U.S. Representative Jack Kingston (R-GA), one of eight candidates seeking the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in Georgia in 2014, ripped a page from the Newt Gingrich playbook this week when he suggested that children from low-income families be forced to do janitorial work in exchange for receiving food aid.
As The Huffington Post’s Amanda Terkel reports, during a meeting with the Jackson County Republican Party on Saturday, Kingston explained his opposition to providing students with a free lunch:
“But one of the things I’ve talked to the secretary of agriculture about: Why don’t you have the kids pay a dime, pay a nickel to instill in them that there is, in fact, no such thing as a free lunch?” Kingston said. “Or maybe sweep the floor of the cafeteria — and yes, I understand that that would be an administrative problem, and I understand that it would probably lose you money. But think what we would gain as a society in getting people — getting the myth out of their head that there is such a thing as a free lunch.”
Video of his comments is below, via The Raw Story:
Of course, as Kingston knows firsthand, sometimes lunch does come free. The House of Representatives spent nearly $2 million in taxpayer money on coffee and food for various events in 2012, and according to expenditure reports compiled by the Sunlight Foundation, Kingston’s office spent about $200 on meals for the congressman throughout the first three quarters of 2013.
Kingston’s comments immediately call to mind an argument that his fellow Georgian, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, advanced during the 2012 presidential election. After calling child labor laws “truly stupid,” Gingrich proposed that “you could take one janitor and hire 30-some kids to work in the school for the price of one janitor, and those 30 kids would be a lot less likely to drop out. They would actually have money in their pocket. They’d learn to show up for work.” His comments caused a major backlash among the national media, although Republican primary voters didn’t seem to mind; Gingrich won the Republican primary in South Carolina less than a week after explaining his plan at a nationally televised debate.
Kingston may be hoping that his Dickensian suggestion will galvanize the right as well. Early polling of the Georgia Senate primary has found the 11-term congressman narrowly trailing fellow U.S. Representatives Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey in a tight four-way race (former Georgia secretary of state Karen Handel follows closely behind the congressmen).
Although Kingston’s voting record ranks him among the most conservative members of the House, he has struggled to keep up with his competitors in what has shaped up to be a mad dash to the right. Gingrey, the tentative frontrunner, memorably claimed that Todd Akin was “partly right” about “legitimate rape,” and has taken a pledge not to run for a second term unless he successfully repeals Obamacare in his first six years. Broun believes that Paul Ryan’s budgets are too liberal, and has argued that evolution and the big bang theory are “lies straight from the pit of hell.” And Handel is best known for being forced out of her position with Susan G. Komen for the Cure after a politically motivated attempt to sever the charity’s ties with Planned Parenthood. Speaking out on food stamps could be Kingston’s attempt to turn some heads on the right (a task that became more urgent after Kingston enraged his Tea Party allies by suggesting that Congress should work to fix the Affordable Care Act instead of letting it collapse).
If Republican primary voters do end up simply nominating the most right-wing candidate, however, they may come to regret it in the general election. Likely Democratic nominee Michelle Nunn starts the race in a virtual tie with each of the Republican challengers, and her robust fundraising suggests that her candidacy should not be dismissed, despite Georgia’s Republican bent. If the GOP isn’t careful, it could end up with another far-right Republican joining Todd Akin, Sharron Angle, Ken Buck, Richard Mourdock, Christine O’Donnell, and others on the list of Tea Party candidates to blow winnable Senate races for the GOP.