The Port of Savannah is one point of contention in a Georgia Republican primary runoff Tuesday in which 11-term Rep. Jack Kingston vies with businessman David Perdue for the party’s Senate nomination.
Tuesday’s winner will face Democrat Michelle Nunn in November in a contest that The Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call ratings puts in the “Favored Republican” category.
Perdue calls himself “the true conservative in this race, the outsider,” but Kingston charged in a televised debate last week that in 2010 Perdue had been given “a sweetheart insider appointment” to the Georgia Ports Authority by his cousin Sonny Perdue who was governor at the time.
“You made many decisions that influenced millions of dollars in spending down there and didn’t sign a disclosure,” Kingston told Perdue. “Are we to believe that you did that, and your trucking company did not benefit from your select position?”
Kingston charged that Perdue’s trucking company did business in and around the port.
Perdue replied that “there’s absolutely nothing to this. But now that you bring the port up, I’d like to remind people that you’ve been trying for 17 years to deepen this port five feet.… In the real world, you would have been fired with that kind of performance. And now here you are, wanting a promotion.”
The $706 million project to deepen the port’s channel to 47 feet from 42 feet finally got the go-ahead last month when President Obama signed into law the Water Resources Reform and Development Act.
Kingston acknowledged that “it took a long time to get it done” — but charged Perdue had been “absolutely absentee” in the fight for federal funding for deepening the port.
“You were never up there” in Washington “lobbying and pushing, which is what the Port Authority was supposed to be doing, and the reason why is you were making money off of your appointment rather than trying to help us get this port deepened.”
Savannah handled 8 percent of the U.S. containerized cargo volume and 10.9 percent of all U.S. containerized exports in 2013.
Georgia Ports Authority Executive Director Curtis Foltz said last month that at 3 million twenty-foot equivalent container units (TEUs) per year, the port now moves four times the number of containers it handled when Congress first authorized the Savannah project in 1999.
He said improved efficiency will allow the port to more than double its annual throughput to 6.5 million TEUs. The port has been making investments such as bigger cranes to handle the expanded capacity of ships that will be using East Coast ports once the Panama Canal expansion is completed in 2016.
Also in their debate, Perdue blamed Kingston and his colleagues in Congress for using temporary stopgap funding to refill the Highway Trust Fund.
“This is the problem when you have an out-of-touch Congress led by career politicians whose first priority is to get re-elected,” he said. “They kicked the ball forward a couple of years and here we are bankrupt again in that trust fund.”
He added, “Right now we are spending about a third of what we should be spending as a country on all of our infrastructure…. On this congressman’s watch over the last 22 years, we have lost our competitive edge against many parts of the world.”
The Container covers the transportation community in Washington.
Tom Curry (@TCurry_Himself) writes for The Container. He has been a national affairs reporter and editor for nearly two decades, having covered elections, Supreme Court nominations, fiscal policy and the health care debate.