Walking the talk of family rhetoric not easy in Washington

By Congresman Mark NeumannR-Wisconsin Reprinted from The Janesville (Wisconsin) Gazette

January 1996 – Last week I found myself faced again with a very tough decision, one that is becoming more and more the norm in Congress.

We had received schedules telling us when Congress was to be in session. We were not scheduled to be in session last Friday or last Saturday.

Based on that schedule I did what my father did when I was my son’s age and what his father did before that. I promised my teenage son that I would take him to northern Wisconsin deer hunting.

Deer hunting is not just about shooting deer. It’s about parents and children doing something together. It’s about sharing common experiences with your teenagers. It’s about family and traditions.

On Wednesday night before the Friday commitment, House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s office called and said there had been a last minute change in plans and we would be in session on Friday and maybe Saturday.

I was asked for at least the tenth time since the end of the first 100 days to make a call home and explain why the latest “Washington-created crisis” was more important than coming back to Wisconsin.

This time I said “no.”

This whole decision did not happen in a vacuum. Last week the fourth member of the freshman class filed for divorce and we found out about three others who were in serious trouble.

When my service to my country in this office is over, I fully intend to still have my family to come home to.

Washington vs. family, constituents
There is a bigger problem with the Republican leadership’s inability to honor its commitments as related to the scheduling.

Two weeks ago in a similar set of circumstances I got a last-second call saying we had to stay to deal with that week’s “Washington crisis.” I had eight different meetings scheduled in the district with constituents.

That week I canceled six of the meetings, missed the last two votes for the day and was very late to the two district meetings I attended.

I have repeatedly confronted the House leadership about the importance of staying in touch with the people in our districts. In the last conversation, I was told if I really wanted to become a part of this Congress that I should “move my family to Washington.”

I responded that I was not interested in becoming part of their “club.” My exact words were “over my dead body.” A second colleague in the leadership joined in by saying that if you have children you should not serve in Congress.

We as a nation are going to have to decide answers to these questions: Who and what kinds of people do we wish to have leading this nation? Is the mixture complete if parents are precluded?

As important are the questions relating to the mixture of district vs. Washington commitments: Should members be required to become “Washingtonized” in order to serve or should regular time spent in our districts be a higher priority?

Are four days in Washington, two days meeting with constituents and one day reserved for family really all that unreasonable to expect of the schedule; and would, in fact, America be a much better place if members of Congress did spend more time with their constituents and less time in Washington?

I know how I will answer these questions. In less than a year the constituents I am elected to serve will decide if my answers are right or wrong.

Whatever they decide I will have my family and I will know I have placed a very high priority on listening to my constituents while in office.