Senator at Root of Battle on Church-State Funding; Many States Adopted 'Blaine Amendment' after His Efforts for National Law Failed in Senate

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVE WILLIAMS, The Times-Union

ATLANTA -- More than a century after his death, a politician largely forgotten today is at the center of the debate over allowing religious groups to use tax money to serve the needy.

The so-called "Blaine Amendment" that Gov. Sonny Perdue wants gutted from Georgia's Constitution is named for James G. Blaine, a Republican congressman and senator from Maine who made several unsuccessful bids for the presidency.

While Blaine's long political career was about a lot more than stopping Catholic schools from tapping into public funds, the current Blaine-bashing in vogue among politicians in Georgia and other states does capture the essence of a man whose career was ruined by the infamous slogan, "rum, Romanism and rebellion."

It happened in 1884 when Blaine, a former House speaker and secretary of state, was the GOP presidential nominee against Democrat Grover Cleveland.

During a campaign stop in New York, a Presbyterian minister leveled the alliterative charge at Democrats, in effect slamming the opposition as the party of drunkenness over sobriety, of Catholics over Protestants and of the defeated South in the recent Civil War over the victorious North.

Blaine, who was nearby, failed to disavow the statement, angering politically powerful Irish Catholics. That fall, he lost New York by about 1,000 votes in a close election that saw Americans choose a Democratic president for the first time in 28 years.

"It cost him the election," said Richard Judd, a history professor at the University of Maine. "His political demise was the result of xenophobia."

The Blaine Amendment comes from a few years earlier. …