Pubdate: Sun, 06 Dec 1998
Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution (GA)
Copyright: 1998 Cox Interactive Media.
Author: Cynthia Tucker, editor of the Constitution's editorial page


When Newt Gingrich announced his resignation, he said he was leaving
so the Democrats would not be able to use him as the poster boy for
Republican excess. That reasoning suggested that Gingrich was the only
GOP figure with a persona guaranteed to chill voters, frighten small
children and upset family pets.

Gingrich was well-known for his oversize ego and strident
partisanship, traits given heightened scrutiny because of his post as
speaker of the House. But he was by no means the scariest Republican
in Congress. If Gingrich wanted to shed his party of a frightening
extremist (and there are several), he should have taken Georgia Rep.
Bob Barr with him.

At the moment, Barr is the Democrats' best ally. He is doing all he
can to ensure that the GOP never becomes the nation's majority party.
When he is not rabidly insisting on the impeachment of President
Clinton --- a position soundly rejected by a majority of Americans ---
he is insulting gays or members of ethnic minority groups.

Barr's latest caper is a twofer: He found the opportunity to insult
AIDS sufferers while also interfering with the voting rights of the
citizens of a municipality that happens to be predominately black:
Washington. It is just the sort of maneuver that Barr has made his
speciality: a stunt that accomplishes nothing except to alienate a
sizable portion of the electorate.

On Nov. 3, Washington residents joined voters in five states in voting
on referendums that would legalize the medical use of marijuana for
patients  suffering from cancer, AIDS or glaucoma. The district's
ballot initiative  resulted from a campaign by Wayne Turner and his
partner, Steve Michael, who  died of AIDS in May.

But Turner and other Washington residents still do not know for sure
how the referendum fared (though exit polls suggest it passed
overwhelmingly). Back during the negotiations over the federal budget
in the fall, Barr had attached an amendment to a Washington
appropriations bill that barred its Board of Elections from spending
any money to count the votes from the referendum. (Supporters of the
referendum figure that cost at about $1.64).

Later, Barr mocked the district's voters: "Is there legitimate
speculation to think, given Marion Barry's history and the liberal
leanings of D.C. voters,  that they've decided to fight drugs?"

Funny thing is, Barr did not make similar comments about the voters of
Alaska, Arizona, Oregon, Nevada and Washington state, who also
approved medical marijuana initiatives on Nov. 3. Is there legitimate
speculation to think, given Barr's history, that he would stifle the
democratic process only in a city that is largely black?

The American Civil Liberties Union has gone to court to force the
district to announce the results of the referendum, a lawsuit that has
also attracted the support of the Libertarian Party. That may be
enough to stop this small bit of Barr tyranny, but the nation must
depend on the voters of Georgia's 7th Congressional District to
ultimately rid the nation of this plague.

Fortunately, there are glimmers of hope there as well. Although the
7th District is an overwhelmingly conservative piece of real estate
stretching from Atlanta's western suburbs to the Alabama line, the
Nov. 3 election results show  a constituency less than enamored of the
incumbent. Barr's Democratic opponent,  Jim Williams, was a pleasant
but unimpressive candidate --- little-known and  underfinanced ---
who listed the names of his pets in his campaign literature.  He still
pulled in 45 percent of the vote.

That was a result that Barr could not conceal from more realistic
contenders who might be eyeing his seat.

Cynthia Tucker is editor of the Constitution's editorial page. Her
column appears Sundays and Wednesdays. E-mail: - ---
Checked-by: Don Beck