The Newest Senator
The newest member of what has long been dubbed “the world’s most exclusive club” is John Barrasso, appointed last month as U.S. senator from Wyoming to replace a fellow Republican, the late Sen. (1994-2007) Craig Thomas. Under the state’s unique Senate succession law, an appointee to the Senate from the same party as the previous holder is required. So the state Republican Committee submitted three names to Democratic Gov. Dave Freudenthal, who then appointed State Sen. Barrasso, a 54-year-old surgeon
Who is the “new kid in town”? A graduate of Georgetown University and a state legislator since ’02, Barrasso is a solid conservative. Just this April, Right to Life of Wyoming presented him with an award at their state conference for his “dedication and efforts” in sponsoring the Lacy Peterson Bill in the Wyoming senate. At the conference, RTL President Steven Ertelt thanked the physician-legislator for “standing up for life.”
Barrasso also has an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association. In the state senate, he voted for prayer in schools, against gay marriage and consistently for lower taxes and spending. Barrasso, who is a past state Republican chairman, has addressed the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington.
State law also requires that Barrasso face the voters next year in a special election to fill the remaining four years of the term Thomas won in ’06. Most Republicans in the state have already lined up behind their new senator for that race. The last Democratic senator from the state was Gale W. McGee, who served from 1958-76, but there is little doubt Democrats will have a heavyweight contender to oppose Barrasso. The two possibilities frequently mentioned are trial lawyer Gary Trauner, who lost a tight trace for the state’s at-large congressional seat last year, and former U.S. Attorney Paul Hickey, who lost the Democratic nomination for governor to Freudenthal in ’06. Hickey is the son of the late Gov. (1958-61) John J. Hickey, who arranged for his own appointment to the Senate in 1961 after the sudden death of Republican Sen.-elect Keith Thomson. The elder Hickey was handily defeated in the special election for the seat the following year.
Also in Wyoming: Another former U.S. attorney with a distinguished pedigree signaled interest in the appointment to the Senate but was passed over by the GOP state committee. Matt Meade, who resigned as U.S. attorney shortly before the committee began submitting names to the governor, is the son of the late State Sen. Mary Meade, the Republican nominee for governor in 1990, and grandson of much-revered Gov. (1962-66) and Sen. (1966-78) Cliff Hansen. Stalwart conservative Meade is still considered a young Republican with great political potential in his state, and the betting is heavy that he will run for the at-large House seat if, as many expect, incumbent Republican Rep. and narrow ’06 survivor Barbara Cubin calls it quits next year.
The Newest House Member
The newest member of the U.S. House was supposed to be Jim Whitehead, who topped the field last month in the initial, all-candidate primary for Georgia’s open 10th District. A former state senator and owner of a tire and auto shop, the 64-year-old Whitehead won about 44% of the vote over nine other candidates, and he seemed a slam-dunk in the run-off last week against the runner-up, physician and fellow Republican Paul Broun.
But upsets happen. After a turnout that former Augusta Chronicle Editor Phil Kent called “abysmal,” Broun won by a slim, 158 votes over Whitehead.
“And on all the issues — cultural, economic, you name it — Broun and Whitehead differed little,” according to Kent, who said they both invoked the name of the man they were trying to replace, late Rep. (1994-2007) Charlie Norwood (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 96%), a revered conservative.
Geography played a pivotal part in the unanticipated returns. The Athens-area precincts turned out heavily for Broun, while the turnout in Whitehead’s home turf in the Eastern part of the district (Augusta) was “anemic,” according to Kent. Both candidates played heavily to their home bases by vowing to help their respective home towns. Both also ran as strong opponents of the Bush-backed immigration bill that died in the Senate recently.
The run-off last week was the reversal to a similar turf war when the district was last open and Augusta’s Norwood edged out run-off foe Ralph Hudgens, who hailed from Broun’s part of the district, by fewer than 1,000 votes.
Death of a Hard-Charger
Tennessee Democrats and the liberal media in the state were scandalized in 1972, when 33-year-old Republican challenger Robin Beard first ran for Congress and dubbed four-term Democratic Rep. William Anderson an “ultraliberal bum.” Former U.S. Marine Beard did not back down. Two years earlier, Anderson had taken a tour of Vietnam and returned as an opponent of U.S. action there and vowed that he “was going to study war no more.” He began to read pacifist literature and met the Berrigan brothers, two Roman Catholic priests who were convicted of destroying draft records. To Anderson, Phillip and Daniel Berrigan were “peacemongers whose tolls have been love, peace, truth, brotherhood, charity, service and a large measure of undiluted sacrifice.”
Much as they today believe that a long career in uniform insulates Rep. John Murtha (D.-Pa) from criticism for his attacks on U.S. policy in Iraq, Democrats in the 1970s felt that Anderson’s background as a decorated World War II veteran and commander of the first atomic submarine was adequate cover for his anti-Vietnam stand. They were wrong, and in a vigorous campaign, the hard-charging Beard repeatedly slammed the incumbent, proudly spoke of his own career as a first lieutenant in the Marines and unseated Anderson.
When he died June 16 after a long battle with a brain tumor, Robin Leo Beard, Jr’s, first race for Congress and his 10 years of service in Washington were recalled vividly by conservatives. The first Republican since Reconstruction to win Tennessee’s 6th District was a forerunner of the conservative swashbucklers who would finally take a leadership role in the House when Republicans won a majority 1994.
Educated at Bell Academy and Vanderbilt University, Nashville son Beard became active in the Republican Party in his state after three years of duty in the Marine Corps. When Republican Winfield Dunn won the governorship in 1970, he named Beard state personnel commissioner — at 31, the youngest member of his cabinet. Two years later, Beard went to Congress.
A solid conservative, Beard was a leader in the House on national security issues. Among the causes he championed were ending forced busing in public schools, denying amnesty to Vietnam draft avoiders and abolishing the Legal Services Corp. Taking a position about which conservatives are still divided, Beard supported reinstatement of the military draft.
In 1982, Beard challenged Democratic Sen. James Sasser and, amid a national Democratic tidal wave, lost decisively.
Marine Reserve Col. Beard went on to serve as assistant secretary general of NATO, the highest U.S. civilian in the Brussels-based organization. At one point, intelligence sources considered him one of the top three civilian targets of Libyan terrorists operating in Europe. Following a second term with NATO, Beard returned to the U.S. and worked for several major defense contractors.
For all his passion about issues, friends remembered the Tennessean as someone who never took himself seriously and whose campaigns and House office were full of laughter and practical jokes. In a reminiscence rare about most politicians today, Beard ’72 campaign organizer Justin Wilson of Nashville recalled: “Robin was fun.”
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