REGINA THOMAS has served citizens of Chatham County for the last 12 years, first in the Georgia House of Representatives and then in the state Senate.
Known for her trademark assortment of impressively bright hats, she’s also known as an effective legislator who mixes idealism with a practical ability to get deals done.
Now she’s going after a higher seat, one already occupied by a fellow Democrat: Congressman John Barrow of the 12th Congressional District.
Well-funded and battle-tested, Barrow would seem invincible. But the combination of his conservative voting record and the heavily African American nature of his district means Thomas has better than a fighting chance against him this Tuesday.
The party’s presidential nominee, Barack Obama, recently made news by openly entering the primary on Barrow’s side — a move which shocked some observers, not only because Obama is African American, as is Thomas, but because Obama’s rhetoric seems so at odds with Barrow’s record.
We spoke with Thomas about her campaign, her vision for the future, Barrow, and Obama. When she answered her cellphone she was just finishing up asking someone to vote for her.Were you campaigning just now?
Regina Thomas: You know what? I don’t ever stop campaigning. I don’t care where I am. I brought my grandson to the eye doctor, and I’m campaigning in the eye doctor’s office!
Why in the world did you decide to take on John Barrow?
Regina Thomas: Several things. First, it didn’t matter who was in the seat, this is the year that I set aside to run. Fate would have it that John’s record is horrible.
His representation is lacking and he hasn’t been accessible to the district, I don’t know what he’s doing, where he’s going, or who he’s talking with, but it’s certainly not with the people, and he’s certainly not coming back with information and letting us know what’s going on in Washington. He has done a couple of conference calls that I’ve been involved in, but it was only to defend these bad votes that he’s been making.
After I got into it, I started receiving all these phone calls, people saying, “Thank you for running, he’s horrible, he’s this, he’s that.” Prior to that, I was so busy doing what I was doing in Atlanta, and then I went to research his record and I said, “My goodness, this really is the right time.”
Were you surprised when Barack Obama jumped into this thing on Barrow’s side?
Regina Thomas: Absolutely not! In politics it’s quid pro quo. You scratch my back, I scratch yours. And that’s exactly what it is.
So what’s the quid pro quo here?
Regina Thomas: Barrow is a superdelegate. Obama and Hillary both were going after superdelegate votes. As you recall Barrow didn’t give Obama his support until after Obama won the primary here in Georgia. I tell you what, he showed a lot of backbone when he did that!
When Barrow gave Obama his superdelegate vote then he was like, OK, I’m going to need you to endorse me. But if you listen to Obama’s ad on the radio, he doesn’t know Barrow’s voting record. He’s saying that he stands up against lobbyists and Bush and the Republicans. But he hasn’t!
Obama’s people dropped the ball. They did not do their homework to let Obama know what was going on. I just hope Obama doesn’t get any repercussions from this in November, when he clearly has supported someone who says he is such a staunch Democrat but who’s really a Blue Dog Democrat.
People are asking me, “Oh, Obama is endorsing Barrow, what does that do for your campaign?” Well, it boosted my campaign. My campaign skyrocketed the day that ad came out! So it hasn’t done anything to hurt me, but it could very well hurt Obama, because if Obama is willing to say whatever he needs to say to get whatever he needs to get, that may not go over well with a lot of voters.
How will you be different from John Barrow once in office?
Regina Thomas: First of all, I promise accessibility. I promise accountability. And I promise dependability. I will be a resource person when I go to Washington, because I have been a resource person while serving in Atlanta.
There are several issues that I need to address immediately. First is the outsourcing of American jobs. When you don’t have people employed, then you don’t have people paying into the Social Security system, as well as paying income taxes.
In addition I’m going to address No Child Left Behind. That’s an unfunded mandate that has been a miserable failure, and the federal government, Bush, and the bureaucracy do not want to admit it. Instead they want to exempt ten states from the unfunded mandate, and I don’t know what that’s going to do to the other states who aren’t exempt.
There’s nothing wrong with raising the bar, but when you raise the bar without putting the necessary tools and resources there, then you’re going to get failure.
What about privacy issues such as the wiretapping bill, which Barrow fully supports and Obama seems to be moving towards approving?
Regina Thomas: Well, John Barrow’s basically a Republican. But I don’t know what’s wrong with Obama. Why in the world would you give immunity to anyone who illegally wiretaps American citizens and then give them carte blanche to do that, then using terrorism as the excuse?
I would go back and try and repeal some provisions of that bill, because that’s a direct conflict to the Fourth Amendment right to privacy. John has tried to defend that, saying that it doesn’t give them the right to wiretap American citizens, but it is a direct violation. Who else would be able to get immunity for doing something illegal like that?
Is it just the telecom money talking?
Regina Thomas: I tell you what, they have given the Democrats that supported that bill big money, and Barrow has received $13,500 from telecom companies. So you tell me what that is. That’s pandering to lobbyists and big corporations at the expense of American citizens.
Where do you stand on Iraq?
Regina Thomas: I want our troops to come home immediately. As you know, Barrow has voted against every bill that had a benchmark in it. They continued to give money to the contractors and the subcontractors. We have gone in there and torn up those people’s country, and now we’re providing health care, education, housing, jobs — all this for them while the American people are suffering. How can you say you’ll take care of Americans when you’re giving everything away to people in other countries? Congress is so busy cozying up to Republicans and giving them exactly what they want, and then to give Bush an additional $162 billion to continue to occupy Iraq? While here we have people who don’t have health care, people who are homeless and hungry?
With gas at $4 a gallon, Republicans are back to saying what they’ve said for the last 25 years: Let’s drill in Alaska. Will that really solve our problems?
Regina Thomas: It will not. Even if it would solve a few problems, it will be 15 or 20 years down the pike before we see anything good come out of that. All that’s going to do is set Bush and Cheney and their friends up to make more money, because the government is going to give them money to do the drilling. They’re going to have their contractors and their subcontractors, and the prices at the pump are going to still be as high as they are now. It’s smoke and mirrors.
So what do we do about gas prices?
Regina Thomas: The oil cartel, which includes Bush and Cheney, they see gas prices are going up and it’s going to be a recession, so we better have some reserves and all they’re doing is banking up on the money. Look at the oil company CEOs making millions and millions of dollars just in bonuses alone. Does that tell you that there’s a problem? The only problem is gouging us poor people.
The poor are getting poorer. The middle class, they’re even dissipating. Who’s going to be left standing?
Look at NAFTA and CAFTA. Have you ever heard of any such ludicrous thing as, “OK, you can sell anything you want in my country and you don’t have to pay any taxes, but I need to come to your country too.” “Well, you’re going to have to pay taxes.” “OK, that’s fair.” We need to undo NAFTA and CAFTA. We need reciprocity.
OK, thanks for talking to us. You better go back to campaigning.
Regina Thomas: And you know what? I’m going to win. I’m winning this thing. People know what I’m about, they know what I’ve stood for for the past 12 years, and I have not changed from who I am. And I have always looked out for everybody — not just the little guys and the middle class guys, I’ve even looked out for industry.
But industry’s going to have to look out for us, too. Everybody can bite the bullet. If we need to bite the bullet, they need to bite the bullet.