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Fenno's book studies Southern politics

Fenno Fenno

Richard Fenno, Jr., Distinguished University Professor and Kenan Professor of Political Science, finds the relationship between elected representatives and their constituents far more telling than battles between politicians. He's one of the few observers who spends more time watching over their shoulders on the home front than on how they vote in Washington.

Fenno's latest book, Congress at the Grassroots: Representational Change in the South, 1970-1998 (University of North Carolina Press), describes the political life and style of two Georgia congressmen: Jack Flynt and Mac Collins. They served the same district --but 25 years apart--with starkly different styles and ideologies.

"The book puts a human face on one of the most profound changes in American politics in the South," said Fenno. "You could multiply this district and produce 25 or 30 seats in the Congress where the same pattern has taken hold. It represents a sea change in the South."

Since the 1970s, this district in west-central Georgia, just south of Atlanta, has changed from rural to suburban. Along with it, the voting majority has moved from solidly Democratic to solidly Republican. That reality has contributed to making Congress "the very ideological and partisan place it is today," commented Fenno.

And just how does a member of Congress interact with constituents at the grassroots? In the case of Jack Flynt, who served from 1954 to 1978, a person-intensive strategy, as Fenno calls it, was his hallmark. The essence of Mac Collins's style is just the opposite. It is built on a policy-intensive strategy, which is centered on policy dialogue and policy cooperation. Collins has held the seat since the early 1990s.

Fenno points out that all successful members of Congress need both strategies to get elected, but one will dominate. From coffee shops to rallies on their home turf, Congress at the Grassroots explores how relationships between House members and their constituencies change. As a bonus, the book offers Fenno's research commentary from the 1970s when Flynt was a leading character in the political scientist's highly regarded 1978 study Home Style: House Members in Their Districts.

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