When U.S. Senate candidate Jim Barksdale stepped onstage to speak at the Bulloch County Democrats’ annual gala Friday night, he wore his hat, a rumpled riding cap, for a couple of minutes, letting everyone know he really was the man in the campaign ads.
Then Barksdale doffed the hat and began to reveal his unusual stance as a Democrat who is a businessman – maybe even a rich one – emphasizing economic issues while running against an incumbent Republican. That Republican is Sen. Johnny Isakson, who after 40 years in state and national politics, including two terms in the Senate, is called an icon even by his challenger.
“The main message is the race that everybody thought was not winnable in Georgia against this iconic Republican, Johnny Isakson, is turning out not to be that way,” Barksdale said. “He’s vulnerable. It’s winnable.”
Some voter opinion polls show Barksdale trailing Isakson by single digits, percentage-wise. As further evidence that he is a threat, Barksdale noted that Republican ads against him have begun to appear.
Barksdale, 63, was born in Macon but grew up in Atlanta, which is still his home. He has never served in public office.
At first a high school dropout, he attained a GED diploma, then went to the College of William & Mary for a degree in psychology and to the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania for a master’s in finance. Barksdale founded Equity Investment Corporation in 1986. He remains president of the company, which manages about $5 billion in clients’ investments.
“I know what people think about me and I know what they’ve said, ‘Here’s just another businessman, going off to Washington, oh, boy,’” Barksdale said. “They might even say there’s another rich businessman going off to Washington, right?”
Barksdale said two things make him different.
“One is I believe in people, I believe in investing in people. …,” he said. “Another reason I’m different than the other businessmen you see going off to Washington is I’m seeing that the trickle-down economics that everybody’s been talking about for the past 30 years haven’t worked.”
Raising the minimum wage
Instead, Barksdale advocates “building up” beginning with increases to the minimum wage, which has been $7.25 an hour since 2009.
“That helps turn the clock back on some of this income inequality,” he said. “It gets money into the hands of people who will spend it, and that gets the multiplier going of people going to the stores buying things.”
While individual businesses would see higher costs, they would recover these from stronger growth in a healthier economy, he argues. In an interview, Barksdale said the wage needs to increase “as fast as possible” to $10 because that would restore the wage to where it was in 1968 if adjusted for inflation. A Department of Labor chart shows 1968 as the peak year of the wage’s inflation-adjusted value.
Further increases into the $12 to $15 range would reward workers for increases in productivity that have occurred since 1968 and get the economy moving again, he said.
“As an investor I’m very aware of the failure of our economic policies, and they show up in our poor growth that we’re having in the country,” Barksdale said in the interview. “They show up in the declining incomes that people are experiencing, and you can’t grow an economy when incomes are declining.”
He proposes closing tax loopholes that benefit corporations that send jobs overseas, and eliminating their ability to deduct the expense of closing a factory in the United States.
In contrast to Barksdale’s view on corporate taxes, Isakson in a May interview in Statesboro talked about U.S.-based companies being double-taxed on profits earned overseas, and suggested changing from a “global” to a “territorial” tax system to avoid this.
But Barksdale suggests that U.S. corporations are not overtaxed in the way that Republican lawmakers often say they are.
“Since I’m in the investment business, I pay attention to how much taxes corporations pay, and what I find is there has been a steady, steady decline in the amount of taxes that corporations pay as a percentage of their profits over the past 15 years or so, and what that means is, regardless of what the stated tax is, they’re not paying it, and they’re avoiding those taxes by loopholes, tax havens overseas,” he said.
The result, he said, is bad for the government’s deficit and bad for American workers.
Barksdale also criticizes Isakson’s stance on Social Security, which Isakson has said needs changes to remain solvent for future generations.
“Johnny Isakson has wanted to privatize Social Security,” Barksdale said. “He’s voted for that, and that puts money where everybody would be at risk, people’s savings would be at risk. He’s suggested that we raise the retirement age to 69. You know, that’s waiting pretty late, especially if you’re working a hard job.”
Here in May, Isakson did not suggest privatizing Social Security, but did say that a change in the age of eligibility may be needed, so that his grandchildren’s generation would become eligible “at age 68 or 69 or 70.” Isakson said the ceiling on the amount of income subject to the Social Security tax may also have to be increased.
But Social Security still has a surplus of incoming revenue, and isn’t in such dire straits for the long term, Barksdale said in Friday’s interview.
“It’s really when you look out over 75 years, yes, it will be a deficit, yes, you may get below the current amount that’s in there, under a certain set of assumptions, or you may not, but it isn’t that difficult to fix it and there are ways to fix it without hurting retirees,” he said.
Threat of ISIS
Asked about foreign policy, Barksdale also expressed a view that contrasts sharply with Isakson’s.
“Our primary focus and what we find is voters are really much more interested in the meat-and-potatoes aspects of jobs, at getting the minimum wage up, education,” Barksdale said, “and foreign policy ranks very, very low on that. Now, absolutely, people want to be kept safe and they must be kept safe.”
Isakson has said that destroying the Islamic State terrorist group must be a priority for the United States. Isakson called the group ISIL; Barksdale called it ISIS.
“We’re being invaded by those forces and we have to keep people safe from that,” Barksdale said. “But at the same time, that doesn’t mean we should go off what I call beating the beehives of trouble over there in the Middle East.”
That, Barksdale said, is what the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, which Isakson supported, accomplished.
“That was, in my mind, just beating the beehives that led to ISIS,” Barksdale said. “So you’ve got to deal with the terrorism aspect, but you don’t make your life better by going and beating beehives and getting the bees angry at you. We need to work with the allies over there and make sure that it’s dealt with, but more by them rather than us sending troops on the ground.”
Dr. Sid Chapman, president of the Georgia Association of Educators, also spoke at the sixth annual Democratic Party of Bulloch County Gala after stopping by the newspaper for an interview. That story will be published next week.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.