South Carolina GOP governor hopeful steers clear of Wilson controversy

McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 27, 2009 

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Gresham Barrett was in a very small minority of Republican lawmakers for the Sept. 15 House vote reprimanding Rep. Joe Wilson for yelling "you lie!" at President Barack Obama.

Barrett, who is running for governor, didn't join the 167 GOP lawmakers who stood with Wilson in voting against the "resolution of disapproval."

Neither was Barrett among the seven Republicans, including fellow South Carolina Rep. Bob Inglis, who voted for the measure that punished Wilson for having violated members' code of conduct with his scream on prime-time, national TV.

Barrett made a different decision:

He punted.

Barrett was in the smallest group of all. He and just three other GOP lawmakers didn't participate in the high-profile vote.

Deriding the vote as "a partisan mockery," Barrett said afterward that he'd sent a letter to Obama asking the president to intervene and stop it from occurring.

When the vote went ahead as planned, Barrett bailed.

That was the official story.

The Westminster Republican acknowledged days later that it was impossible for him to have voted. He told McClatchy that he was in Columbia, not Washington, that day -- joining other gubernatorial candidates for S.C. Chamber of Commerce endorsement interviews.

Now seeking the highest government post in a Southern state that places a premium on good manners, Barrett declined to say how he would have voted on the Wilson reprimand measure had he been in Washington.

Barrett blamed Obama, saying his failure to block the vote contradicted his claims to disavow partisanship and focus on substantive issues.

"I'm frankly disappointed in the president," Barrett said. "I think his words were hollow."

Even though he sent his letter the day before the vote, Barrett said it's not unreasonable to expect Obama to have responded on such short notice.

"I don't have any reason to believe that a timely response could not have been offered," Barrett said. "We do it in our office all the time."

Barrett, who said he won't run again for Congress, denied that his absence on the widely covered vote indicates difficulty in running for governor and doing his current job at the same time.

"You know, it's a juggling act," he said. "There are going to be some votes I miss in Congress. There are going to be some events I'm going to miss. But I will not miss any important votes, whether it's tax increases, regulations, cap and trade or health care. I'm in constant contact with my (Republican) leadership, making sure we're abreast of what's going on in Congress."

Barrett added: "It is my responsibility to be a congressman. I'm running for governor, too. I take both of them very seriously."

McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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