NewsPub Notes

Pub Notes

When I saw what was in the envelope that I opened at the kitchen table, I exclaimed and dropped it as if it had a spider in it. It was a fund-raising letter from Congressman John Barrow. Like a lot of other Athenians who used to support him, I have been disillusioned with John’s evolution into what is at best a “blue-dog†Democrat.

You remember John Barrow, of course—the son of liberals-back-when-there-weren’t-many: Judge James Barrow and his wife Phyllis Jenkins Barrow, both from old Athens families. They helped pave the way to the progressive Athens we have come to know and love—if we think about it anymore. John grew up here, graduated from the public schools, the university and Harvard law and was elected to the Athens-Clarke County Commission, where he was a lead liberal. John eventually ran for Congress, and Athens gave him the votes he needed to eke out a victory over a South Georgia Republican. The Republicans got control of the Georgia legislature and had themselves a reapportionment, even though it wasn’t census time. When they put away the crayons, Athens wasn’t in John’s district anymore. John’s district had gone south. John did, too. He moved to Savannah and beat the same Republican again on his own turf. Then he beat another Republican, barely. So, in the most recent reapportionment, the Republicans drew Savannah out of John’s district. Now he has moved to Augusta and is beginning to campaign in yet another district gerrymandered especially for him by Republicans strongly opposed to the intrusion of government into our lives.

Meanwhile, with the same sort of thing going on all over the South, John Barrow is the only white Democratic congressman left in Dixie. Or, as he puts it in his letter, “Today, I begin this campaign year as the only [his emphasis] Democrat in Congress—from South Carolina to Louisiana—who represents a district without an African-American majority.â€

Of course, John has had to make some adjustments in order to keep his head above the cotton. He has had to shuck and jive and vote like a Republican on some big issues: Obamacare and injecting the federal courts into the fight over whether to keep Terri Schiavo “alive.†He has been a hawk on Iraq and the Patriot Act, and he voted to extend the Bush tax cuts and against repealing tax cuts for energy companies. On the other hand, he voted for reauthorizing and extending the children’s health insurance program; he voted for raising the minimum wage, for ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, for repealing restrictions on stem cell research, for allowing the government to negotiate directly with drug companies for Medicare drug prices, against defunding National Public Radio, against the draconian Ryan budget.

The Washington Post scores John at 70 percent voting with his party. If he were Doc Eldridge with that kind of Democratic percentage, we’d love him. We just can’t forgive John for every vote he casts that represents the majority in his district instead of us. But we don’t vote for him; they do, and he’s out there on his well worn tightrope, hanging on by his toes as he sets out to keep himself in Congress in yet another Republican-leaning district. The alternative is somebody like Paul Broun, Jr., who votes with the Republicans 83 percent of the time, or Jack Kingston, near John’s old district, who votes Republican 93 percent of the time (7 percent Democratic, compared to John’s 70 percent).

In other words, when they knock John out of Congress, his replacement can be guaranteed to vote against NPR, the minimum wage, children’s health insurance and everything else we support.

As John put it in a statement in the Savannah Morning News: “Ultimately, my loyalty to the interests of the people of the 12th District of Georgia comes before any party or coalition.â€

Maybe that’s not good enough for us Democratic purists, but maybe John Barrow does deserve a few bucks from his old hometown, not because he’s perfect, but because he is so far ahead of what comes next. John has been forced by the constant pressure of the right-wing Republicans to do what he has to do to remain in Congress. Just considering the alternatives, maybe we should try to help protect this endangered species.

Pete McCommons