In late September, I found myself in Washington D.C. heading to Capitol Hill. I could barely remember being here on vacation with my parents when I was 8 years old and not really catching the full weight of what goes on in Washington. Almost 22 years later, I think I still miss a lot of that weight, but now it’s just intimidating.
Taking the elevator to Congresswoman Betsy Markey’s office, I didn’t know what to expect. I was a little rattled by the number of identical looking suits in the halls that seemed to travel in packs. As I waited on the couch just inside the Congresswoman’s office, I repeatedly went over my notes and questions, flustered, trying to figure out how to guide the discussion./
I had gotten a lot of advice over the prior few days while preparing for this meeting. The one tip that kept coming up was ‘The Ask.’ “You’ve got to have two asks. More than that and you’ll look greedy, less than that and you’ll be suspect . Oh, and don’t waste their time. When you talk to people in Congress, they’re busy — so don’t go in there and ramble,” several people told me.
As the door opened and five suits piled out of Markey’s central office, I heard a familiar laugh pour into the office like cigar smoke from a poker game. I had heard Markey speak twice before.
A firm handshake, a familiar smile and a warm welcome and we were on our way.
“Sorry to keep you waiting,” she said while offering me a seat.
The folks she’d already met with that morning were amazing: Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, her legislative staff, discussion on the environment, the health care bill, representatives from Denver talking about funding fast track to get RTD up to Longmont and then there’s the Mining Association. It wasn’t even lunch time yet!
With a guest list like that, I already felt like I was wasting her time. I asked a few of the questions CSU students and staff suggested I pose. My first question was about President Obama’s support for community colleges.
Dr. Smith, Director of the Black African American Cultural Center, wanted to know what efforts were being made toward helping students finish four-year degree programs.
“We just passed the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, which is estimated to save taxpayers $87 billion over 10 years,” Markey said.
Markey also told me about efforts to lower interest rates, saying, “U.S. institutions of higher education are the envy of the world — when I was in college, almost everyone could afford it. If we are going to keep America strong and cutting edge, we have to continue to invest in higher ed.”
A speech Markey had given about bipartisanship interested me, so I asked her, “Can you give me an example of work that is being done across party lines that doesn’t seem to make front pages?” She responded with a resounding “Sure, one example is that I just co-sponsored a bill with Mike Hoffman (R-Colorado) on tax credits for installing efficient appliances. I also worked with Ron Paul (R-Texas) and Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Missouri) on the Small Business Growth Act to allow small business owners to deduct expenses for upgrading their facilities.”
Listening to her describe these bills and projects made me realize we have a highly qualified and determined person representing us. But more importantly, Congresswoman Markey is incredibly approachable and in touch with our community — a refreshing surprise.
Her ‘open door policy’ and connection to CSU and Larimer County are apparent in her previous engagement as the President of the Larimer County Food Bank Board of Directors and as a business owner of Huckleberry’s in Old Town where she employed many CSU students. Her dedication to staying connected to Fort Collins is impressive as she describes evenings spent with her staff at Huckleberry’s and weekly weekend returns to Colorado to engage with the County Commissioners of our district.
And that’s what having representation is all about, right? Having someone in Washington who knows your community and doesn’t just bring back the bill but instead takes the message from us on the front lines of American life to the decision-makers in D.C.
As our time began winding down, I thought to ask Markey what she might say would be her proudest moment or accomplishment since coming to Washington. “Being here for Inauguration Day is pretty high . The Matthew Sheppard Hate Crimes Bill, The Energy Bill,” she said.
It’s got to be hard to just pick one with so much going on. But I do know we’ve got the right person looking out for us.
Phoenix Mourning-Star is a graduate student in environmental and radiological health sciences. His column appears occasionally in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.