Hoyer balances demands of constituents, Capitol Hill

For Immediate Release:

July 22, 2004

Contact:Sonsyrea Tate

Maryland Gazette

U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer has a lot of ground to cover on any given day.

Hoyer's district includes parts of Prince George's, Calvert, Charles and St. Mary's counties. He stays busy with appearances in his district and his duties as House Democratic minority whip, leading his colleagues through strategy sessions on national issues.

Hoyer has come a long way since graduating from Suitland High School and later the University of Maryland. At age 64, he is in his 12th term as a congressman. He is tall and lean, often bending to talk to his subordinates. He is quick-witted. Staffers half his age hustle to keep pace.

Hoyer said he keeps a fast pace to keep in touch with his constituents as his national profile and his duties on national issues expands. Hoyer's Republican opponent in this year's election contends he falls short on the home front, failing to stay connected with constituents because of his demands as minority whip. But Hoyer's daily schedule of community events and house and committee meetings suggests otherwise.

"He's usually here from about 7 in the morning until 10, sometimes 11 o'clock at night," explained his young press secretary Katie Elbert, as she rushed to catch up with the congressman mid-morning.

The Gazette followed Hoyer (D-Dist. 5) of Mechanicsville on July 15 to see how the congressman spends a typical day.

They had attended a breakfast awards ceremony at 8 a.m., where Hoyer and several of his colleagues were celebrated as "Champions of Science" by the Science Coalition for helping secure federal funding of basic sciences and university-based research. The photo opportunity became a working breakfast for Hoyer.

Not much time to pose with a Wheaties cereal box bearing his toothy photo, as did most of the other fellow awardees. Hoyer chatted up the presidents of the University of Maryland, Johns Hopkins and MIT, then zipped away.

Before the breakfast had ended, Hoyer, was at his second destination -- the weekly whip meeting, where he directs his fellow Democratic congressmen on the day's agenda. The meeting began promptly at 9 a.m.

Tax form simplification was a big issue at the meeting. Hoyer is leading efforts to simplify tax forms he claims Republicans made overwhelmingly cumbersome for individuals and small businesses. The presidential election was another big issue discussed at the closed meeting. Democrats in the House must work collectively and aggressively on behalf of their party's presidential nominee John Kerry, Hoyer told them. They must not repeat the mistakes of the past.

"With the Dukakis campaign in 1988, we won the primary but disappeared [before the election]," Hoyer explained after the meeting, on his way to a sub-committee meeting. "We ought not do that again."

By 9:30 a.m., Hoyer's legislative aide Ben Cardin, who had been running alongside him since before the breakfast, was briefing the congressman in preparation for a meeting with the Transportation, Treasury, and Independent Agencies Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, the body that funds government operations.

In the subcommittee markup meeting, chaired by Ernest Istook (R-Oklahoma), Hoyer remained mostly quiet as members debated bitterly along party lines over an amendment prohibiting the use of federal funds for certain kinds of identification cards banks accept from immigrants. Hoyer opposed the amendment, siding with committee members who said the measure was outside of the committee's purview.

Meanwhile, Hoyer's amendment to the 2005 Transportation, Treasury Appropriations bill passed with unanimous support. The amendment would allow federal employees to compete for jobs that increasingly are subcontracted out.

Zipping between House buildings through underground tunnels, hopping a special subway, Hoyer discussed his local and national duties.

On the Transportation, Treasury and Independent Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, Hoyer is best known as a national leader on issues affecting employees and retirees.

For the Democratic Party, he recruits candidates and campaigns around the country. Hoyer also works to appropriate funding for innovative crime-fighting projects.

In his district, he holds town meetings. Last month, Hoyer met with seniors in Clinton to discuss new prescription laws. Last week, he joined Prince George's Fire Chief Ronald Blackwell to celebrate the addition of $50 million to the House version of the 2005 Homeland Security Appropriations bill.

"We do a lot of things in a day," Hoyer said, noting meetings last Thursday with African-American leaders and a Hispanic group. "My first responsibility is to serve the residents of the fifth district, including the residents in Prince George's County. I represent them in making policy."

Hoyer was the principal House Democratic sponsor for the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) election reform legislation aimed at improving the election system after the 2002 election scandal in Florida. Hoyer calls HAVA "the most important civil rights legislation since the voting rights act of 1965."

At 11:30 a.m., Hoyer briefly attended a meeting of the African American Leadership Summit. The discussion focused on HAVA and the upcoming presidential election. Petey Green, president of the Prince George's County Black Chamber of Commerce, participated in the meeting.

"The congressman did a very good job of explaining what has taken place as far as the new HAVA, as far as what it will allow us to do," Green said.

"He made sure we're motivated to make sure the upcoming elections are free from any wrongdoing."

Green, one of many local leaders Hoyer sets up meetings for with national policymakers, commended the congressman's work on behalf of his constituents.

"I think he's done a tremendous job," said Green. "He's a Prince Georgian himself, and that, I think, has helped him very much."

Hoyer spent the remainder of the day in session, voting on bills.