not only to laugh but also to celebrate the fact that we live in a country where you can say just about whatever you want to, without consequences from the government.
Apathy is a huge problem.
I am by no means a political wizard, and I still have a lot to learn about the process, but I know the kind of person my Dad is when he is not behind a microphone or camera, and I knew he was qualified to lead.
Georgia is physically larger than any state east of the Mississippi River and is second in the nation only to Texas in its number of counties with 159. It is impossible for the candidate to personally interact with every voter. It is even harder when you consider so many people do not even care enough who gets elected to vote.
For reasons unknown to me, people care more about who George Clooney is dating or who gets kicked off American Idol than who is going to help lead the free world. In my case, I still have a lot learn about the issues and the people running. Several adults even asked me if my dad was running for North or South Georgia Senator.
Since our state, like all other states, suffers from voter apathy, we spent a lot of our time raising money. It is very expensive to directly contact all voters. Mailers, robocalls, and TV and radio advertising are some effective ways to send a message to the electorate.
If we as voters took more time to learn about candidates and their ideology, instead of expecting the TV to do our homework for us, then the money would not be as effective.
In our case, because of lots of hard work and generous supporters, we outraised our opponents every month, but in the end we saw the advantage of a candidate with the means and willingness to invest substantially in his own campaign.
SuperPACs also played a major role in last year’s elections, and the combination of unlimited fundraising, little accountability to the public, and no fear of backlash because SuperPACs aren’t on the ballot. predictably results in increased negativity that is beyond the power of the candidates to influence.
Experience is always a good thing, except in government.
I witness a lot of over-reactive spectators when it comes to football fans. When Mark Richt loses a game in Athens, everyone starts calling for him to be fired. Even after a single loss, the talking heads seem to forget the five SEC Championship appearances he has made, and how Georgia went twenty years without a Sugar Bowl appearance before his arrival. Nobody mentions who the replacement coach should be, or considers the growing pains of players adjusting to a new leader and a new system.
American voters are also impatient. They do not like what they see coming out of Washington, and they don’t see experience as a good thing. President Obama was elected as a fresh face and something different. He sold his lack of experience as an asset, not a liability, and somehow it worked.
In my travels, I saw just as many newly elected politicians with big egos as I did politicians in office for many years who had remained humble. I do not know what the evidence is or how the trend started, but my feeling is that if you are egotistic and corrupt you are that way before, during and after being elected. It is not something that is acquired upon taking office.
There are a lot of good, hard working politicians in this world trying to do the right thing and in it for the right reason.
I met many elected officials at the local, state and federal level. While there were some sleazy ones, the vast majority were honest and sincere.
Senator Fran Millar from DeKalb is an experienced public servant and career insurance salesman who has a lot of reasons to think very highly of himself, and yet, he puts up his own yard signs.
Commissioner Trey Allen in Columbia County will always return your phone call no matter what time of day it is.
Representative Geoff Duncan from Forsyth County is a great family man who spends every free second he can with his wife or coaching his kids baseball team.
Our state is filled with hundreds of not only great political leaders, but also business and community leaders. As the son of a Congressman, people do not want to hear me say this, but many people who run for public service take a pay cut in doing so and sacrifice time with their family so that they can help yours.
Unfortunately, stories about hard working decent people do not sell as many papers or garner as many page views as a story about Tom Brady possibly taking air out of some footballs on the sidelines.
On that note, I think former Secretary of State Karen Handel showed a whole lot of class by endorsing my Dad and Governor Nathan Deal this year. She could have easily stayed on the sidelines in both of these races, but some people truly believe that a cause is greater than themselves. The same can be said about Congressman Phil Gingrey, he also fell short of the nomination but continued to put principle above person.
Barbecue can get old.
I love BBQ and sweet tea just as much as the next guy, but too much of a good thing is not always great. On a similar note, changing out of your hand-me-down suit in the afternoon, and into your blue jeans then back into your suit at night while driving down the interstate is not as comfortable as doing it in your own bedroom.
Georgia is a wonderful State with lots of great people.
If you ever want to enhance your Georgia pride, work on a statewide campaign. People knock on doors, put out signs, or write checks to get good people elected.
When you call a guy you barely know like Rex Bullock from Wilcox County and says, “Jim, I do not really know your Dad, I do not care if he remembers me or not but I am fully behind him and I will put out yard signs in the 95 degree heat to make sure he carries this area” all of your frustration is quickly forgotten.
It is hard to ignore all the rude and destructive people in the middle of the campaign, but I’ve learned there are a whole lot of patriotic people out there who want a more efficient government and are willing to help good people get elected and want nothing for themselves in return. I was very grateful for this experience, and if someone I believe in calls me one day and wants my help, I will be glad to do it all over again.
– Jim Kingston
Special thanks to Todd Rehm for inviting me to chronicle my perspective of my dad’s U.S. Senate campaign and the adventures that came with it. To anybody who thinks all politicians are corrupt, I’d encourage you to volunteer for a campaign. Get to know the candidate, the family, the volunteers and the staff. You’ll see there are many good people who care enough about the future of this nation to get involved and try to make a difference. It might give you a little more hope for our country.