U.S. House Member Paul Hodes Visits ANE

Freshman Representative Loves His Job

Environmental EducatorsPaul Hodes came to Antioch New England on February 21 as part of a tour of the state to talk about his first six weeks in office. Debra Blore, the constituent service representative in his Keene office, contacted ANE to propose that we host his first area town hall meeting. He spoke to a capacity community room crowd of citizens from all over the Monadnock Region.

Hodes is proud to be part of the new Democratic majority (“It’s sort of like the Lord of the Rings, and the Hobbits have risen up!”), and touted the major legislation passed as part of the first hundred hours initiative: ethics reform; an increase in the federal minimum wage; enactment of the 9-11 commission’s recommendations; expanded stem-cell research; government negotiation of prices with drug companies; student loan interest rate cut; and the elimination of billions in subsidies for big oil companies.

Throughout the evening, Mr. Hodes exhibited humor, wit, and seriousness of purpose. He spoke of trying to accomplish everything needed to set up a congressional office and learn about his new role, comparing it to drinking from a fire hose. He said that House members had to be entrepreneurial in order to be effective within the Members Representational Allowance, which had to cover everything from hiring all staff in Washington and in New Hampshire and leasing office space, to equipping everyone with new computers.

Hodes spoke of the difficulty of accomplishing anything within the constraints of the president’s “backward budget,” where education, health care, energy, and everything else were severely under-funded in relation to the 660 billion dollar military budget.

After his introductory remarks, Congressman Hodes moved to an interactive format. He had asked that students be involved in the evening’s organization. Various Environmental Studies students gathered questions that audience members had written on index cards, and Crissy Heide, a master’s candidate in the Environmental Advocacy and Organizing program, read them to Mr. Hodes.

He often paused to collect his thoughts before answering, and admitted not knowing all the answers, but said he would find out. He even fielded a quintessentially Antiochian question about the difficulty of solving the interconnected problems of energy independence, the war in Iraq, and global climate change, which form a complex system, from within a legislative framework that uses reductionist argumentation to break it all down into separate pieces. Hodes acknowledged the difficulty, and said that one of the challenges facing the Democratic majority was to help bring about a paradigm shift that would allow such complex systems thinking.

Despite a fading voice and flagging energy after a day spent traveling and talking, Hodes stayed to speak with everyone who wanted a word.