Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

October 17, 2013

MARK HEINIG: Our man for all seasons

In a sense, he was congressman to all

Kokomo Tribune

---- — Former Rep. Lee Hamil-ton’s 34 years in the U.S. House of Repre-sentatives speak for themselves. It’s hard to overesti-mate the importance of anybody who manages to survive that long in Congress. Seniority plays a very important role in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Those who have served the longest get the committee assignments they prefer. During his many years in office, Congressman Hamilton was a member of many powerful committees and chaired several of them.

Probably because they have fewer constituents, most members of the House of Representatives aren’t as well-known as senators. When voters in Indiana’s 9th Congressional District first elected Hamilton, I was a 19-year-old college sophomore. I was an egotistical young loudmouth who thought he had all the answers but didn’t even understand the questions! Back then, I didn’t live anywhere near the 9th District and 19-year-olds couldn’t vote anyway. I didn’t even know who Hamilton was.

As the years passed, I heard Hamilton’s name — only occasionally at first and more frequently later. I still knew very little about the man and his accomplishments. I guess I wasn’t paying attention. I needed half a lifetime to realize how much he did for both Hoosiers and all other Americans.

In the geographic sense, I can’t claim he was my congressman, because I still have never resided in his district. However, in a broader sense, he was everybody’s congressman. He acknowledged his duty to serve all Americans. Since retiring from politics, he has brought the same spirit of service to his work at the Indiana University Center for Congress.

His newspaper columns consistently offer much more than a mere digest of current congressional issues with brief editorial remarks. They reveal his comprehensive and perceptive understanding of how Congress works, and, more importantly, how it should work when our legislators do the job that we elected them to do.

That job is not the short-sighted and self-centered quest for partisan political advantage. Rounding up votes for re-election and blaming the other side for the mess both sides created together is useless. Regrettably, that mess is the only thing they have created together since the last election. My grandfather, who spent most of his working life in the cab of a locomotive, would probably have said, “This ain’t no way to run a railroad!” (It’s no way to run anything, Gramps!)

Neither a railroad nor Congress nor any other organization can work as it should unless its key personnel cooperate. Many congressmen are reluctant to cooperate because it almost always involves negotiation and compromise. The belligerence of their more extreme colleagues may intimidate them, but it shouldn’t.

The purpose of our representative government is to express the will of the people. Virtually all Americans understand some problems demand solutions, even if certain members of Congress dislike those solutions. Who cares what they like? It’s supposed to be about us, not them. Inaction is no solution, and demanding all or nothing usually gets you nothing!

We have been getting nothing for much too long, and the approval ratings of the president and Congress show it. I voted for Barack Obama twice, but I’m not sure I would do it again if he were eligible for a third term. In principle, I support the Affordable Care Act, but not necessarily in its present form. I believe government participation in national health insurance is inevitable. The exact kind of participation and how much of it we need are open for discussion. So are spending cuts and implementing our federal budget with borrowed bucks.

How can our elected leaders discuss anything without talking to each other? Whether the president wants to compromise on health care and the budget, he is our chief executive, the leader of our federal government. He should always be willing to interact with his opponents as well as his defenders.

Somehow, we will resolve these issues, hopefully very soon. Others are bound to follow. Shutting down the federal government and risking default should never happen again. However, they almost certainly will recur unless our leaders work together to develop long-range plans for reasonably priced national health care and financial credibility in government.

That’s why Congressman Lee Hamilton is such a precious asset. He offers us knowledge, skills, experience and a neutral perspective. We won’t have him forever, so we should utilize his talents and nonpartisan vision while we can.

Mark Heinig Jr. of Kokomo is a retired Indiana principal and teacher. Contact him at markjr1708@gmail.com.