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Rep. Max Burns: On the Run, Again

Rep. Max Burns sits at his desk on his first day in Washington.
Photos by Tom Bullock, NPR News /
Rep. Max Burns sits at his desk on his first day in Washington.
At a Capitol Hill reception, more than 100 constituents watch on a TV monitor as Burns is sworn in.
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At a Capitol Hill reception, more than 100 constituents watch on a TV monitor as Burns is sworn in.
Burns is the first representative elected from Georgia's new 12th Congressional District. The state gained the additional seat after the 2002 census. The 12th has been nicknamed the Statue of Liberty district because of its distinct shape.
Katherine Parker, npr.org /
Burns is the first representative elected from Georgia's new 12th Congressional District. The state gained the additional seat after the 2002 census. The 12th has been nicknamed the Statue of Liberty district because of its distinct shape.

The 108th Congress has barely opened but freshman Rep. Max Burns is already running for re-election. The 54-year-old former professor and Fulbright Scholar figures he'll have to work early and hard to keep his seat.

It's no wonder: the white conservative Republican was an upset winner in a southeastern Georgia district specifically drawn to elect a Democrat. Earlier, Burns had narrowly defeated the wife of Vince Dooley, a popular former University of Georgia football coach, to win the Republican nomination. And Burns' newly created 12th District, created after the 2000 census, is about 60 percent Democratic and roughly 40 percent black.

"We have a district that on paper might suggest that this is a difficult district for a conservative Republican," Burns says.

On Morning Edition, NPR's Juan Williams reports on Burns' first days on Capitol Hill, where the lawmaker is the president of the GOP freshman class.

"We've got to go," Burns says as he runs to the House Recording Studio to tape a television message for his consitutents back home.

As Williams explains, Burns "wants to be sure he makes the Tuesday night news in his district, which includes parts of Savannah, Augusta and Athens as well as the cotton and dairy farms in between. His goal is to make sure that his constituents know his name and his face. He is trying to use every bit of the advantage that comes with being the incumbent to make friends in the district."

Burns, a professor of information systems at Georgia Southern University and a former county commissioner, cites "strong support" from the black community for his election victory. He received about 12 percent of the black vote against an African-American candidate, Charles "Champ" Walker Jr., the son of Georgia's former Senate majority leader.

But Burns downplays race as an issue. "The fact that I am white and some of my constituents are black is irrelevant," he says. "What is relevant is: Can we work together for the effective good of all?"

In a Capitol Hill hearing room, 125 of Burns' supporters gathered to celebrate his swearing-in. About 30 of them had taken a 12-hour bus ride from southeastern Georgia to attend. Cheers went up as they watched Burns on TV casting his first vote, for Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) as speaker of the House.

Shortly afterward Burns took the time to pose for photos with each and every one of his visiting constituents. As Williams reports, "the new congressman was off running again."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.