Remembering Bob Barr and Bill Byrne — up close and personal
by Dick Yarbrough
July 25, 2014 07:56 PM | 1600 views | 1 1 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Dick Yarbrough
Dick Yarbrough
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Tuesday night’s Republican runoff election was likely the last hurrah for two of Cobb County’s highest profile, and many times most controversial, political figures.

Bob Barr served four terms in Congress as a Republican before running for president on the Libertarian ticket in 2008. Barr was attempting Tuesday to return to Washington via the 11th District seat vacated by Rep. Phil Gingrey, who made an unsuccessful try for the U.S. Senate. Former State Sen. Barry Loudermilk, of Bartow County, waxed Barr on Tuesday.

Loudermilk won 66 percent of the vote in the district, including a 59-41 margin in Cobb County, and becomes our 11th District congressman, since no Democrat is on the November ballot.

Bill Byrne suffered a similar fate. Running for a seat on the Cobb County commission, the one-time chairman was defeated decisively by Bob Weatherford, a former Acworth alderman. Weatherford got 62 percent of the vote to Byrne’s 38 percent and will replace Commissioner Helen Goreham, who chose not to run for re-election.

In observing the aftermath of Tuesday night’s vote, former Cobb Republican Party chairman Anthony-Scott Hobbs posted on the Citizen Georgia website, “It’s nearly impossible for a former boxer to enter the ring and become champion again. Both Byrne and Barr have a voting record and pasts like boxers have weak left hooks, and when thrown poorly they get knocked out.”

As I read that, I thought of my dealings with Barr and Byrne during my tenure as a managing director of the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games, when both were at the peak of their power.

One of the issues that took much of my time was the infamous “Family Values Resolution,” a thinly-veiled anti-gay position that ended up costing Cobb County a preliminary volleyball venue and garnered worldwide criticism. The resolution was the brainchild of Commissioner Gordon Wysong, who achieved his dubious 15 minutes of fame and thankfully was soundly defeated in the 1998 elections by a guy named Sam Olens.

Trying to resolve that issue put me up-close-and-personal with Cobb Chairman Bill Byrne and Congressman Bob Barr, who represented Cobb County’s old 7th District. Neither was particularly thrilled to have the controversy swirling around and each publicly supported the resolution but privately both were willing to try to resolve the dispute in everyone’s best interest.

The same can’t be said for then-U.S. Speaker of the House Newton Leroy Gingrich, also of Cobb County, who ranted and raved and postured like a bantam rooster and sorely tempted me to cold-cock him one day when he publicly ridiculed me in front of a group of his fawning fanatics at a luncheon in Atlanta.

I am thankful I showed my much-admired and God-given restraint. Just think about how my obituary might have read. (“Dick Yarbrough, a former managing director of the 1996 Olympics died today. He is best known for having punched House Speaker Newton L. Gingrich’s lights out in front of a group of fawning fanatics. An autopsy revealed that Mr. Yarbrough didn’t like being publicly ridiculed, especially by a fat guy named ‘Leroy.’”)

Byrne took over management of the resolution from Wysong, who was in so far over his head he couldn’t see a gopher hole. My dealings with Byrne were testy on occasion, but always straight-forward. I didn’t always like what I heard but I knew he meant what he said. Byrne does a lot of things well, but playing word games isn’t one of them. And that has been to his political detriment.

Over the years, Byrne’s outspokenness has gotten him in political hot water and earned him his share of enemies. I am not one of them. That is remarkable considering the tense times we shared on opposite sides of a highly-emotional issue.

Barr is one of the most interesting and complex individuals with whom I have dealt over my long career. Here is a guy that while in Congress pushed through the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a “legal union between one man and one woman.” When he ran for president in 2008, he vowed to repeal the act. He led an effort to impeach Bill Clinton, and then wrote a glowing letter endorsing Eric Holder as attorney general in the Obama Administration. He was considered right wing, yet worked with the American Civil Liberties Union after leaving Congress. What you saw with Bob Barr is not always what you got. Despite that, I found him a person with whom I could deal easily and honestly. I could trust his word.

Conventional wisdom says these two men have come to the end of their public careers. That may be so, but give them credit. Like them or not — and I do — they marched to their own political drums. I wish them both the best.

You can reach Dick Yarbrough at yarb2400@bellsouth.net; at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139; online at dickyarbrough.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dickyarb

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nice column
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July 26, 2014
Both of these men tried to do their duty. I was very disappointed in Byrnes' loss since I felt he would stand up for those of us who do not want to see the county run by the Chamber of Commerce.
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