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Posted by on Apr 27, 2007 in Politics | 8 comments

Meet the Congressman

He supports public financing for campaigns for the typical reasons: to encourage more people to run and limit the influence of special interest groups. That, plus …

“I hate fundraising,” he admitted on the plane ride we shared Thursday night from DC to St. Louis. “It takes too much time away from the job I was sent to Washington to do.”

He gets frustrated when he walks into the Chamber and a Party colleague asks, “How are we voting on this one?”

“They’re looking for the Party line and I always want to ask them, ‘Shouldn’t you read the bill for yourself, or at least have your staff brief you on it, so you can make up your own mind?'” he said.

He also enjoys a cold beer every now and then. He’d rather you call him Phil than Congressman. And while he likes and respects Rahm Emanuel, his fellow Democratic Congressman from Illinois, that didn’t stop him from appearing on The Colbert Report’s BKAD (Better Know a District) series.

Sure, he might have appeared as uncomfortable and out-of-sorts as every guest on the BKAD series does — that’s the goal, right? — but he knows it’s a joke; he found Colbert “very funny,” and he had a great time taping the segment. (He also appreciates the fact that the young voters of his district now know who he is when he walks down the streets back home.)

He’s Congressman Phil Hare, from Illinois’ 17th District — home to half the Quad Cities and John Deere (the mega tractor manufacturer) — and he may be the most refreshingly down-to-earth Member of Congress I’ve ever had the chance to meet.

Granted, Phil’s a freshman legislator, so DC has not yet had a chance to work its poisonous cynicism into his veins, but I honestly believe he’ll get the best of the Inside-the-Beltway crowd long before they get the best of him.

Our conversation also made me wonder if perhaps “citizen legislators” might be a workable idea, after all, in this modern age. No, Phil’s not exactly a citizen legislator. He worked in politics for 24 years before elected to office. Still, he’s got that citizen legislator sense about him; he knows he’s there to represent his constituents, and go to bat for them, not make a name for himself.

I know: There are a host of problems with the concept of citizen legislators, as TMV readers quickly pointed out the last time I had the audacity to express such a thought.

And sadly, among the concerns those readers raised, the one that probably has the most validity is this one: Public officials like Phil are a rare lot, indeed.

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  • domajot

    It’s great that there are people like this still around.
    It’s sad that they’re an endangered species.

  • Nobody

    Government fund elections on paper sound great.

    The downside?

    How about 300 or 400 swift boat campaigns per election. Because that is exactly what would happen as every group with a steak would take to the airwaves.

    It would make elections today look like Fairy tales.

  • superdestroyer

    Congressman Hare shows exactly what would happen with public financing, a one party system where the only people running for office would be former staffers and NGO employees.

    Everyone who works in the private sector who had a career other than government would be left out of the process.

  • Pete
    I thought you had something there for a second and you do. Even though he’s not a republican, he’s a moderate. Finding one from either party is like finding a Coupe de Ville in the bottom of a crackerjack box.

  • Superdestroyer,

    First, Phil may be a product of his past, but he has clearly superceded it, moved beyond it, while still benefitting from the experience.

    Second, maybe the only viable path to citizen legislators is through those with some experience in government — hell, it’s too damn hard as it is too keep up with the pace of change and the number of issues these people face. I don’t know: Maybe you’ve already walked in their shoes. If so, I defer. If not, I think you need to do so, first, before you determine whether or not it’s a good thing that “only former staffers and NGO employees” would run in a public financing system.

    I’ve spent a lot of time in Washington, and the more time I spend there, the more respect I gain for what Members and staff have to juggle just to get their job done. It’s not a walk in the park.

    Net: I’m not denying that a public financing system might actually favor those with government experience. It might. But maybe that’s not so bad; maybe, in fact, it’s a good thing, especially if they’re like Phil.

  • kritter

    I think I saw him on Colbert- he seemed like a straight-up guy. Rahm Emanuel needs to lighten up, the BKAD segment is one of the most hilarious things on TV. Not one of the politicians who went on it were voted out in November, and Colbert may have actually helped a couple of hopefuls get elected.

  • superdestroyer


    There are currently other paths for running for office such as being indepenently wealthy (Corzine, Dayton, Cantawell, Rockefeller, etc), becoming famous for something else (Webb, Ventura). Those pathways would be cut off.

    The pathway would be to start in an NGO so that one would have goups that can provide non-monetary support outisde of the regulated campaign speech. The next step would be to become a staffer to develop the connections to other politicians, the media, and other activist.

    A government made up of such people will feel the need to regulate every aspect of people’s lives, to attempt to cushion the bad life decisions of everyone, and will act out of the world view that only the government.

    The long term effect of public financing is the one party state with the extreme left dominating politics and government.

    Maybe if you could point out any advantage for the middle class, private sector employeed American, I would be more impressed with the proposal .

  • domajot

    I know two things.
    One is that when candidates are measured by the amount of money in their campaign chests, something is wrong. The millionaires and the connected-to-big-money types have a revolting adantage. The log cabin story should still have meaning.

    The other thing I know is that when legislators spend their time begging for money for the next campaign instead of legislating, there is something wrong. The old saw that says money corrupts should still have meaning.

    Ourside groups advertising for a candidate should be requited to clear their ads with the candidate. Then the candidate is responsible for the ads and their funding. A lot of transparency, please.

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