On August 21, Congressman John Barrow issued a press release highlighting his support of the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project. This comes just two days after he released Factcheck.org’s review of a National Republican Congressional Committee ad that claims Barrow, who is fighting off a challenge from local builder Rick Allen for his 12th Congressional District seat, votes with President Barack Obama “on every issue that’s important to us here in Georgia.”
According to Congressional Quarterly, however, Barrow supported Obama only 35 percent of the time in 2013.
A savvy campaigner, the five-term congressman has managed to out-earn Allen, who has reportedly invested nearly a million dollars of his own money to win the seat.
In 2012, Allen was part of a bitter primary campaign highlighted by his high profile skirmishes with Evans attorney Wright McLeod. Though it was that rivalry made most of the headlines, former state Representative Lee Anderson topped the four Republicans in the field with 34 percent of the vote. Allen squeaked into the runoff after a recount by earning 26 percent to McLeod’s 25 percent.
Anderson beat Allen in the runoff by just 159 votes, eventually losing to Barrow in the general election.
Here’s the profile we did on Allen for the June 7, 2012 issue of the Metro Spirit.
A New Calling
Rick Allen attempts to build a political career after building business
JUNE 7, 2012–Though the race to represent the 12th Congressional District is Republican businessman Rick Allen’s first fight as a candidate, he admits it’s hardly the first time he’s considered running for office.
“Every time I’d want to change something, I’d feel a call to get involved,” Allen said last week in an interview at the Spirit offices. “Every time that I saw things being done that shouldn’t be done, I felt the need to get involved.”
It was a drive he was more or less able to keep in check, however. Until about five years ago he didn’t feel he could reasonably do anything about it, anyway. He was busy raising a family and focusing on a business. But then his mother died last year and he felt the calling again, only this time, when he opened the paper, he saw the redrawn 12th District and everything seemed to fall into place.
The newly drawn district was tailor made for a run.
“I was born and raised in the northern part — Columbia County,” he said. “And, of course, we’ve lived in Richmond County since 1982.”
Not only did the new lines exclude most of greater Savannah, where incumbent Democratic Rep. John Barrow lived (he has since moved to Augusta), it included parts of conservative Columbia County, giving Republicans an eight-point majority and the best shot they’ve had in years to unseat Barrow, who first won the seat in 2004.
Three other Republicans are also in the race — state Rep. Lee Anderson, a Grovetown farmer; Evans real estate attorney Wright McLeod; and Dublin attorney Maria Sheffield.
“We’ve got great candidates, but as far as I’m concerned, I’m a businessman,” Allen said. “I’ve had a lot of experience in Washington trying to change things from the outside. I know how it works, and I think I’m the best qualified candidate to deal with the issues at this time in our country.”
Soon after the first quarter financial disclosures were released, which showed McLeod had not only raised more money than Allen in total ($284,346) but also twice what Allen raised in the first quarter of 2012, the Allen campaign filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission claiming several violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act, including stealing donor information, accepting excessive contributions and failing to properly disclose expenditures. Over the last few weeks, the campaign has pushed the issue in district media outlets.
On Tuesday, June 5, the Savannah Morning News also published a story detailing how McLeod has voted in five Democratic primaries since 1998, including contributing $7,100 to a Democratic candidate for attorney general in 2010.
“Here’s the bottom line — everybody makes mistakes,” Allen said. “If you’re sticking your neck out and taking risk, you’re going to make mistakes. But what you do is, you fess up to them and say, ‘We screwed up,’ apologize for them and then you ask folks to forgive you and you move on.”
That, he said, hasn’t happened, though McLeod has conceded the reporting errors.
“I can assure you — we’re going to do our best to follow federal law,” he said. “I can’t imagine a candidate for the United States Congress not paying attention. And the problem we’ve got in Congress today is that these people think they’re above the law. Why doesn’t Congress live by the same laws as the people they make them for? And then you’ve got a candidate…” He stopped and shook his head. “It’s a sad situation.”
Though the race seems to be between Allen and McLeod, Lee Anderson has been campaigning for a long time and has certainly made no secret about targeting the rural, agricultural vote. His campaign sign even features a tractor.
Allen contrasts that narrow approach by touting his wide range of experience.
“The way we’re going about this race — farmers know I know farming, hospital executives know I know healthcare and the business executives know I know business,” he said. “We’re not trying to say we want this segment to vote for us or we’re going to write off this segment. We’re for all the people, and I think we can represent all the interests out there.”
Allen has served on several local boards, including Georgia Bank and Trust, the Downtown Development Authority, St. Joseph Hospital and Augusta Tomorrow.
Although Allen grew up on a farm and says his parents got into the education business to “subsidize their farming habit,” he didn’t follow in his parents’ footsteps into either farming or education. After making a dollar an hour at his cousin’s service station, he went to work at a steel mill before working his first construction job as a college student at Auburn.
His company, RW Allen, is an Augusta-based construction company responsible for many high-profile buildings, including several local high schools, the Headquarters Branch of the Augusta Library and the TEE Center, which is currently under construction.
About 10 years ago, Allen became involved in a leadership group called Lead Like Jesus. Through that group, he said he realized that his season of leadership in his company was winding to a close.
“The business was an entrepreneurial business,” he said. “When you’re an entrepreneurial business, I learned that you sort of get to a point where you just can’t grow it. We needed to become a professionally managed business.”
That required a change in company structure.
“So I reduced my interest in half and they [those within the company he chose to manage the business] are in the process of buying the company,” he said. “I decided at that time that I would step back and allow them to run the company, which is the hardest decision I’ve ever made in my life.”
Stepping away, however, has allowed him to turn his attention to new things, like running for office.
“As Newt said, this is the most important election in the history of our country, and we need to get folks involved,” he said. “If we don’t change things, obviously we know we’re in trouble.”
In what was certainly a calculated dig at the McLeod campaign, he emphasized that both his business as well as his campaign are transparent, a point he symbolically drove home with the two phones he held in his hand throughout the interview.
“I’ve got two telephones,” he said. “One is the business, one is the campaign. I’ve got a campaign vehicle and a business vehicle. I learned at the beginning to make a clear separation, and that’s what we’re doing.”
As a successful businessman, Allen was quick to point out that the best way to fix Washington was to return to the free market system.
“We’ve got to get back to those values,” he said. “The free market system is the best economic engine this country has ever experienced.”
He mentioned Caterpillar’s recent relocation near Athens while praising Georgia Governor Nathan Deal’s economic development efforts, something he said he would emulate at the district level.
“I’ve been involved in economic development though the chamber and through other economic development forces because it’s critical,” he said. “That’s why, from a timing standpoint, I can use my skills to accomplish these things, because that’s what I’ve been involved with all these years.”
The timing, he said, is important.
“A lot of people are praying for this country,” he said. “God’s going to use those people. He’s going to use those people to change the direction of this country, and I’m pretty excited to be a part of that.”
Allen made it clear that his faith was part of the reason he moved to the Hill back in the early 1980s.
“We were members of Trinity on the Hill United Methodist Church,” he said. “We kind of felt a calling to move closer to the church, and so we bought one of the old houses there right behind Episcopal Day School.”
Though he said his father didn’t initially understand the move, he eventually came to like the house.
“Frankly, we probably didn’t intend to stay there this long, but my wife likes it there,” Allen said.
Following his personal priorities — faith, family and community — he said his political priorities are to create jobs, promote regulatory reform, lower taxes and cut spending, and, in doing so, change the culture and the landscape of Washington.
Part of that, he said, involves taking a very sharp knife to specific areas of government, like the Department of Energy.
“That was established in the Carter Administration and its sole purpose is to decrease our dependence on foreign oil,” he said. “And if you look at the amount of money they spent — at the time we were 28 percent dependent and now some say we’re 60 percent dependent — that’s a failed mission. In the business world, that doesn’t work.”
He also supports the idea of a government audit.
“In business, for example, we do a five year look-back,” he said. “We look at what we spend on every line item, and if that line item has increased, we ask why it increased. And if there was no need for it — if it’s not providing for additional revenue — then we cut it back to where it was five years ago.”
It’s a simple business principle, he said.
“I don’t know why these problems aren’t solvable.”
As a Republican, he made a predictably forceful case against entitlements, while maintaining that the government can’t take away what people have already worked for in terms of Social Security.
“But, we understand going forward that there can be adjustments that can make Social Security available to all,” he said. “And certainly welfare and disability things have to be reviewed, because there’s obvious abuse there. Like I said, there needs to be a complete audit.”
As far as immigration, which has become a hot button issue for Georgia, he said it too needs serious retooling.
“We’ve got a legal guest worker program and an illegal immigration policy in this country, and neither are working,” he said. “The bottom line is to secure the borders.”
Once that is achieved, he said, lawmakers will have to come up with an immigration program that works for everybody.
“It’s just another one of those problems that needs to be fixed, and we just need to roll up our sleeves and get it done.”
Admittedly, that’s easy to say but tough to do.
“Obviously, I can’t do everything,” he said. “I’m just one voice. But I feel good about folks in this cycle and the folks we’ve got up there. Like I said, this is going to be a good time to go to Congress and get this thing turned around.”