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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Party Discipline — Grassroots Style

Yesterday’s edition of the Savannah Morning News has an interesting and instructive article by Patrick Rodgers about U.S. Rep. John Barrow (D-GA12) catching hell from African American community leaders in a conference phone call just before the Saturday vote on health care reform. An excerpt:

This past Saturday afternoon, Congressman John Barrow held a conference call with more than 50 African American faith and community leaders from Savannah and Augusta. The call, which lasted nearly an hour, was to discuss his planned vote against healthcare reform the following day…Several callers said they would pray for him to change his mind and told him stories of their own struggles with the current healthcare system.

Barrow, whose district includes 44 percent African Americans, held fast to his opposition, citing the Blue Dog litany of concerns, and adding, according to Rodgers, “I’m not against the bill, but I can’t vote on a concept. I have to vote on specific legislation,” Barrow told the group. “I want the good that’s in this to pass, but I’m not willing to accept the collateral damage.” Apparently, it fell a little flat:

Most of those in attendance were unwilling to accept his reasoning…”You’re voting to hurt people by doing nothing,” said one caller who explained how she lost her benefits after leaving her last job, and hadn’t been able to afford to get them back since opening a small business.
Savannah City Council members Mary Osborne and Van Johnson were part of the call as well.
“You’ve got districts suffering from persistent poverty,” Alderman Johnson told Barrow. “Unless you have another plan, we need you to support this.”…”Do you expect us to support you in the next general election?” one caller asked about 45 minutes into the conversation.

Although they weren’t able to flip his vote, Barrow may pay a high price for his intransigence. The Democratic Party is not rigged like the G.O.P. to invoke party discipline for those who buck the Party’s majority and leadership on major legislation. But the African American community leaders of GA-12 have provided an instructive example of how progressives can pick up the slack. Barrow will be lucky if he doesn’t draw a formidable primary opponent.

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