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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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