During the summer months, we often hear media reports describing Congress’ adjournment as Washington, D. C., political activities drop to the level of a summer slumber. This usually signals a return of congressional members’ return to their home districts to get "reacquainted" with the people who sent them to Washington in the first place. If the trek homeward for these politicians means a reduction in the workload, it’s quite different for me here in New Jersey.
Even with a summer hiatus from the legislative calendar, the pace of my activities continues at a steady rate. For some who wonder, what I actually do, this "summer slowdown" allows me the opportunity to offer a glimpse into my world during the “summer doldrums.” So, here goes:
• More Than Just Meet and Greet. Regardless of the legislative calendar, I value the time I have to meet with folks who need direction or help. Summer doesn’t signal a halt to people’s problems and issues. Far from it. Whether it’s responding to emails, making an appointment or directing them to someone who has the expertise to deal with their specific problem, these activities are precisely what I feel is the definition of a “public servant". I strive to ensure that my service as a legislator is emblematic of that label. There is no off-season for this duty.
• Refining My Policy Agenda. On the surface, sponsoring a bill, adding to an existing piece of legislation I’ve examined or searching for feedback on legislation, requires a great deal of my time. As a former legislative staffer, I often spend countless hours researching and talking to folks in order to gather insight on an issue. This affords me the chance to process every piece of information I can acquire, on both sides of an issue, in order to to help me form an opinion or to take a stand. It’s this "invisible” work that very few get to see. This effort oftentimes reminds me of my college days, writing term papers. The actual writing of the paper took far less time than the research, interviewing, thinking and organizing, which we did before we ever sat down to write. This approach is very similar to time I spend researching, thinking and writing about legislative issues.
• Meeting My Bosses. While I have spent my adult life in the computer generation, I am old-fashioned about meeting the people I represent or as we say in my office, "our bosses". I use all forms of digital media — emails, Facebook, Twitter — to communicate with my bosses for a quick, two-way dialogue. However, nothing is superior to meeting someone in person, watching a face light up with a smile or express a negative reaction with a grimace as we discuss the issues of importance to them and their families. Indeed, body language and expressions will often offer greater insight into a person’s true opinion than any email or text message ever could.
I remember walking into the home of a lovely elderly woman from Delanco last year. She told me about her struggles growing up in the Jim Crow South as a young girl and how those experiences had stayed with her still to this day. I was spellbound by the heartfelt way in which she told the stories of the fight for civil rights and the evolution she has seen in society regarding race over her lifetime. I also was stunned when I realized a hour had passed of our natural conversation. It was a memorable moment, and her touching recollection is still with me today. It reminds me that we each have a story and sometimes my job is to simply just listen.
• Let Me Introduce... I can’t recall the last weekend I had when I didn’t attend at least one or two functions. I genuinely appreciate the time I get to be out and about with my neighbors at these events. Since getting elected, I have always tried to be a legislator who wants to rub the fabric of the community that I serve. Some of these events I sponsor, like Family Fun Day from this past weekend or Back to School Book Bag Drives. Others, come by way of an invitation. Whether it’s a religious or civic groups, trade association or just the folks up the street that would like their legislator on hand for an awards ceremony, I am honored to spend time rubbing elbows with my bosses.