Broun shows willingness to stand out in GOP pack

Associated Press
Broun

ATHENS, Ga. - For Paul Broun, the fourth time was the charm.

After three failed runs for office, Dr. Broun is finally fulfilling his dream of heading to Capitol Hill after edging out the GOP front-runner by just less than 400 votes in a runoff.

His win blindsided Georgia's Republican establishment, which had lined up behind the well-funded Jim Whitehead, a former state senator.

But Dr. Broun said he wasn't surprised.

"I don't consider it an upset because I believed all along we would win it," he said in an interview at his home in Athens before heading to Washington to be sworn in as Georgia's newest congressman. "I truly believe I am where I am today by divine intervention."

A Christian conservative who said the Bible guides his day-to-day life, Dr. Broun is also a firm believer in limited federal government. He made that clear in his first vote as a congressman Thursday night when he broke ranks with most members of the Republican Party and supported a Democratic amendment barring the Justice Department from prosecuting medical marijuana cases.

Although this is the first elected office he has held, he has a distinguished political pedigree. He's the eldest son of the late state Sen. Paul Broun, a moderate Democrat who represented Athens for 38 years.

The elder Mr. Broun was known for being courtly and reserved. He favored abortion rights and gun control. He practiced his Episcopalian faith quietly.

His son, 61, has called abortion a "holocaust" and worked as a volunteer lobbyist in Washington in the late 1980s for Safari Club International, which represents gun owners and hunters. He peppers his remarks with references to his faith, a fiery brand of Southern Baptism.

Dr. Broun, 61, said he and his father were close despite their political differences.

"It made Thanksgiving dinners pretty interesting," he said.

Dr. Broun attended the Medical College of Georgia and lived for years in Americus, where he counted Jimmy Carter's mother and other members of the Carter family as patients. His parents were prominent Carter backers, traveling the country as part of the Georgia governor's "Peanut Brigade," whipping up support for Democratic primaries.

Dr. Broun staked out his own path early, becoming a Republican in south Georgia long before such a label became fashionable. He mounted two unsuccessful bids for the 3rd Congressional District as a member of the GOP. He drew more widespread attention when he launched a bid for the U.S. Senate in 1996.

Democrat Max Cleland, then Georgia's secretary of state, went on to win that race. But not before Dr. Broun drew fire for suggesting that Mr. Cleland, who lost both legs and an arm in Vietnam, was using his wheelchair for political gain.

"(He) plays that wheelchair up to the nth degree. He just shows people that wheelchair going and coming. ... It's certainly worth a lot of points," Dr. Broun was quoted as saying at the time.

He apologized for the remark, saying he had expressed himself poorly.

Now, Dr. Broun is hastily assembling a staff and hopes to hit the ground running. The 10th Congressional District has been without a representative since Rep. Charlie Norwood died of cancer and lung disease in February.

One of the key issues Dr. Broun will face on Capitol Hill is Iraq. A former Marine, he supports the troop surge, which he said needs more time to work.

But Dr. Broun said he wants to repeal President Bush's No Child Left Behind education initiative and calls former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld "a disaster."

His libertarian streak could end up irking social conservatives. Asked during the campaign about gay marriage and euthanasia, he said they appear to be issues that ought to be handled by the states.

Still, his religious conservatism runs deep. He argues that there is no separation of church and state in the Constitution and says he will fight to tear down the artificial wall that's been constructed around some issues, such as school prayer.

"Voters chose me because I am not the candidate of the special interests and the political bosses," Dr. Broun said. "I can't forget that."