Congress has been taking its lumps lately in the polls and in the political campaigns. Much of this criticism is deserved. But it should not obscure the very fine work done by individual members of Congress. Now that the current session has ended it is time to note a few examples: 1. REP. TOM HARKIN, D-Iowa, former lawyer for the poor, was elected from the 5th District of Iowa in 1974. One of the few members of Congress who distributes his voting record on key issues to the voters, Harkin holds Town Meetings all over his district and devotes specific days each year to working at jobs that his constituents work at every day in order to get a feel for their problems. He has fought for energy conservation and solar power, pressed for reform of the corrupt grain inspection system, and articulately championed the rights of small farmers. His voting record has been close to superb on consumer, energy, tax and environmental issues.
2.REP. ANDREW MAGUIRE, D‑
N.J., a Harvard Ph.D., represents the 7th District in his state. Although in his first term, Maguire is one of the most effective freshmen through hard work, a probing, innovative mind, and a fine sense of public interest. On subjects such as energy, medical devices, and air pollution legislation, he has been a bulwark against special interests. His office has developed a senior citizens information kit and other “how-to’s” for people in dealing with bureaucracies such as the medicare agencies.
3.REP. ABNER MIKVA, D-Ill., from the 10th District in his state, possesses an unusual talent for persuading other members of the House to do the right thing. Members turn to him to resolve disputes over legislation. Especially on tax legislation, Mikva stands firm while others falter under the withering pressure of corporations. A former labor and civil rights attorney in Chicago, Mikva was considered one of the finest state legislators for a decade in Illinois. His independence of thought alienated the Daley machine years ago, but despite such opposition, Mikva has won election to Congress in four of the past five terms.
4.REP. DONALD RIEGLE, JR., D – Mich. is running for the Senate seat held so prominently by the retiring Sen. Philip Hart. The author of the “shake-’em-up” book, “0, Congress,” Riegle is an irreverent nonmember of the congressional club. He has a solid pro-consumer voting record that sits well with the working folks back in Flint, Mich. If only because he can’t stand boredom, Riegle will avoid the staleness that afflicts so many of the few progressive members of Congress.
5.SEN. VANCE HARTKE, D-Ind., probably the most over-maligned Senator, has some remarkably solid achievements. Few senators can match his long hours and tough questioning of government and corporate officials at Senate hearings. Almost alone, Hartke keeps watch over the auto safety agency to see that it doesn’t totally surrender to the auto moguls. During the little-publicized battles over safety, health and transportation legislation in conferences between House and Senate members, Hartke has proved to be a tough negotiator for consumers. It was the Indiana senator this year who rescued the stalled Toxic Substances Bill in the Senate and pushed for workers’ health rights through the enactment of this long-fought compromise bill.
A strong advocate of the consumer protection bill, opposed by the White House, Hartke has seen his idea of a public counsel and other citizen participation rights be enacted in the law governing the Interstate Commerce Commission as a beginning.
6.SEN. FRANK MOSS, D-Utah; has worked hard against the tobacco lobby and the enormous disease levels connected with cigarette smoking. Doing some of the field research himself, he has exposed the Medicaid mills and frauds which deprive people of proper health care and loot the taxpayer.
One doesn’t have to agree with all or most of the stands taken by such legislators to recognize their praiseworthy contributions. Indeed, more focus on the specific performance by individual members of Congress form both parties and less stereotyping of “Congress” will separate more quickly the wheat from the chaff on Election Day.