Nearly two years ago, three Georgia U.S. House members gambled on campaigns to move across the Capitol and capture the state’s open U.S. Senate seat.
This month, Republican Reps. Paul Broun, Phil Gingrey and Jack Kingston were relegated to small desks in a shared work space in the basement of a House office building, staging staff meetings in the cafeteria, living out their final days in Congress. Departing members were evicted in mid-November in a game of musical chairs with the newcomers for Capitol Hill office space.
“It’s pretty meager, a little less than a cubicle and one workstation among many,” Gingrey said. “It’s not a bad thing for a member of Congress to get a little humility now and then.”
All three were humbled in the U.S. Senate primary, as they fell to political newcomer David Perdue and his “outsider” image. Congress’ unpopularity and minefields within their decades-long records in office were among the reasons the trio fell.
So they had months to play out the string and wrap up their congressional careers. They continued to fight for their favorite causes, searched for jobs for themselves and their staffs, and packed up their offices.
Gingrey, 72, said he is done with political office, while Broun, 68, and Kingston, 59, are not shutting the door on possible comebacks. In a farewell note to constituents, Broun said he is leaving Congress “for now.”
But the tea party firebrand has made clear that finding a decent-paying job tops his priority list. He said he would like to join a corporate board and the staff of an existing tea party organization such as FreedomWorks or Americans for Prosperity. If no one will hire him, Broun said he will start his own group and call it “Restoring Liberty in America.”
It would befit the man best known as part of the House’s small, libertarian-leaning “no” caucus that voted against many priorities of the Republican majority.
Any bill had to meet Broun’s four-part test to earn his vote: Is it right/moral? Is it constitutional? Is it necessary? Is it affordable? Much of the time, the answer was nay
“I stood for the people — we the people — to try to foster a government that is constrained by the enumerated powers of the Constitution as the Founders meant it,” Broun said. “I have been very vocal about it.”
Gingrey and Kingston said they want to remain involved in shaping policy as well, perhaps as lobbyists — a popular and lucrative destination for former members.
Gingrey said he could work in Washington or Atlanta, likely on health care policy. Before entering politics, he was an obstetrician/gynecologist for many years.
When asked about the accomplishments he will most remember, Gingrey said passing the Medicare Part D prescription drug program in 2003 and writing a 2012 law to accelerate the approval of new drugs to treat antibiotic-resistant infections.
Kingston said he wants to remain involved in policy, but his path remains unclear. If he goes to lobby, it could be a liability with voters if he wants to run for office again — now that the Savannah resident’s statewide name recognition is high after a lengthy runoff against Perdue.
The longtime appropriator touted the benefits of a $1.1 trillion spending bill that the House passed in one of Kingston’s final official acts. For example, it helps the long-awaited Savannah Port deepening, which is finally getting underway.
“After 15 years of work, we are feeling a little bit like, ‘OK, we’re walking out the door and it’s OK,’ ” Kingston said.
Two of the three are leaving with ethical clouds over their heads.
Gingrey was admonished by the House Ethics Committee on his final day in office for improperly aiding the now-defunct Bank of Ellijay. In 2009, Gingrey arranged for bank officials to meet with a top member of Congress and Treasury Department officials about their pending application for funds under the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
But Gingrey helped start the bank, which was outside of his district, and had a significant financial stake in it. The committee issued a “letter of reproval” — a mild form of punishment available to the panel — to Gingrey for his conduct and then closed the case. Gingrey’s attorney, Stefan Passantino of McKenna Long and Aldridge, said the committee was unfairly trying to make an example of a departing member who received no financial benefit for his actions.
In October, the independent Office of Congressional Ethics referred a case to the House Ethics Committee about Broun, but the committee did not act before Broun departed.
OCE found that Broun improperly used taxpayer funds to help his campaign by hiring communications consultant Brett O’Donnell. Broun contended that O’Donnell was a volunteer for the campaign and his taxpayer-funded official work was aboveboard.
“I hope not,” Broun said when asked whether the case would tarnish his legacy in the House. “What I did is completely ethical and normal and it’s a normal process. I hired somebody to be a part of my communications team, and they helped me in official capacity as part of our communications team.”
Kingston, meanwhile, has shown a more relaxed face since losing the July runoff. The longest-serving of the outgoing Georgians at 22 years, he delivered emotional goodbyes to 800 guests at a barbecue outside Savannah in October and to the U.S. House floor this month.
Kingston also made a farewell appearance on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report.” Kingston had been Stephen Colbert’s first congressional guest in 2005, and they celebrated their shared departure — Colbert is moving to CBS’ “Late Show” — by raising a ruckus on Capitol Hill to the tune of Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out.”
The show aired on one of Kingston’s last days in the House, and the next day he held court for reporters by the House floor retelling the five-hour shoot. U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., the longest-serving member of Congress, rolled by in his motorized scooter and offered: “I’ll miss you, Jack.”
Kingston returned the compliment, then quipped back: “If I become a lobbyist, I’m going to be calling on your wife.” Dingell’s wife, Debbie, will fill his seat in Congress.
Next, Kingston grabbed Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus. “She’s going to let me join the CBC,” Kingston said, prompting a quizzical look from Fudge.
His comedy routine complete, Kingston then made his exit.
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