The Day

When members of Congress knew each other

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Tony Hall served in Congress for nearly 24 years, representi­ng Ohio’s Third District. The Democrat left in 2002 to serve as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agricultur­e, appointed by President George W. Bush.

Hall laments how corrosive contempora­ry politics has become and tells me he couldn’t get elected in today’s environmen­t. Partially, he says, it is because he is pro-life and a supporter of traditiona­l marriage, but mainly there are at least two things that have changed for the worse since he was in Congress: “One is that congressme­n don’t live (in Washington) anymore. We were told probably 15 years ago not to bring our families here, but to leave them at home. That was a mistake.”

Hall says that suggestion came from Speaker Newt Gingrich and the Democrats followed “and they shouldn’t have.”

The reasoning behind that, he says, is that members felt getting elected was the most important thing, “so they come in Monday night, or Tuesday morning, and leave Thursday. They don’t know each other and then run against Washington. They don’t build relationsh­ips, wives don’t know each other; the men don’t know each other.” Their families suffer, he says, because they aren’t spending enough time with them and the country suffers because they don’t spend much time with each other.

The second change is members of Congress no longer travel overseas as much as they once did. They fear their trips might be labeled “junkets,” which some were, so they don’t acquire the necessary knowledge of other countries, nor

Former Ohio representa­tive Tony Hall says that spending only part of the week in Washington is part of the problem.

do they get to know each other from spending time together.

Then there’s the extravagan­t amounts of money that must be raised to win re-election. This requires that members of Congress take time to “dial for dollars” by going to their respective party headquarte­rs and spending two or more hours a day asking for donations.

Hall and former Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., have developed a rare friendship that began when they served in Congress together and which continues today. Hall says the key to their relationsh­ip has been their common Christian faith: “When you pray together it’s pretty difficult to go out on the House floor and denounce the other person.” They didn’t talk politics in their meetings and meals for the first two years “because that would have divided us.”

What difference does this make when it comes to legislatio­n one party supports and the other opposes?

“Over a period of time,” Hall says, “you begin to trust one another and when you trust one another you find you do have common ground.” In addition to pro-life and traditiona­l marriage, he lists hunger issues and gambling as subjects about which they have similar views. This led, he says, to his contributi­ng to Wolf’s re-election campaigns, which angered some of his Democratic colleagues. Asked if Wolf reciprocat­ed, Hall laughs and says, “I don’t think so, but he had tougher races than I did.”

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