Amid a sizeable collection of inquiring citizens, and just steps away from armed police officers keen to his every move, Congressman John Barrow met with the public Saturday, in Center Court of the Statesboro Mall.
The “Congress on the Corner” event was held as an opportunity for potential voters to visit one-on-one with the House Representative of Georgia’s 12th District, and was similar to the public forum near Tucson, Arizona last week where 19 people were shot and six killed – Among the wounded was Ariz. Representative, and “blue-dog” Democrat, Gabriel Giffords.
Though concerns over last week’s shooting rampage translated into a requested police presence at the mall – two officers were stationed to monitor the crowd – similarities between the two events ended at Barrow shaking the hands of supporters, as Giffords did exactly one week ago.
“A lot of folks are mindful of what happened last week at a similar event in Arizona,” said Barrow to the crowd. “It’s an incredibly rare event. It’s not going to affect me in the least. I’m convinced this has nothing to do with the increase in the heat of the public rhetoric and discussion of the issues.”
The police, he said, were more important for the reassurance of those in attendance than anything else. Barrow drew attention to the officers, thanking them for the work they do, “not only today,” but, “every day of the year.”
In lieu of a public referendum on how a politician and constituents will act in response to last week’s tragedy, the public session developed into what it was always meant to be: a candid conversation regarding the nation’s foremost political issues.
“Everyone here is a representative; my representatives,” said Barrow. “It’s great that people can hear about the issues they’re representative is thinking about and voting on, and also have a chance to get ideas and thoughts off their chests.”
The congressman fielded questions on issues ranging from social security and the Hope Scholarship, to immigration and the government deficit.
“The federal government, and how it is going to get its fiscal house in order, is something we continue to hear a lot about it,” said Barrow. “And the health care mess is something we get a lot of questions on. People always want to know about jobs, the economy and healthcare.”
When asked about healthcare, Barrow reinforced his opinions regarding the bill passed by congress and senate last year.
“Most of you know I voted against the healthcare bill that was passed,” he said. “There are a lot of things in the bill I want to preserve, and think we can. But I do have strong objections to some of the things in the bill that will add to our costs.”
Barrow said he will not vote to repeal the bill, because the vote is merely “symbolic;” And that his focus, instead, will be on “working together to figure out what parts of the bill are broken” going forward.
The issue brought forth more than any Saturday was immigration. Barrow, more than once, emphasized his opinions on the contentious subject to a crowd with varying views.
“I’ll tell you where I stand on immigration. I am a border-first, enforcement-only policy maker,” said Barrow. “My policy is: Enforce the laws, secure the border and get the job done. I wish I could say my opinion was shared by majority of leadership in Washington.”
“If we secure the border, and secure jobs from going to illegal workers, I think, together, we can make the problem go away.”
Saturday’s informal question and answer session at the mall was Barrow’s fourth of the day. The congressman held gatherings at his Savannah office, Lovett Hardware in Rincon and Harvey’s Supermarket in Sylvania before appearing in Statesboro.
A second round of “Congress on the Corner” events have yet to be scheduled, but will be announced in coming weeks.
Jeff Harrison can be reached at 912-489-9454.