Keown goes from pulpit to polling booth

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY, Ga. -- As a minister running for office, finding a topic about which to speak to civic groups can be challenging.

Mike Keown, R-Coolidge, said he has received numerous invitations to speak to civic organizations, such as Friday's meeting of the Exchange Club in Albany, since he announced his plans to run for U.S. Congress in Georgia's Second District.

Those extending the invitations always ask him to do two things.

"They say they don't want a sermon," Keown, 56, said. "They all say they don't want a political speech. So this is no political stump speech."

What Keown did talk about was how he moved from the pulpit to the polling booth.

Starting with his first experience in the voting booth and bringing his audience along to his campaign to unseat U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop D-Albany, Keown said he was led by God.

"I felt like the Lord was leading me," Keown said. "This is just one more step in my walk of faith."

Keown's family was Democratic, but he said he has voted for Democratic candidates only once -- the first time he ever voted. He was still in high school.

He became the pastor of Coolidge Memorial Baptist Church in 1972, and Keown's political career started 14 years later, he said, when he was just about drafted to become the city's mayor.

"The deacon approached me and said he thought I should run for mayor," Keown said. "They thought that if they had the preacher on the ballot no one else would run."

No one did. Keown became mayor. He later was elected and served 14 years on the Thomas County School Board.

When he found the state legislative district he lived in would have no incumbent because of redistricting in 2004, Keown jumped into the race and was elected state representative for three two-year terms.

Recent events convinced him to attempt to move from the State House to the U.S. House. When he heard about the economic stimulus bills and bank buyouts under the Obama administration, he decided he should "step in deep water" and run for Congress.

"I don't know whether I'll sink or swim," Keown said. "But I'll leave the results up to him (God)."

Using a story from a legal immigrant from India who was afraid of losing the American Dream, Keown said the immigrant compared many in America to drunks.

Once a drunk starts, Keown said, he cannot stop until he ruins himself and his family. Many in the country, he said, are like drunks -- drinking and eating at the government teat of social programs.

"That's how a preacher got involved in politics," Keown said.

Club members applauded Keown and it appeared at least a few were impressed with what they heard.

"I knew he was a preacher, but I didn't know his story," said Chuck Knight of Albany. "I think he was sincere and he could do an excellent job in Congress."