Representative Bob Barr, the dogged and pugnacious drug warrior from the northern Atlanta suburbs, lost to Rep. John Lindner in Tuesday's Georgia Republican congressional primary. Although it appears Barr was felled primarily by a redistricting scheme that pitted him against another popular Republican incumbent in a new district designed by the Democratic Party controlled state legislature, drug reformers greeted his political demise with joy, and the Libertarian Party is taking a small share of the credit.
Barr is a former federal prosecutor whose combative, conservative, civil libertarianism -- he supported asset forfeiture reform, raised the alarm about the FBI's Carnivore program and spoke out about the excesses of the federal government in the wake of September 11 -- was marred by a blind spot the size of the Georgia Dome when it came to drug policy. Although Barr rose to national prominence and talk show ubiquity by becoming the first congressman to demand President Clinton's impeachment and then serving on the House impeachment team, it was his ideologically driven, pathologically moralistic stance on drug policy that has made him the bête noire of the medical marijuana movement.
Barr infuriated medical marijuana supporters and believers in democracy alike when he engineered amendments in Congress blocking Washington, DC, first from counting the votes for a successful 1998 medical marijuana initiative (it passed with 69% of the vote) and then from implementing it. He is also widely believed to have spurred the Justice Department to move against the medical marijuana movement in California through a letter he wrote last spring asking for a federal investigation into medical marijuana distribution -- much of it taking place with the active cooperation of state and local authorities in that state. Barr also once suggested using RICO laws designed to combat organized crime figures with lengthy sentences against drug reform advocates such as George Soros.
"This is glorious news for people who need medical marijuana to help them battle the symptoms of cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, and other terrible illnesses," said Robert Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project (http://www.mpp.org), which successfully challenged Barr's amendments in federal court and is leading the campaign for a DC medical marijuana initiative this year.
The Libertarians are happy, too. Barr became "public enemy number one" in the Libertarian Party's national spoiler strategy, which is targeting vulnerable congressional drug warriors in five districts across the country this year (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/247.html#libertarianplan). The party used the congressional candidacy of Libertarian stalwart Carol Ann Rand as a platform for an anti-Barr advertising campaign (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/249.html#lpads) featuring medical marijuana patient Cheryl Miller -- whom Barr had once dismissed as a "prop" -- asking, "Bob Barr thinks I should be in jail for using my medicine. Why would you do that to me, Bob?" "We targeted Bob Barr because he is simply the worst of the worst, and now he's gone," said Libertarian national political director Ron Crickenberger. "He was a prime voice against medical marijuana, and just having him gone will be significant change in the House," he told DRCNet.
But with Barr losing by a decisive 67% to 33% to Linder, the Libertarians were modest about their role in ousting the pugnacious prosecutor. "This was a blow-out and there were a lot of different factors at play," said Crickenberger. "We can only take a small part of the credit for his defeat. But we did make medical marijuana an issue in the race; the press asked about it, people asked about it at debates, and we ran 4,000 30-second commercials on cable TV in the last weeks of the campaign," Crickenberger said.
"Realistically, we were probably responsible for anything from a few hundred to a few thousand votes in that district," Crickenberger explained. "While that ended up not making the difference in this race, if we can muster the same number of votes in some other key districts with close races, we can be the margin of victory -- or defeat."
While Barr was a fulminating drug war fighter, primary winner John Linder's style is quieter but equally conservative. Both men supported gun rights, opposed abortion, and rejected medical marijuana. Linder's record on drug policy votes in Congress is just about as bad as Barr's, but there is a key difference, said Crickenberger. "If you look at congressional voting records, they almost all vote bad," the Libertarian strategist said. "But if you look at drug war bills, Barr was an instigator. In the last two sessions, he sponsored 33 anti-drug bills. Linder cosponsored three, and one of them was a slight amelioration of sentencing, the other two were cosponsored by half the House. There is no comparison between the two," Crickenberger concluded.
MPP's Kampia concurred that a key foe had been felled. "This is a huge boost for our new Washington, DC, medical marijuana initiative," Kampia said. "With our most vicious opponent out of the way, we now have a real chance to protect patients here in the nation's capital." In a press release celebrating Barr's defeat, Kampia pointed to Barr's efforts to block medical marijuana in DC. "Barr showed his contempt for democracy by trying to stop the votes from being counted," Kampia recalled. "When that got shot down in court, he still succeeded in thwarting the will of the District's voters by attaching a rider to the DC appropriations bill barring the measure from taking effect."
For the Libertarians, it's on to the November races, where the party has targeted some more of the "worst drug warriors in Congress" for defeat, including Rep. Henry Bonilla (R-TX), Sen. Max Cleland (D-GA) and Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT). For drug reformers, Tuesday marked a rare victory and the removal of an arch-nemesis.
But all was not good news in Georgia on Tuesday. Rep. Cynthia McKinney, a 10-year veteran of the House and a cosponsor of such drug reform legislation as Rep. Barney Frank's (D-MA) H.R. 786 (repeal of the Higher Education Act's drug provision) and Rep. Maxine Waters' Major Drug Trafficking Prosecution Act (H.R. 1978, repeals mandatory minimum sentencing), lost her reelection bid in the Democratic primary, where she was defeated by challenger Denise Majette. Drug policy was not an issue in that race; McKinney lost after criticizing President Bush over policies related to September 11 and for not supporting some policies of the Israeli government, a sin that resulted in a flood of out-of-state, pro-Israel campaign contributions to Majette.
If McKinney was good on drug policy, however, Majette may hew a similar line. Although as yet untested, Majette talked a good game on her campaign web site: "With so many of our nation's young men in jail for nonviolent drug offenses, I am concerned that we have adopted and implemented a faulty policy on illegal drugs. From mandatory minimums to discriminatory enforcement, our policy is in chaos. I fail to see the wisdom in a society that has no problem locking its citizens in jail at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars per year, per individual, while objecting to increased funding for education and job training."
Majette talks the talk; time will tell if she walks the walk.