"When voting rights came to Alabama, it was the best thing that happened to my state . . . I will not any longer compromise on civil rights . . . I'm at the point in my political career where I'd rather lose it than fail to do what's right."

THE "POINT" MENTIONED above was four years ago, when Rep. John Hall Buchanan Jr. was explaining why an Alabama Republican-Baptist preacher-congressman-moderate/conservative would battle in Congress for the cause of voting rights for the District of Columbia. And this week Mr. Buchanan did "lose it" -- falling victim in the GOP primary to supporters of the Rev. Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority. Though the defeat may not mark the end of Mr. Buchanan's political career, he will be leaving Congress, where his stands on civil rights, foreign affairs, separation of church and state and other matters had won wide respect.

Mr. Buchanan's positions, though they did not fit any predictable political mold, have never seemed part of any calculated "maverick" role. Long before his efforts for the D.C. voting rights amendment, he was taking on the Ku Klux Klan, calling it "a tiny unrepresentative group of misguided people who have brought so much shame upon themselves and those associated with them."

During the House debate on the D.C. amendment, Mr. Buchanan socked it to certain colleagues in an emotional speech pointing to a "scandalous hostility between many members of the House and the District." He noted later that "nobody will say it, but it's the doggone truth." He attributed his "emancipation," on civil rights in general and on D.C. voting in particular, to his experience with a biracial Baptist church in Southwest Washington, where he and his wife have served in various capacities. "When you're deeply involved in a biracial entity, you think of people as brothers and sisters. Then the denial of rights of my brothers and sisters becomes an infringement of my rights as well."

That is why, with good reason, so many "brothers and sisters" and others well beyond the bordrs of his home state appreciate the many efforts John Buchanan extended on their behalf, in Congress as well as throughout the city.