You’ve seen the campaign signs. You may even recognize the name. But when you meet the man, Eugene Yu, you begin to understand his passion.
“I see the American dream just slipping away,” said U.S. Senate candidate and long-time Augusta resident Eugene Yu. “I believe in America. We owe it to our children, their children and their future children to preserve this great nation.”
With the campaign slogan, “A vote for Yu is a vote for you,” this Korean-born Republican candidate with deep roots in Augusta wants voters to know that he is headed to Washington, D.C., to listen to the concerns of his constituents, not lobbyists or career politicians.
“Just the other day, we were putting up signs in one of the subdivisions and one gentleman walked up and was wondering what we were doing,” Yu said, adding that he explained to the man that he was a candidate running for the seat of retiring U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga). “We started talking and it happened that he was a U.S. Navy veteran.”
Yu, who immigrated to Augusta from South Korea more than 40 years ago, also served this country as a military police officer in the U.S. Army.
“This man told me he got a head injury while serving in the Navy,” Yu said. “He is pretty much recovered now. Not completely, but he is almost 95 percent recovered. But this man tried to get some help from our VA Hospital and somehow the VA Hospital ran him around here and there. There was so much red tape.”
The man was struggling to get the help he needed, Yu said.
“This man is a proud American, a proud veteran, getting the runaround,” Yu said, shaking his head. “And yet, we have illegal immigrants, who, if they have any problems, they go straight to the hospital and they take them. There is something wrong with that.”
As Yu talked to this Navy veteran, the man broke down and began crying because he was so frustrated with the system.
“Meeting people like that makes me want to run for this seat and win this election even more,” Yu said. “I have to help these people.”
However, winning this particular U.S. Senate seat won’t be easy.
The Georgia Republicans vying to replace Chambliss includes a list of heavy-hitters such as U.S. Reps. Paul Broun of Athens, Phil Gingrey of Marietta and Jack Kingston of Savannah. Former Secretary of State Karen Handel, as well as Republican candidates Derrick Grayson and David Perdue, has also entered this packed race.
And that is only the Republican primary. The winner of the Republican primary will likely face Democrat Michelle Nunn, the daughter of former Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia. Democrat Branko Radulovacki, an Atlanta doctor, is also in the race for the seat.
But Yu says he is not intimidated by his competition because he believes he can outwork all of his opponents.
“When I came to America as a teenager with my parents, I started working at the local factory. A company called Mid-South Container Corporation,” Yu said. “I was working the midnight shift at the assembly line, making $2 an hour when I was a 10th grader in high school. I worked there all night. The next morning, I would go home, take a shower, eat breakfast and go to school.”
During the weekend, Yu said he served as a volunteer firefighter in suburban Augusta.
“And then, part-time, I was the bag boy and stock boy at the local Winn-Dixie grocery store,” Yu said, smiling. “So I worked all the time during high school.”
After graduating from Butler High School in 1974, Yu became a Richmond County firefighter while attending then-Augusta College. From there, Yu served in the U.S. Army for three years and was honorably discharged.
“Then I joined the Richmond County Sheriff’s Department as a deputy sheriff,” Yu said. “I worked up there until 1984.”
He was then hired by a company called Southeastern Equipment Company.
“Southeastern Equipment Company buys and sells military surplus equipment,” Yu said.
By 1994, Yu and his wife of 34 years, Jonie, founded their own business called Continental Military Services, Inc., which supplies military grade armaments to “our allies in the continuing fight to combat global terrorism,” Yu said.
“All that time, I never ever thought about becoming involved in politics,” Yu said. “But beginning last year in the presidential election when Mitt Romney lost, just like any other American, I saw the way our nation was going. I said, ‘Wait a minute, before it gets too late, I want to serve the public again.’”
If elected to office, Yu says he will fight to defend the U.S. Constitution and protect citizen’s Second Amendment Right to bear arms.
“I think our freedom is being attacked,” Yu said. “That is a freedom that the government should not try to take away from the people.”
Yu is also furious over Obamacare and its impact on citizens’ insurance coverage.
In fact, his younger brother, who is a recent cancer survivor, was just informed by his company that he has lost his insurance, Yu said.
“I believe Obamacare needs to be repealed,” he said, adding that the government needs to consult with more physicians and people in the medical industry before making such drastic changes. “I don’t think politicians should get involved in something of this magnitude.”
One of Yu’s major concerns is also job growth for future college graduates, he said.
While recently attending the Georgia/Georgia Tech football game, Yu said he had the opportunity to speak to several of the colleges’ alumni and not all the stories were positive.
“This nice-looking couple approached me the other day and said they both had graduated from UGA two years ago,” Yu said. “They asked me, ‘Do you know where I work? I work part-time at a car wash. That is the only job I can find. And I don’t know when I am going to pay my student loan.’
“That’s a sad story,” Yu added. “When our kids graduate, they shouldn’t have to worry about getting a job. It should be that the job is ready for them. “
But instead, the jobs are scarce and the country’s middle class is suffering the most, Yu said.
“Our middle-class people are the strong backbone of our nation,” Yu said. “Like a human body, your waist has to be very strong otherwise you cannot walk. You cannot do anything. Right now, the way we are doing things, we are creating more poor people.
Basically, 99 percent is going to be all poor and the 1 percent is super rich.
“We need to really focus on how we can create more middle-class people. These middle-class people are the key to the American dream.”
Yu believes this country can achieve that goal with less government regulations, lower taxes and more support for small businesses.
As soon as people meet and talk with Yu, they quickly learn he is a proud conservative, life-long Christian and staunch Republican, he said.
“I am no different than any other Republican. I’m a very traditional, conservative Republican,” Yu said. “But I think the folks in Washington have completely forgotten about common sense. I want to bring common sense back to Washington.”
While his opponents are busy raising millions and millions of dollars in an attempt to win the Senate seat, Yu is working hard on the campaign trail trying to meet as many people as possible.
Just this week, Yu had his first campaign fundraiser in Columbus, Ga.
“Maybe I was kind of naive going into this,” Yu admitted, when asked about the enormous amount of money his opponents were raising to campaign for this seat. “I didn’t know how much it was really going to take to run this election. It happens that (this week was) my first official fundraising that folks did for me in Columbus, Ga. Not in my hometown of Augusta. But in Columbus, Ga.”
Yu said he has been somewhat surprised that he has received a lot of support in other areas of Georgia, but many voters in his hometown seem to want to stick with some of the politicians that they have been complaining about for years.
“These career politicians are like bad salesmen. They are smooth talking, selling a bad product to folks,” Yu said. “I grew up in Augusta for the last 40-something years. We are supposed to be the second largest city in the state, but somehow we are treated like a stepchild. Augusta has a lot of potential and I’m really asking for Augusta to support their hometown candidate. I want to do something for Augusta, the city I always loved.”
With the Republican primary set for May 20, Yu said he realizes he has only a few months to convince people he is the man for the job.
“I know I don’t have much time because my biggest obstacle is my name recognition,” Yu said. “But I will do my best to meet people and tell people what I stand for.”
But it doesn’t help when Yu’s hometown newspaper, The Augusta Chronicle, won’t even include his name in some of the articles written about the race, Yu said.
Yu said he was particularly upset by not even being mentioned in the newspaper because he considers Augusta Chronicle publisher William S. Morris III a friend.
“Billy Morris is a good friend of mine,” Yu said. “He was telling me to my face that he is supporting Jack Kingston. I don’t want to do any negative campaigning, but Jack Kingston has been a congressman for 20 years. He is telling the folks, ‘I’m fighting for the Savannah port deepening.’
“All right. My question is: Where were you when President Bush was president? Where were you when the Republicans were the majority in the Senate and the Republicans were the majority in the Congress? Where were you? If you didn’t do anything back then, what can you do now? So don’t give me that empty promise. He needs to retire because enough is enough.”
Yu also believes that Kingston’s main concern is the Savannah area, not Augusta.
“It still amazes me that people from Augusta are supporting the guy from Savannah,” Yu said. “He hasn’t done anything for Augusta but yet Augusta people are supporting him? And I watch my opponents raise millions of dollars. My question is: How can they ask people to send them money? I don’t think they deserve to get that kind of money because they haven’t done anything for our people.”
If someone would have told Yu a few years ago that he would be running for a U.S. Senate seat today, he wouldn’t have believed them, he said. But after Obama won re-election, Yu said it was something he had to do.
“One of the biggest hurdles was convincing my wife, my daughter and my son,” Yu said, adding that both of his children are grown adults. “When I first mentioned to my wife about running for this U.S. Senate, I remember her saying, ‘Are you out of your mind? Do you think America is ready for a person like you?’
“It took me about one month to convince her that life is too short. This nation has been good to me. Good to my family. I want to serve our nation. If I can do anything, I want to serve my people.”