Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., had a career path that went from selling insurance door-to-door in trailer parks, to being a successful producer and board member of the former Palmer Cay Carswell (now Wells Fargo) in Savannah. He followed that with two decades in the U.S. House of Representatives, culminating in his current chairmanship of the Appropriations subcommittee that controls funding for the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services. CouncilPAC, the political funding arm of The Council, has supported Kingston in his political races, including maximum support for his current bid to replace retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss in the critical 2014 race that could determine control of the U.S. Senate.

Throughout his career in Congress, Kingston has been among the most knowledgeable and active on insurance industry issues, and his years of work for a Council member firm make him among the very few in Congress who have a depth of appreciation for brokerage issues.

This is the first in an occasional series of interviews with policymakers who have been supported by CouncilPAC. Our first choice was the obvious one; the conservative Republican from the Low Country who knows what it's like to live off of insurance commissions.

Joel Wood, Sr. VP, Government Affairs, The Council

 

Why run for elective office?

I think it’s important that as a conservative Republican I can go on shows with people like Bill and Stephen to carry the torch.

We lived in a community where you could count the Republicans on one hand and were involved in our local Republican Party. While my sisters abhorred the experience of going to county conventions and meetings, I enjoyed them. I continued my involvement in college, where I met my wife, Libby, among the University of Georgia’s College Republicans.

I was elected as one of small number of Republicans in the Georgia General Assembly, and we began laying the groundwork for the eventual Republican takeover of the legislature. In 1992, Rep. Lindsay Thomas, D-Ga., retired, and I made a run for his seat—one that had not been held by a Republican since Reconstruction.

What have you championed in Congress?

I worked on life, health and property-casualty insurance issues like the crop insurance program, class action reform, terrorism risk insurance and the inheritance tax. After 9/11, there was a dispute over the “war risk” exclusion for acts of terrorism against commercial airplanes. As the only CPCU member of Congress who understood reinsurance, I took the lead, working with the industry to set up a federal reinsurance backstop so commercial aircraft could get back in the air.

Long before the government takeover of healthcare, I introduced reforms to make coverage more affordable and accessible. I opposed Obamacare and held 17 open mic town meetings to give Georgians a voice. Our efforts to repeal, defund and replace the law continue.

In general, I have worked to make government more conducive to economic growth through combating onerous regulations and attacking our overly complex tax code.

What is an interesting fact about your district that others may not know?

Doc Holliday is most closely associated with the lawlessness of West, but he was educated at the Valdosta Institute in Valdosta and became a dentist before teaming up with Wyatt Earp at the O.K. Corral.

Augusta may get all of the attention of golf fans, but Savannah was actually home to the first golf club in America. The Savannah Golf Club opened in 1792. 

Savannah is also the birthplace of the Girl Scouts of America.

During World War II, Brunswick was home to the largest blimp base in the world. Blimps departing Naval Air Station Glynco escorted nearly 100,000 ships without losing a single vessel to German submarines. Glynco now houses the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, which trains all federal law enforcement officers except the Postal Police and the FBI.

How has your insurance experience affected your political career?

As an insurance broker, you invest time in understanding a business and where it has risks or needs. You take time to understand your clients, what drives them, and what keeps them up at night. You work to protect them and to help their business flourish.

As a producer and board member at my brokerage, I came to understand the stresses of running a business and providing for the livelihood of those who kept our company humming. I also learned what it was like to provide for my family living solely on commission income.

I use risk management in dealing with communities to identify risks and work to protect them. As we rebuild and reignite our economy, I understand the pressures of businesses and working families and what they need from government to succeed.

What is a memorable moment as a Georgia Bulldog?

It came long after I roamed the streets of Athens. I play on the biannual congressional football team, a fundraiser for children of slain police officers that pits members of Congress against the Capitol Police. For years, we older members were relentlessly beat by the younger and fitter police officers. So we did what any good legislator would do: We changed the rules of the game. We imported NFL players to help us out. We began practicing with the likes of Ken Harvey and John Booty to beef up our game. One year, former Georgia running back and Heisman Trophy-winner Herschel Walker joined our team. As Herschel came off the field after a few plays, I heard the words I’ll remember for a lifetime: “Kingston—get in there for Herschel!”

Have you faced awkward moments as a guest on shows such as HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” and Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report”?

These shows are great experiences. For “Colbert Report” and “The Daily Show,” you have to keep a straight face as the host or correspondent says some pretty off-the-wall things.

“Real Time” is a completely different experience. I’ve been going on Bill Maher’s shows since he had “Politically Incorrect” on ABC. Going toe-to-toe with Bill and his guests requires me to be completely comfortable with my position and prepared to talk about it in a very nontraditional way.

These shows may seem trivial, but if we do not take the public dialogue to them, we could miss an entire generation. I think it’s important that as a conservative Republican I can go on shows with people like Bill and Stephen to carry the torch. It’s also important to demonstrate it’s possible for opposing points of view to come together in a (mostly) civil manner!

While having Alec Baldwin whoop up an audience to boo at my point can be tough, the only awkward part is knowing that my 88-year-old mother is watching. I don’t have a problem with her seeing me take my licks, but I cringe at what she might think of some of Bill’s “New Rules” or what Andrew Dice Clay has to say.