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A proposal from U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston of Savannah poses a conundrum that may be as tough for some as choosing between God, America and apple pie.
Fiscal conservatism or NASCAR?
Kingston recently backed a successful amendment to a defense bill that would block the military from spending millions of federal dollars on sponsorships for pro sports teams. He thinks the money should support service members instead.
If the defense bill passes as amended, it would end the U.S. National Guard’s sponsorship of NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Earnhardt resorted to fightin’ words.
The day after the amendment passed, he told reporters that Kingston needed to do his "homework" on how sponsorships attract military recruits.
"The Republican from Georgia, he hasn’t even been to a NASCAR race," Earnhardt told reporters May 18 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, according to an article in The Sporting News. Other news outlets posted similar accounts of his statement.
That’s almost as bad as calling Kingston a "Yankee." Could this be true?
The effort to end military sponsorships of professional sports is a bipartisan affair. Democratic U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum of Minnesota offered the amendment, which passed May 17, alongside Kingston.
According to Kingston’s office, the Defense Department plans to spend as much as $80.3 million on this type of recruitment advertising this fiscal year.
Other NASCAR drivers are on the military payroll. The U.S. Army backs Ryan Newman. The Air Force sponsors Aric Almirola.
To Earnhardt, these partnerships are a no-brainer. Kingston is out of line.
Watching NASCAR is as essential to being a Republican politician from the South as going to church or kissing babies.
A reporter at Charlotte Motor Speedway asked Earnhardt whether he would invite Kingston to a NASCAR race.
"Yes, because he’s a Republican from Georgia," Earnhardt said, according to The Sporting News article. "He ought to have seen a NASCAR race by now."
We called Kingston’s offices repeatedly for more than a week but received no response. Earnhardt’s office didn’t return our calls either. We therefore searched far and wide for evidence that Kingston had attended a NASCAR race.
Maybe we’d find a photograph of the gentleman from Georgia shaking hands with Jeff Gordon or watching the Daytona 500 from the infield, perched on a folding chair atop an RV.
Instead, we found him at just about everything but NASCAR.
We spotted Kingston on HBO’s "Real Time with Bill Maher" last year, being berated by the liberal comedian for being a creationist.
One year before that, Kingston rubbed elbows with President Barack Obama in Air Force One as they flew from Savannah to Washington.
And three years ago he appeared on the set of the Miley Cyrus movie "The Last Song." He was an extra for the film, which featured scenes on Tybee Island.
To our surprise, we also found three news accounts that said Earnhardt was right.
The Hill, a newspaper that covers Congress, said in a May 18 article that Kingston’s office confirmed that he has never attended a NASCAR race. A May 17 article in USA Today said Kingston himself acknowledged it.
A May 22 story in the Savannah Morning News says that Kingston’s never been to a race, but he did display an Earnhardt license plate on the front of his pickup for five years.
It’s strange but true. Kingston has never been to a NASCAR race.
Earnhardt earns a True.
Sporting News, "Dale Earnhardt Jr. invites congressman to NASCAR race to learn more about military sponsorships," May 18, 2012
Savannah Morning News, "Kingston's plan includes stripping NASCAR of military funds," May 22, 2012
The Birmingham News, "Dale Earnhardt Jr. not happy that some in Congress want to cut military spending on NASCAR sponsorships," May 18, 2012
USA Today, "House committee vote squashes military NASCAR sponsorships," May 17, 2012
Savannah Morning News, "Savannah welcomes President Barack Obama," March 3, 2010
WTOC-TV, "Miley fans swarm Tybee pier," June 24, 2009
The Huffington Post, "Jack Kingston: 'I Came From God Not From A Monkey,’" Jan. 30, 2011
U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston website, "Committee Approves Amendment to Ban Military Sponsorship of Professional Sports," May 17, 2012
NASCAR driver Ryan Newman website, accessed May 25, 2012
NASCAR driver Aric Almirola website, accessed May 25, 2012
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