Originally created 01/30/05

Barrow gets accustomed to new job in Congress



WASHINGTON - The decor in John Barrow's office leaves little doubt where the 49-year-old Democrat calls home.

A statue of Athena flanks one side of the freshman congressman's desk. A historic map of downtown Athens looms over it.

A guest may sit in a chair marked with the iconic University of Georgia Arch, or on one of two sofas that are, perhaps coincidentally, Bulldog black.

On Jan. 4, Mr. Barrow became the first Athenian sworn into the U.S. House of Representatives in nearly three decades.

The bookshelves in the office hold family pictures and a handful of books, even one penned by Newt Gingrich. The desk is starkly empty - only a telephone and a magazine on the remarkably blank desk.

Mr. Barrow says he's proud of the tidiness of the office. He doesn't expect it will stay that way long.

MR. BARROW HAS BEEN appointed to two House committees, the Education and Workforce Committee and the Agriculture Committee, an appointment he learned about Thursday.

Neither of the committees have yet met, and he isn't studying up on them much in the meantime, he said. There's not much point in specializing until he gets his subcommittee appointments, Mr. Barrow said.

In the meantime, there's a lot for freshmen congressmen to learn, such as the cavernous tunnel system that connects the three office buildings and the Capitol, and the voting system that allows congressmen to cast their ballots electronically and watch them tallied on a giant scoreboard in the chamber.

Plus, a freshman has 434 other representatives to meet.

"It is awkward. Learning everyone's name is difficult," Mr. Barrow said.

MR. BARROW STEPPED UP to the microphone on the floor of the House for the first time Wednesday.

He picked the federal deficit as the topic for his first official address to the House.

"He wanted it to be something big," said Harper Lawson, Mr. Barrow's communications director.

His first address was to two other legislators, the Congressional record and a C-SPAN television audience.

Before Mr. Barrow finished speaking, a California woman called the office to share her advice on how to cut the budget, according to Mr. Barrow's chief of staff, Roman Levit.

THE 109TH CONGRESS was fairly uneventful in its first week.

Members voted to commend the people of Ukraine on a free election and congratulate Viktor Yushchenko on his victory, to honor groups for marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp, and to limit the number of Congressional Gold Medals awarded each year.

Mr. Barrow voted against the last bill, as did most of his Democratic colleagues.

Constituents and special-interest groups will come, but one of the first to explain their needs to their new congressman was a pair of men representing the textile industry - specifically, the Jockey factory in Millen, a plant that employs 270 people in the rural Jenkins County seat. The men wanted Mr. Barrow to support the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which will expire in 2008, to keep its plant in Jamaica open.

ONE OF THE PERKS of being a congressman is free travel to and from the home district, a benefit that many use every weekend, not just to visit family, but also to be seen by voters who will begin to re-evaluate their choice in little more than a year.

On his way to the Reagan National Airport last week, Mr. Barrow took his first trip to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, a Washington hospital for active soldiers and veterans.

He went into the soldiers' rooms alone, visiting with three soldiers.

What did the war-wounded soldiers want their congressman to do for them?

"They said, 'Make sure people know the good that we are doing, the schools we are building, the roads we are paving,'" Mr. Barrow said.

"Whatever your thoughts about the issue - your concern for the people remains."

Local offices

The office of U.S. Rep. John Barrow, D-Athens, will open at least three offices in the district, the first in Athens. Savannah and Augusta offices will come soon, according to a Barrow spokesman, but Mr. Barrow hasn't decided whether to open a full Statesboro office. The Athens office, which is in the Michael Brothers Building on East Clayton Street, can be reached at (706) 613-3232.