Freshman U.S. Rep. Doug Collins has kept busy representing his conservative district during his first six months in Congress, but he’s also positioning himself for re-election and solidifying his base by visiting his district regularly, a political expert said.
The Republican from North Hall County represents the 9th District in Northeast Georgia, a solidly conservative stretch of the state covering 17 counties and parts of three others. He has championed his constituents’ issues in Washington in the laws he has introduced and supported, the issues he has pushed and the collaborations he has created with colleagues. And he plans to continue that for the next six months, he said.
“I think we can look back on several things we’ve accomplished,” Collins said. “We’ve fulfilled, I think, that obligation that we had to the people in the 9th District to do what we’re going to do to help them and represent them well.”
Collins has set up constituent services, created a Corps of Engineers Reform Caucus and has introduced his first bill with Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Ia., to prevent “sue and settle” lawsuits, which allow pro-regulatory groups to limit the comment time for both the public and the regulated industry. The group sues an agency when it fails to meet a deadline and the parties usually reach a court-affirmed settlement.
“What we’re saying is, you can still bring the suits, but there’s going to be a clarification of transparency,” Collins said. “It’s not meant for obstruction, but just to have an honest conversation so you can have a better outcome.”
Collins has worked with members of the House of Representatives on bigger issues, such as the federal budget, the Water Resource Development Act and the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act. Yet as a freshman, he’s not in a position to have a major impact on legislation, said Charles Bullock, political science professor at the University of Georgia.
“They simply do not have the experience nor the reputation needed to carry important bills,” Bullock said. “An exception would be freshmen from marginal districts who the party leadership may decide to showcase in an effort to promote re-election. But since Collins is widely thought to represent one of the most Republican districts in the nation, he is not likely to be tapped early in his career to offer major amendments or sponsor important legislation.”
One of the biggest lessons he’s learned is patience, which is not something he excels in, Collins said. Fixing the system is not something that can be done overnight.
“What I’ve had to try and learn is to say ‘OK, what can we do?’ and we can make it palatable,” he said. “‘Is it everything that I would want? Is it everything that maybe my constituents would want? No. But we’re making progress, and I think that’s the key that we’ve got to look at.”
Issues Collins is focused on include the bombing of an American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, last fall; reforming immigration laws; and recent scandals involving the National Security Administration monitoring phone calls, the Internal Revenue Service targeting groups applying for tax-exempt status and the Justice Department seizing phone records of Associated Press reporters.
Bullock said Republicans have seized on the Benghazi issue because it distracts President Barack Obama’s administration and makes it harder for him to achieve his policy objectives.
“More difficult for the administration than the attack on the consulate is the perception that the administration tried to cover up problems — lack of defense, failure to send reinforcements, misinterpretation of the causes of the attack,” the professor said.
Collins said he has more questions than answers about the attack, and has concerns with Obama appointing former U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice as national security adviser.
Immigration is a harder issue for the GOP politically. Collins said he’s uncomfortable with the Senate’s version of an immigration bill because it includes a pathway to citizenship. He supports a secure and safe border and a legal workforce.
Northeast Georgia has issues with worker shortages, and Collins said part of that has to do with the “welfare society,” in which residents able to work lack the incentive to “pick up a job.”
Former President Ronald Reagan’s decision to grant amnesty to illegal immigrants who entered the country before 1982 was a mistake, Collins said.
“If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t be where we are right now,” Collins said.
Bullock said this position, while appealing to today’s conservative voters, might alienate future Hispanic voters as that population grows in the state and across the country.
“Collins, like many GOP officeholders, is seeking to please today’s GOP primary voters by embracing a position that is almost certain to prove costly to his party in the future,” Bullock said. “Republicans are alienating the growing ranks of Hispanic and Asian voters.”
These kinds of stands, while not likely to affect Collins in his district, could weaken the party statewide starting as soon as the next presidential election, Bullock said. GOP campaign strategists worry about the elected members of their party who are unwilling to stop immigrant bashing, he added.
“If sufficient numbers of single white females join the large margins of blacks, Hispanics and Asians, Georgia could be in play in the 2016 presidential election and in statewide contests beginning in 2018,” Bullock said.