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 Johnâ€™s evolution into what is at best a â€œblue-dogâ€ Democrat.
You remember John Barrow, of courseâ€”the son of liberals-back-when-there-werenâ€™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 loveâ€”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 wasnâ€™t census time. When they put away the crayons, Athens wasnâ€™t in Johnâ€™s district anymore. Johnâ€™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 Johnâ€™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, â€œToday, I begin this campaign year as the only [his emphasis] Democrat in Congressâ€”from South Carolina to Louisianaâ€”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 â€œalive.â€ 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 childrenâ€™s health insurance program; he voted for raising the minimum wage, for ending Donâ€™t Ask, Donâ€™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, weâ€™d love him. We just canâ€™t forgive John for every vote he casts that represents the majority in his district instead of us. But we donâ€™t vote for him; they do, and heâ€™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 Johnâ€™s old district, who votes Republican 93 percent of the time (7 percent Democratic, compared to Johnâ€™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, childrenâ€™s health insurance and everything else we support.
As John put it in a statement in the Savannah Morning News: â€œUltimately, my loyalty to the interests of the people of the 12th District of Georgia comes before any party or coalition.â€
Maybe thatâ€™s not good enough for us Democratic purists, but maybe John Barrow does deserve a few bucks from his old hometown, not because heâ€™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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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