So after a killer week in Washington D.C. Betsy Markey flies home to… Meeting me on the way home (and she had another meeting after me). Anyone who thinks our Reps have an easy job has no idea what their days are like. Anyways, it was very very nice of her to stop off in a coffee shop in Longmont on the way home.
Ms. Markey goes to Washington – a Frank Capra film starring Betsy Markey as herself. It sounds dorky but Betsy is clearly awed by her job. When the weather is nice she walks outside from the Longsworth office building to the Capital so she can walk up the steps (which only members can do now) and in the main entrance of the building. Throughout the conversation she talked about the incredible responsibility she has as a representative and the history of the system. At one time she pulled out her ID and discussed the process of voting and how each vote was the culmination of all of that responsibility.
I don't think this is an act because it's what comes through when she gets going on a subject, not the initial impression she tries to give. And in the cynical world we live in many will belittle this attitude. But I think it a great attribute to have in a Representative. Because I think it drives her to do the best she can. And Betsy is no naive innocent (look back at the superb campaign she ran), so this does not detract from her ability to be effective.
She's clearly enjoying herself. Throughout the conversation she was alive and energetic as she talked about what she's done, what she's going to do, talking to constituents, learning the system, etc. It was really interesting as she talked about getting lost in the Capital, learning which meetings mattered and which could be skipped, meeting others, etc.
She also talked about how long it took to get things set up. Betsy owned a small software company where anything that needed to be done was done instantly. But here she was waiting weeks for computers, then weeks to get them set up on the network (and probably thinking she could do it herself in ½ hour if allowed). And meantime as she said constituent email and letters and calls were coming in and they expected a response, not a delay. When we all complain about how slow the government is it's nice to know that our Reps truly do feel our pain.
Betsy said the most pleasantly surprising item was how supportive & friendly everyone is, Republicans as well as Democrats. Outside of the large contentious issues she says there is a lot of camaraderie and a lot of cooperation across the aisle. She was almost gushing about the Republican that worked with her on the Read Across America bill. The experienced members actively reach out to help the freshman. And like Jared, she is very very appreciative about Speaker Pelosi's weekly meeting with the freshmen as mostly they are to be seen but not heard. This is really good to hear because we can't survive as a country if our politicians cannot work together.
She said one of the roughest things so far is that every interest group in the country descends on Washington in March and she could have 15 or 20 meetings a day with these various groups. What was fascinating about her comment was that because there were so many, she had notes and had the key points, but could not give each the time and attention she would like to because of the quantity. (Note to interest groups – let all the others go in March, you go hit the Congress in April when they are not as slammed.)
I asked her about what she is going to accomplish over the next two years and she then discussed a bit about how as just one person out of the house and as a freshman the impact you can have is small. On the big bills you vote, but you don't influence them. That is what it is and with 435 members it must run like that. So no grandiose plans to introduce some major bill.
Betsy talked about how the committees is where you can have an impact, and in the committees it's via amendments that you can most effectively impact legislation. She then talked about how she has done this with a couple of amendments. She is most proud of amending a fire mitigation funding bill that expanded the definition of what can be mitigated to noxious weeds so it can be used to help fight the weed (spurge?) that is growing over tons of S.E. Colorado. She described how the amendment was a stretch from the definition of the bill but she made it fit and it passed and with that she got the needed funding. She described a number of other amendments including one that expanded help for waste treatment plants to include small systems that can't afford the matching funds. She clearly has learned how to be effective.
She discussed transportation and working to make sure that it got Colorado the money it needs to improve our roads. She discussed agriculture and how she likes the current farm bill and thinks we have a good farm policy. And she discussed water (quoted Mark Twain) and went in to all the issues we face on water. I think she is still getting fully up to speed on a number of these issues and does not see any major problems for Colorado on these in the upcoming legislation.
She also discussed Piñon Canyon and how the Army was not going to be grabbing it. No way, no how, not going to happen. She sees this as a major ongoing fight and one that she is going to put everything in to. And watching her as she discussed this, she is emotional about this. This isn't just policy or constituent service, this is personal. And so I think she will expend maximum effort on this.
She did not talk about President Obama much. She was very complimentary when she did but her discussion was much more on the nuts and bolts of being a legislator. But I did ask her about what was going right big picture and what was going wrong. On the going right part she brought up the stimulus bill which she thought was working very well and she was very supportive of. On the going wrong part she brought up TARP and went in to the problems with it (and I agree with her points).
She also repeatedly hit the points that first we need to think before acting. Not just on the various bills addressing this mess, but on everything. That a little bit of thought and perspective is essential to crafting good legislation. And she repeatedly hit the point that we need to give these programs some time to work out. That we cannot turn things around in a day. In other words, she has a very realistic perspective of how to approach this mess.
What is also interesting is that was her discussion of the giant issues – the economy and the banks. And she's right, those two problems totally overpower everything else. But she did make no mention of healthcare, energy/climate change, or Iraq/Afghanistan. This is probably partially due to the committee's she is on and partially due to there being only so many hours in the day. I think this is also indicative of what you get with Betsy – you get a straight answer. No single person can be on top of all these issues, much less a significant contributor. They can talk them all up, but they can't contribute. With Betsy you actually learn what she is putting her time toward.
At the end she asked me about what if going on the blogosphere. And it wasn't just a question or two, she was grilling me as to topics, attitude, etc. She wants to know what it is we care about and what we would like to see happen. (Don't worry, I gave her a truly honest of the breath of opinion and issues – that curiously happened to exactly match my personal views.)
This grilling ties into another strength of Betsy's. Shortly after getting elected Betsy travelled throughout her district meeting the political leaders throughout – county commissioners, city leaders, etc. to find out what issues they faced that could be helped from Washington. It sounds like a small thing but it actually is a significant effort and it shows a clear attitude that she wants to know what the people in her district are thinking about, what issues they face, etc.
So what do we have with Betsy? Someone who takes this job very responsibly, has the energy and excitement to perform it well, and the political skills to perform it effectively. And she's still getting up to speed. As to the '10 election, I think she'll rock.