Much is wrong with our political system: Moneyed interests dominate, a sclerotic bureaucracy prevents progress, and partisan politics often gets in the way of good ideas. But the Senate race in North Carolina highlights another one of Washington’s worst tendencies – the work of getting reelected often crowds out the work of making good policy.
Incumbent Republican Sen. Richard Burr is stuck in a surprisingly tough fight against Democrat Deborah Ross, a former backbench state representative who was way down on the party’s list of preferred recruits. The reason for the closer-than-it-should-be race is something that more voters should hope for: Simply put, Burr is too busy working on behalf of his constituents to do the icky business of raising money and running a campaign.
“I become a candidate on Oct. 8, when the United States Senate is adjourned,” Burr insisted in a recent interview with the Associated Press. “I don’t want there to be any question between the separation of senate business, so I have very few conversations with campaigns and it really plays no role in my actions.”
The media pounced, seeing a juicy narrative forming in a crucial race for the Democrats’ Senate hopes, and even GOP insiders were a little taken aback that one of their candidates was being caught “flat-footed.” But, as Burgess Everett and Seung Min Kim report for Politico, Sen. Burr didn’t second guess his thought process:
Was that a mistake?
“Absolutely not. Has my campaign been running? Yeah it’s been running. When do I have time to go down and be a candidate? I’ve got a full-time job up here,” Burr said. “What I was trying to say was, I go out and do Senate business, don’t come up and ask me campaign questions. Because I’m not a candidate, I’m doing official business.”
The 60-year-old Burr is something of a throwback on Capitol Hill, a longtime friend of former House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) who views politicking a distant second to the daily ins-and-outs of being a powerful Intel chairman.
Those qualities make Burr a rare breed in the nation’s capitol, a place where people often seem to be focused more on self-aggrandizement than constituent betterment. And it’s honestly tough to find anyone who can say anything negative about him.
“Burr is boosted by the fact that he’s well-respected by Democrats — the biggest diss that Democratic senators can come up with is that he’s not well known in the state,” writes Everett and Kim.
Even Democrat Erskine Bowles, who lost a bruising race to Burr in 2004, now calls Burr a friend.
“Nobody works harder or smart for North Carolina,” Bowles said of Burr.
That type of respect was forged in the numerous bipartisan accomplishment’s he’s achieved during his stint in the Senate. That includes sponsoring the ABLE Act which helps families with disabilities save fro their future, and authoring the Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act, which reduced student loan interest rates and set maximum rate caps for government loans. He also worked with Sen. Barbara Mikulski to write and pass the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act, which provided child care assistance to low-income parents so they can afford to work and break they cycle of poverty. And he’s teamed up with Sen. Angus King to introduce bipartisan legislation to expand flexible spending accounts for childcare and increase the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit.
There is a consistent theme behind many of Burr’s efforts: His focus on improving the lives for the next generation.
“The reason I’m running for re-election is personal,” Burr once told his supporters. “I’ve got something personal at stake – their future,” he said, pointing towards his two sons who were present in the crowd.
How many would-be politicians, including Burr’s opponent—Deborah Ross—could say that with a straight face? Not many. They’re too busy raising money or campaigning to worry about the people they hope to represent. We deserve better.