#GA12: Duplicitous John Barrow Can't get Story Straight on Role in Dredging Port of Savannah

There are still plenty of vulnerable Democrats running for reelection to the House this cycle, and [mc_name name=’Rep. John Barrow (D-GA)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’B001252′ ] of Georgia’s 12th district happens to be one of the toughest races. First elected in 2005, he represented a district that barely favored Democrats up until the redistricting after the 2010 Census. Now, it has a Cook PVI rating of R+9, but he’s managed to survive for five terms thus far. His closest race was, unusually, his quest for reelection to a second term in 2006, when he beat former Congressman Max Burns by only 864 votes, the thinnest margin of victory for any Democrat nationwide that year.

Regardless, he finds himself in an especially tight race this year with Republican businessman Rick Allen.* One of the things [mc_name name=’Rep. John Barrow (D-GA)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’B001252′ ] has tried to trumpet in his campaign is his role in the dredging of the Port of Savannah, which would allow the city to accept the larger ships that will be coming through the widened Panama Canal. When a large portion of your district’s livelihood depends on the second-largest port on the Eastern Seaboard (and until redistricting, was in his district), that’s kind of a big deal. The Obama administration evidently didn’t see it that way, as they had the funds for the project taken out of the Farm Bill in 2013 Funding was denied again in 2014, but after a big outcry, the money was put back in. Barrow was part of the group of Congressmen and Senators who secured the funding, and he has painted himself as the leader of the fight.

However, in a debate at Ogeechee Technical College in Statesboro, Georgia last week, he tried to back away from claims that he led the effort, since, as Allen noted, Georgia’s two Republican Senators played a big role in getting the project funded. Instead, Barrow tries to paint himself as just a part of assembling a bipartisan effort to get port dredged. Here’s the relevant exchange:

The Statesboro Herald has the full debate up at their website, divided into three parts (the question about the Savannah port comes about halfway through the second video).

Here’s the transcript of the most important parts (the question about the port was part of a larger question about the Farm Bill, which I have cut out from this video):

Phil Boyum (moderator): (to Rick Allen) [A]s a Congressman, how can you help the folks in District 12 capitalize on the Port of Savannah?

Rick Allen: As far as the Port of Savannah, you know, I can tell you this: my opponent takes credit for deepening the harbor, but I can tell you, his President took it out of the budget. And we got a couple of Senators I think in Georgia who’ll take issue with him on who got that done. Thank you very much. (Applause)

[mc_name name=’Rep. John Barrow (D-GA)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’B001252′ ]: Let me take up the subject of the Port of Savannah first, then move to the Farm Bill. First off, I’ve never claimed to have been personally responsible for deepening the Port of Savannah (audience laughter), but I have claimed, but I do claim, well you know, I do claim to have played a leading role in building the bipartisan base of support that was necessary in order to pass a water resources development act that would clear the final hurdles away so that Savannah could go first.

If you note, when Barrow tries to claim he wasn’t personally responsible for deepening the port alone, the audience laughs at him. It actually throws him off for a moment. Why were they laughing? Because his campaign has made him the centerpiece of the effort to get the port dredged. He even ran an ad on the issue, which ran on TV and is available on his Youtube channel:

He says in the ad:

When the Obama administration didn’t put the funding to deepen the port in their budget, I took ’em on, and this year, we finally got it done.

He did not say “I led a bipartisan effort.” He said, “I took ’em on.” The distinction is pretty clear, and it’s not like a Democrat representing a Republican-favoring district would lose anything by claiming to be able to build bipartisan coalitions. If anything, that might help his chances, but he didn’t say that. His focus was on his role, and the language used leaves little room for doubt as to the image of his role in the project that he wishes to impart in his constituents’ minds. His ad also shows us an article that appeared in on the website of a TV station in the district. The headline reads, in nice bold all-caps letters: CONGRESSMAN JOHN BARROW DEEPENING THE PORT OF SAVANNAH, with the Congressman’s name bigger than the rest of it.

This isn’t the first time Barrow has tried to dodge what he’s done and said in the past. The NRCC has hit him for his jumbled position on Obamacare. To attempt to make sense out of his statements, here’s the key point: however he might try to condemn the law, Barrow’s voted against repealing it three times. Rick Allen’s got a great ad hitting him for promising “No Budget, No Pay” yet voting against enacting such a proposal. The generally pro-Barrow Savannah Morning News even made note of his about-face on the law (he voted against the PPACA in 2010). However, the biggest condemnation of his two faced ways comes from the Augusta Chronicle–his home newspaper! They describe in detail his history of duplicity:

Those in the know have long realized the 12th District representative has voted as a supposed “Blue Dog” moderate Democrat primarily as a means of survival in a largely conservative district. On major issues in which the Democratic leadership in Washington is pushing the country to the far left, Barrow has waited until the coast is clear — in other words, until it’s clear the Democrats have enough votes without him — before voting against his party, in order to look good back home.

[…]

The Savannah Morning News — which actually had endorsed him — now reports that Barrow sent diametrically opposed mailers to different voters in the district saying, in one mailer, that he works “hand-in-hand” with Barack Obama — and in the other one that he has “stood up to (House Speaker) [mc_name name=’Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’P000197′ ] and the Democrats in Washington.”

The Savannah paper also notes Barrow is running an ad of Obama endorsing him — but just on radio stations that target black audiences.

It’s this sliminess that has allowed Barrow to stay in office in what has been a marginal district for Democrats. He’s survived many challenges in the past, but Rick Allen is giving him perhaps the toughest fight of his career. Allen’s a strong candidate and strong conservative. He’ll do a lot better job representing Georgians in the 12th District than Barrow ever has, but he needs our help to get elected. Give him a donation if you can, and if you live in his district, see about volunteering for his campaign.

*=My alma mater, Georgia Southern University, is in [mc_name name=’Rep. John Barrow (D-GA)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’B001252′ ]’s district, so this fight’s a little personal for me, even though I’ve since moved out of the 12th.