Charlie Norwood: Conservative Champion

Charlie Norwood, six-term GOP Representative from Georgia’s 10th Congressional District, passed away at his Augusta, Ga., home last Tuesday. The congressman’s death came only days after he declined further medical treatment in Washington for non-small-cell lung cancer, and returned home to hospice care, and to be with his family in the last days of his life.

Norwood had also battled idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) for years, being diagnosed with the condition in 1998 and receiving a lung transplant in 2004 as treatment.

A member of the 1994 “Republican Revolution,” the 65-year-old congressman worked tirelessly on several issues of importance both to his state and to the nation. An Army veteran with two Bronze Stars earned in Vietnam, he spearheaded the effort to secure full medical coverage for military retirees, co-authoring the Keep Our Promises to Military Retirees Act. He also worked with the governor of Georgia on a plan to preserve federal funding in support of Georgia’s State Children’s Health Insurance Plan (SCHIP), also known as “Peach Care,” and fought for other comprehensive health-care reform measures.

Norwood did his part to represent Americans across the political and economic spectrums. He championed special-needs students, for whom he authored the Discipline Reform Amendment to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and he also worked to improve broadcast television, for which he authored the Community Broadcasting Protection Act.

Norwood’s congressional legacy was set up to live on in the 110th Congress with the reintroduction Monday of his signature “Patient’s Bill of Rights” legislation. Known as the “Consensus Managed-Care Improvement Act of 2007” and co-sponsored by Democrat John Dingell of Michigan, this bill, if passed, would reinstate the rights of medical patients to sue federally governed health plans in state court for injury- or death-causing medical decisions and improper denials of care — an ability lost to the public with the 1974 passage of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

Shortly before his death, Norwood wrote that, given the leadership positions of several Democrats who had in the past supported the Patient’s Bill of Rights, there was “no reason” that the 110th Congress couldn’t “pass the original, un-compromised bill with a veto-proof majority.”

“At the last poll,” he concluded, “the Patient’s Bill of Rights had an 82% public approval rating. If the Democrats can use their new majority to pull that off, they will and should score big with the public.”

Norwood was a rock-solid conservative on many issues (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 96%), from taxation (he was a “FairTax,” or national income tax, supporter) to immigration. He was the author of a provision in the 2005 Deficit Reduction Act that required Medicaid recipients to verify U.S. citizenship. He also supported a security fence along the Southern U.S. border, supported fines on businesses that employed illegal aliens, and opposed any form of amnesty for undocumented immigrants. He was staunchly pro-life, and supported school vouchers as a means of “returning decision-making to families” — a belief at the core of the conservative pro-school-choice, pro-personal-responsibility philosophy.

Though his views on many of these issues put him in direct opposition to most Democratic stands, the overall sentiment toward the late congressman has largely been both warm and respectful from both sides of the aisle. Both Republican and Democratic commenters on the Georgia political blog “Peach Pundit” have attested to the fact that, regardless of political affiliation, there was never any doubt that Dr. Norwood “put the interests of his constituents, his state, and his country first,” and professed admiration for a “good and honorable man who dedicated his life to public service and to serving his constituents to the best of his ability.”

Norwood’s popularity in his congressional district was unarguable. Despite redistricting in 1996 and 2002, he never received less than 52.3% of the vote (in 1996), and received more than 60% of the vote five times, including twice surpassing 70%

With Norwood’s passing, Gov. Sonny Perdue will be required, by the end of next week, to submit to Secretary of State Karen Handel a proposed date, at least 30 days away, for a special election. There are countless names being mentioned as potential candidates for the seat, although most are waiting to announce out of respect for Dr. Norwood and his family.

The U.S. House will be a bit less warm and a bit less colorful with the loss of this great man.