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ECHS students probe Barrow on current issues
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U.S. Rep. John Barrow poses for a picture with Effingham County High School sophomore Martha Paramo. Barrow was in town to speak to government classes at ECHS. - photo by Photo by Paul Floeckher

U.S. Rep. John Barrow was asked for his thoughts Friday on the military strategy the United States should take toward ISIS, how to reduce the national deficit, and whether same-sex marriage should be legal.

He was impressed the tough questions came from high school students.

“These kids are sharp. They’re paying attention to what’s going on,” Barrow said. “Kids today scare me because they’re so smart.”

Barrow (D-Augusta) spoke to two groups of government classes at Effingham County High School. It was part of his series of visits to schools in Georgia’s 12th congressional district, which includes the northern half of Effingham County.

Students in both groups asked Barrow how the U.S. should deal with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, known as ISIS, in the Middle East. The Islamic militant group recently has released videos of its brutal actions, including the beheading of American journalist James Foley, and captured Syrian soldiers being marched across the desert to their deaths. The U.S. has launched air strikes against ISIS, but some have criticized President Obama for not acting forcefully enough against the terror group.

Barrow told the students the federal government “ought to be very careful and make sure we don’t get in a ground war over there.” He suggested a similar approach to the one the U.S. took three years ago in NATO’s capture and killing of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

“I have no objection to us using our technological advantage to help the people over there,” Barrow said, “like we did in Libya — where we had a big impact on the overthrow of Gaddafi, but we didn’t have a single boot on the ground. We used our air power, and it was very considerable.”

The other question posed by both groups regarded Barrow’s opinion of gay marriage. He was firm in his stance that “marriage ought to be between a man and a woman,” but also that people should have equal treatment under the law. To accomplish that, Barrow said he “(has) no problem with civil unions” for same-sex couples.

“But most importantly is not the 'what' that I believe, but the 'who' and the 'how,'" he said. “I think the people should decide this issue, not have it done for them by courts that are imposing their will on the people.”

One student asked Barrow what should be done to reduce the nation’s debt. The congressman suggested the federal government take a cue from Georgia lawmakers.

Barrow said his plan would be to adopt a constitutional amendment requiring Congress to adopt a balanced budget. If Congress failed to do that, the courts would intervene and do it for them.

“We have that in the state of Georgia, and it works,” Barrow said. “When was the last time you heard of a court having to take over and balance the budget in Georgia? You haven’t, because they know it’s there.”

Asked how well he knows President Obama, Barrow said he has been around him several times in group settings. Only twice has he spoken 1-on-1 with the President.

“Both times, he asked me to do something that I didn’t agree with, and I didn’t do it,” Barrow said without giving specifics. “But that’s OK. It was his job to ask, and it’s my job to answer.”

As a follow-up, Barrow described Obama as “a very bright, very intelligent fellow, but he’s sort of isolated.”

Some of Barrow’s most candid comments were about the legislative body in which he works. He said elected officials too often get caught up in partisanship and form “teams” with others who think the same way they do, rather than thinking first of their constituents or taking time to listen to someone who has a differing opinion on an issue.

“Congress is really screwed up,” he said. “It’s a lot more screwed up than the American people. That’s actually good news, because when you look at Congress, you’re not looking at a very representative cross-section of the country as a whole.”

The final question was from ECHS Principal Yancy Ford, who asked Barrow about the future of Common Core requirements. Local school districts can lose federal funding if they do not adopt the Common Core curriculum.

“I don’t know where it’s headed,” Barrow said. “The federal government ought to give local schools the tools they need to do the job, and let them do the job. They shouldn’t be trying to micro-manage how they do the job with the federal money.”

Prior to being elected to Congress, Barrow was an Athens-Clarke County commissioner for 14 years. He encouraged the ECHS students to consider serving in local government at some point in their lives.

“It’s a great opportunity to learn about your community,” he said, “and to learn something about yourself, too.”