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The Political Future of Sen. Richard Burr


Burrn Notice

When spies are deemed unreliable, the agency sends out a “burn notice”, terminating their connections and leaving them without cash, influence or a support network. In the popular TV series by that name, ex-spy Michael Weston finds himself blacklisted and stuck in Miami, where he follows a trail hoping to find the people responsible for his being burned, and why.

After a series of disappointing votes in the 2010 lame duck session of Congress, Sen. Richard Burr (R – N.C.) was deemed unreliable by many of the conservatives who worked to put him in office. Unlike Michael, he had only to look in the mirror to find the person responsible. How will this affect his political future? If Burr is named a vice presidential candidate in the 2012 election, will all be forgiven? Will he be an asset or a liability?

Rewind – Cornelius N.C., Election Season 2010

Months of preparation went into securing a visit from the man of the hour, U.S. Sen. and candidate Richard Burr. The weather was perfect and all the right people were there. His speech was just what it should be; patriotic, funny, touching. There was hardly a dry eye in the crowd.

Burr the statesman made his way cordially but steadily past supporters eager for a word and a photo op., past the microphones of the Charlotte media, (who for once had actually found their way north of the city limits), and back to the big black bus that a short time earlier had driven between rows of American flags and dozens of Burr for Senate signs.

The visit was a success. The only thing left to do was win the election, but with such motivated and eager volunteers that was not a problem. What is a little rain if holding Burr’s campaign sign will save our country? Who needs a life outside of politics when a hundred more phone calls can secure our future?

And so the GOP faithful kept their part of the bargain and were rewarded with a victory in November. The win was most satisfying. The celebration was short.

Strike One- DADT

In an October 2010 debate with Democratic opponent N.C. Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, Burr said, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has worked. Now personally I don’t see a reason to reverse it. But that’s a personal opinion.”

An opinion that evidently changed, because on Saturday afternoon, December 18, 2010 Sen. Richard Burr voted to end the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. He joined seven other GOP Senators: Scott Brown (Mass.); Susan Collins (Maine); John Ensign (Nev.); Mark Kirk (Ill.) Lisa Murkowski (Alaska); Olympia Snowe (Maine); and George Voinovich (Ohio).  The repeal passed the Senate 65-31.

He explained his vote this way: “This is, I think, a policy that generationally is right. A majority of Americans have grown up at a time that they don’t think exclusion is the right thing for the United States to do. It is not accepted practice anywhere else in our society, and it only makes sense.”

But what made sense to Burr was a slap in the face to the thousands of social conservatives who worked to put him in office. They felt betrayed. Reaction was swift, prompting angry calls and letters to Burr’s office. The darling of the right was now a pariah. He joined the ranks of politicians who promised one thing during a campaign but voted another way after the election.

One blogger wrote: “Another turncoat Republican . . . I guess the senator got a pat on the back and an invitation over to lunch with a “gay pride” group . . .”

Not everyone was outraged. Then Mecklenburg County Commission Chair Jennifer Roberts, a Democrat, was delighted. She suggested sending a letter from the commission thanking Burr and other local members of Congress for backing the repeal. Republican Commissioners Bill James, Karen Bentley and Jim Pendergraph disagreed with the repeal and were not in favor of said letter. James stated he would no longer support Burr and said he suspected the senator would pay a price for the DADT vote in his next election.

Strike Two- The Food Bill

In the same 2010 lame duck session Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D–Nev.) pursued a vote on a massive expansion of food regulation, The Food Safety Modernization ACT(S 510), which granted vast new powers to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and raised the cost of food but did not increase consumer protection, according to The Heritage Foundation’s Diane Katz. Her November 2010 article called it “The wrong remedy for a phony crisis.”  Burr was a cosponsor of the bill.

Spanning 150 pages, it grants the FDA unilateral authority to order recalls. The Congressional Budget Office estimates it will require additional spending of $1.4 billion between 2011 and 2015. The costs to the private sector will likely reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

In response to the legislation, N.C. Rep. Glen Bradley, R-Franklin, filed House Bill 65, North Carolina Farmers Freedom Protection Act.  The bill is an attempt to exempt farmers from federal regulations as long as their food is produced, sold, and consumed within the borders of the state.

According to Bradley, “It could cost farmers making as little as $50,000 a year as much as $10,000 annually to comply with the new regulations. It’s a cost that puts small farmers, farmers markets, and local restaurants in danger of extinction.”

Karen McMahan, a contributor to Carolina Journal, noted that Burr’s support for the food safety bill seems out of character with his opposition to other costly legislation, including the president’s health reform law.

A Forsyth County online publication, The Conservative Shepherd, requested that Burr “refresh his recollection of Republican principles and ideals concerning limited government and free markets,” because of his sponsorship of S 510. They added: “What better way to control the people than through their food? It’s going to be a long six years.”

Fast Forward – Conservative Burr

On February 23, 2012 National Journal named Burr the 7th most conservative senator in Congress for his 2011 voting record.  Is the ever-ambitious Burr positioning himself for higher office?

Burr has shown an interest in moving up in the Senate leadership. In 2007 he lost a bid for Republican Conference Chairman to Lamar Alexander of Tennessee on a 31-16 vote. But in January 2009, he was named Chief Deputy Whip.

In October 2011, Burr announced he is seeking the post of Minority Whip, the number two Republican position in the Senate. If he loses the whip race, some speculate he could end up as the next National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman.

Burr for Veep?

Remember Burr was on the short list of the 2008 vice presidential candidates.  Posted the day after his 2010 vote for DADT, Rob Christensen with The (Raleigh) News and Observer suggested that, “Republican Sen. Richard Burr could be a sleeper figure in national politics during the next two years. Given the history of his Senate seat, there would be nothing strange about Burr’s having national ambitions. Two of three predecessors ran for president.” Christensen pointed out that Burr succeeded Democrat John Edwards, who ran for president in 2004 and 2008. Edwards had less experience in politics and government than Burr.

According to Christensen, “Burr could be an attractive vice presidential running mate for the Republican presidential nominee because North Carolina is likely to be a key battleground state.”

In his 2012 annual predictions Christensen guessed that, “After wrapping up the GOP presidential nomination, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney chooses North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr as his vice presidential running mate, helping him carry a must-win state for Republicans.”

A November 2011 post in The Charlotte Observer by Tim Funk, “Five ways to juice up the Democratic Convention,” listed item number two as “Preemptive GOP move: Burr for veep. Meeting in Tampa the week before the Democrats gather in Charlotte, the Republicans up the ante in the battle to win North Carolina’s 15 electoral votes. They do it by nominating Richard Burr, the Tar Heel State’s senior senator, for vice president.”

The Washington Post reports that Burr is a Mitt Romney supporter. Romney is from the North and Burr is from the South; Romney is a Mormon while Burr is a Methodist; Romney has had difficulty convincing the Tea Party that he is a conservative, while Burr has a strong conservative voting record that will energize Tea Partiers . . . oh, wait.

Once Burrned, Twice Shy?

For Burr 2011 was a rebuilding year. He ventured cautiously into the public eye; visits with school children, awards ceremonies, and restricted interviews were all acceptable.

More recently Burr has started a slow and measured reentry into the political spotlight: an editorial in The Charlotte Observer in February; a political dinner in Lincoln County in March; a comment on an editorial in The Wall Street Journal last week.

Politics is a gamble. Strategies are planned with cunning and precision. Will conservative voters rally behind him if Burr lands a spot on the GOP ticket? Will they have a choice? The only sure thing about politics, and espionage, is that anything can happen. Stay tuned for the next episode.

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