HOMERVILLE -- Hoping to get to know the constituents of his new congressional district, U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Savannah) held town meetings in 12 locations over the past two days.
Under the redistricting plan approved by the Georgia legislature, Kingston's new district stretches across parts of 29 South Georgia counties, and the congressman took to the road in an effort to learn the different needs and concerns of the voters.
He held hosted meetings in Houston, Pulaski, Wilcox, Ben Hill, Coffee, Lowndes, Cook, Lanier, Echols, Clinch and Ware counties during his two-day swing.
Kingston is unopposed in August's Republican primary, but will face Democrat Don Smart -- a Savannah attorney -- in the November general election for Georgia's District 1 seat. He spent the town hall meetings discussing legislative successes from the recent session, as well as listening to voters.
"It's interesting and stimulating, but it is definitely a physical challenge" he said of his newly redrawn district. "It's also an intellectual challenge of learning a lot of new issues."
Kingston pledged to work toward prescription drug reform and advocated allowing American consumers to purchase medicine overseas or in Canada, where government price caps mean lower prices.
He also promoted increased local control in education, for both disciplinary options and tailor-made curricula, as well as additional military spending for the district's many military installations.
The list of accomplishments would be greater, he said, if not for the efforts of Democrat Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who has stalled more than 50 bills for what Kingston called political purposes.
"(Daschle's) measurement of himself is how many things he can stop," he said, citing a permanent repeal of the death tax as an example of a bill held hostage to political maneuvering.
Those at the Homerville meeting asked questions about prescription drug coverage and about federal policy on handling migrant labor -- which has become a staple work force for many South Georgia farms. Valdosta residents also asked about spiraling drug costs as well as future funding for Moody Air Force Base with another round of base closures looming in 2005.
"We all know that Moody is vital to the local economy. In fact, the economic impact of Moody Air Force base is estimated to be as high as $275 million," Kingston said in a press release. "The key will be maintaining activity at the base that is vital to our national security. ... Military value is the top criteria in the Base Realignment and Closure criteria list, along with other items such as quality of life, environmental and encroachment issues, and I'm confident Moody Air Force Base will remain among the nation's top bases in all these areas."
Kingston said the the town meeting were particularly crucial for several "split counties," such as Lowndes, which include more than one congressional district. He said the new voting maps create huge confusion for those who don't know who their representative is. Kingston said his office will attempt to help any resident, regardless of whether a map says they are his constituent.
"I might as well represent the whole (county), because people just don't know," he said.
To contact reporter Bill Roberts, please call 244-3400, ext. 245.
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