Democrat John Barrow made his way to Atlanta this week to argue for his own survival – to explain why he and other people of the middle in Washington don’t intend to follow Tyrannosaurus Rex and the passenger pigeon into oblivion.
“I’m not at all in danger. I can tell you that wherever I go, there are people who approve of my approach to the issues,” said the Georgia congressman who, for the moment, lives in Savannah.
As of two years ago, Barrow – simply by his survival – became a man worth a series of capital letters: The Last Surviving White Democrat in Congress from the Deep South.
In August, the Republican-controlled Legislature made yet another attempt to end Barrow’s political career, by redrawing his 12th District in southeast Georgia so that it no longer includes Democrat-laden Savannah – and creating a largely rural district packed with Republican voters.
Republicans have forced him to call the movers before. In 2006, state lawmakers sliced out his hometown of Athens. Barrow said he’ll wait to see whether Georgia’s new congressional map will stand up to U.S. Justice Department scrutiny before he begins packing again.
That 2012 will be different was apparent on Tuesday. At the Capitol, in the hours before a downtown fundraiser, Barrow made a rare sojourn down press row – an effort to bring an early statewide focus to his fight.
To reporter after reporter, the congressman outlined an aggressive campaign against two targets: Republicans in Atlanta, who – Barrow argued — have attempted to fix a congressional race, and Republicans in Washington who have brought the federal government close to a shutdown three times this year. And we’ve three months to go.
Georgia’s new congressional map “reflects a rigging of the district lines in order to produce a predetermined outcome – where the parties chose their voters, and not the voters choosing their elected officials,” Barrow said.
“The people want the middle,” he said. “They get candidates percolating up through the primary system, in a district that’s designed to favor one’s party’s base or extreme point of view over the other. And that’s all they get to chose from. That’s what’s driving people crazy.”
Barrow also indicated that he intends to tell agriculture interests in his new district that they’ve been played for chumps by an ideologically driven state Legislature – which this spring passed H.B. 87, a measure intended to crack down on illegal immigration in Georgia.
The most potent portion of the measure – placed on hold by a federal judge – is the requirement that all businesses, including farmers, to employ a federal database screens out hires without legal residency permits. Barrow endorses the use of E-Verify – but only if other states are required to do so, too.
“The problem with doing it at the state level is that it creates a tremendous competitive disadvantage vis a vis your neighbors,” the congressman said. “Counties in the next state are laughing all the way to harvest. We’ve got crops rotting in the field. It’s not that undocumented aliens have left. They’ve gone some place where the pickings are easier.”
It so happens that Barrow’s only announced opponent so far is state Rep. Lee Anderson, R-Grovetown, who supported H.B. 87.
Republicans have already launched a small TV ad campaign in an attempt to tie Barrow to President Barack Obama. Next year’s GOP effort to oust the Democrat is sure to bring a smile to the face of every general manager of television stations in Macon, Augusta and Savannah.
For his part, Barrow will have to turn the tables – and point to a U.S. House so committed to a partisan agenda that it threatens misgovernment. Barrow will have to persuade voters that he remains necessary ballast.
“What we’ve got is a lurching back and forth, as folks try to seize the upper hand. And the result is worse than stalemate – it’s one crisis after another,” he said.
Among other things, Barrow pointed to:
– U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ bipartisan effort to broker a deal to address a $14 trillion federal deficit. “I think Saxby trying to lead the Gang of Six, and bringing more than 30 of his colleagues, is of huge significance,” he said. The decision by U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee to step down from Republican leadership in that chamber may be an even larger symbol of GOP dissatisfaction with a strategy of endless bickering, Barrow said.
– House Speaker John Boehner’s inability to engage in deal-making with the White House. “He’s on the back of a tiger. He might get taken out by his own people,” Barrow said. He said Boehner has continued a system created by Newt Gingrich in the 1990s – and perpetuated by Democrat Nancy Pelosi – that puts the chamber’s agenda solely in the hands of the majority caucus.
The center of Congress, he said, “has been starved out.”
– The relationship between Congress’ abandonment of earmarks and $500 million in guaranteed federal loans wasted on the Solyndra solar panel company in California. “Here’s irony for you. Solyndra is a result of delegating too much discretion to the executive branch as to how to spend the money that Congress appropriates,” Barrow said.
Yes, earmarks have occasionally been abused, the Savannah congressman said. But over-correction has resulted in “giving a larger and larger, more complex executive branch more and more discretion in how to spend the money that Congress only defines in the most general terms,” Barrow said.
– And federal funding for the dredging of the Port of Savannah – a topic of great interest to Republicans in Georgia. “It might make a difference to the fortunes of the Port if I’m not around, because [of] folks that play politics to the point that they poison the atmosphere – but that won’t be my fault,” Barrow said.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider