When the U.S. House of Representatives convenes in 2015, Coastal Georgia will have a new representative.
That fact is certain regardless of the outcome of U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston’s Senate race, and it also means Fort Stewart, Hinesville and Liberty County no longer will be represented by a senior House member with more than 22 years of experience.
District 1 spans 17 counties, includ-
ing Georgia’s entire coast, and encompasses four military bases, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center and the Townsend Bombing Range.
Feelings among area leaders and members of the Southeast Georgia Friends of Fort Stewart and Hunter are mixed on the topic, as they say it’s bittersweet to see the military-friendly Republican seek higher office.
Clay Sikes, one of nine directors for the group that lobbies for Fort Stewart, said he hates to see Kingston leave the congressional seat from a personal perspective but loves it from a political one.
“Selfishly, I hate to see it, because he has built up an enormous amount of seniority and, as such, he sits on a very powerful military appropriations subcommittee, and … he has a lot of seniority on that military-appropriations subcommittee, which has voted really well for Fort Stewart,” Sikes said. “Politically, I’m thrilled that he is moving up in his stature in Washington.”
Kingston is a senior member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, and in that role he has championed growth at Fort Stewart, Sikes said. Kingston’s advocacy “not only has protected us but also allowed us to grow a bit over the last 10 years.”
According to a July 2012 economic-impact summary from the group, Fort Stewart has 3,414 buildings over 284,924 acres, with a replacement value of $5.6 billion to the U.S. government.
Kingston was key in orchestrating an estimated $40 million distribution from the Department of Defense Office of Economic Adjustment to several public entities within the region after the Army reversed its decision to station a fifth brigade at Fort Stewart.
The remediation funding was made available to governments in Liberty, Bryan, Tattnall and Long counties to lessen the negative financial impact of infrastructure improvements designed to accommodate an influx of soldiers and dependents.
That meant the city of Hinesville received $24.3 million, the Liberty County Commission received $3 million, the Liberty County Development Authority received $1.27 million. In Long County, the board of education received an estimated $3 million, the Long County Commission received approximately $2.7 million, and the city of Ludowici received approximately $89,000.
“Our history will tell us that he’s done a very good job of appropriating very heavily for Fort Stewart,” Sikes added. “Him being gone from that subcommittee, we don’t have the same strength and the same power to protect Fort Stewart’s interest with him there.”
Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas serves as chairman of the Southeast Georgia Friends of Fort Stewart and Hunter board. He said Kingston has benefitted the area through far more than remediation funding.
Projects with Kingston’s involvement are “probably too numerous to mention,” Thomas said, but they include the joint Army education center on Fort Stewart, recent military construction and the Hinesville VA clinic under construction.
George Holtzman, also a member of the board of directors, said whoever steps into Kingston’s shoes will have a tall order to fill — especially as the defense department is requesting a new round of base realignments and closures, or BRAC, for 2015.
Sikes said knowing exactly what an installation can withstand and support is critical to defense leaders to prevent movements like when 10,000 were moved from Fort Knox to Fort Benning — prompting Fort Benning to seek expanded territory.
The challenge for Chatham County candidates, Sikes added, is to value the entire district and its economic forces.
Thomas sees the challenge not as one over who will win the district, but who will win in Washington.
“I don’t really feel nervous about it because there are some good people on both sides that are going to run, and I think they’re well-prepared to take on the job of representing our district here,” Thomas said. “The issue will be that they’re going to be junior in rank in congress, and whether or not they will be able to work as effectively as Rep. Kingston has. That’s my only concern.”
As for endorsing a potential candidate, Sikes said he will watch and see which candidates emerge, while Thomas does not plan to make any public endorsements.
Thomas said he does not expect that Southeast Georgia Friends of Fort Stewart and Hunter will endorse a candidate.
“You don’t want to antagonize anybody,” Thomas said. “What we want is the best for our region.”