North Carolina’s senior U.S. Senator was humble when first elected to Congress
By Michael M. Barrick
When Richard Burr was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1994 to represent North Carolina’s Fifth Congressional District – which at the time included Caldwell County – I interviewed and covered him on the campaign trail as a reporter for the Lenoir News-Topic. He impressed me then as the genuine article. He was beyond authentic; he was humble. That was proven the following summer when our family visited Washington D.C. for vacation. (More about that in a moment).
Mr. Burr, now the senior U.S. Senator from North Carolina, served ten years in the House. In 2005, he was elected to the Senate. From my perspective, it would seem that 25 years in office is perhaps too much for any person, as the man I knew as a humble man is now accused of selling $1.7 million in stocks based on information he received about the Coronavirus as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. The action was done before the general public had the information provided to Burr and others in Congress. Indeed, he has been sued for securities fraud as a result.
Now, to the promised story: In 1995, Mr. Burr’s first summer as a congressman, I called one of his staff members to see if they could provide some basic information that a family might want to have when vacationing in our nation’s capital. Our children were 12 and 10 at the time. We wanted them, of course, to see the historic institutions and monuments. But we also knew that they were at the age that they would still want to have the kind of fun that perhaps hiking around the National Mall didn’t provide.
To say that Mr. Burr and his staff came through for us is an understatement. A member of his staff said to come by his office when we arrived in Washington. The staffer said the office would have an information packet for us and might have someone that could give us a brief tour of the capitol. When we arrived at his office, we were seated for a few minutes and then Congressman Burr came in. Another family was sitting there and he asked us to join him. Astonishingly, the tour was given by Congressman Burr. And, it wasn’t brief.
We visited places in the capitol that the public generally doesn’t get to see, especially post-9/11. We went into a quiet, darkened House chamber and Congressman Burr allowed the children to sit in the Speaker’s chair. We went into the room where Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. He showed us where John Quincy Adams would sit when he was a congressman after his presidency and eavesdropped on other congressman’s conversations because of the rotunda’s acoustics. With every adventure, the freshman congressman never quit smiling; along with teaching, he spoke repeatedly of how humbling it was to be part of the chamber’s history and to serve his constituents.
I’m a pretty skeptical fellow as any journalist should be, but I couldn’t imagine that he was going to all this trouble to influence a reporter from a small-town newspaper. Plus, there was the other family. In fact, when they said they had to leave to return to North Carolina, I presumed our tour was over. But it was not.
We went up into the top of the rotunda. We climbed stairs that are between the pre-1860s rotunda and the one you see now. We walked around the inside balcony at the top of the rotunda and made eye contact with George Washington, the central figure of the fresco, “Apotheosis of Washington” that is on the rotunda’s ceiling. But we still weren’t done! We went through a door that opened to the outside of the rotunda, where you see the American flag. There is a balcony there that completely encircles the top of the capitol. It offers a spectacular view of Washington and beyond. At this point, we were awestruck. And it included a moment there that left no doubt in my mind that Congressman Burr was in Washington for the right reasons.
Pointing to the streets below, he commented on how all of the streets not only lead to the capitol, but also lead out – literally and symbolically – to all of our nation’s citizens. With misty eyes, he told us how humbling it was to have the privilege and somber responsibility to serve all of those citizens faithfully.
So, I must ask: What has happened to Senator Burr?
Twenty-five years ago, Senator Burr was teaching my children the importance of public service; today, he is teaching them, our granddaughter and children across North Carolina and America a very bad civics lesson – politics is for self-enrichment, not service to others.