By Betsy Rothstein - 03/31/08 05:03 PM EDT
Reps. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.), Adam Smith (D-Wash.), John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) all went to prison during the district work period. But unlike their former colleagues Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.), James Traficant (D-Ohio) and Bob Ney (R-Ohio), they stayed on the visitors’ side of the gray bars.
Two went through the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Council of Prison Locals “Take Your Lawmaker to Prison” campaign, while the others did the trip on their own. But all four toured prisons in or near their districts to get an insider’s view of life in a detention center.
Reichert and Smith visited Seattle’s Federal Detention Center, known as SeaTac, as part of the AFGE campaign, which lobbies lawmakers for more funding for prison guards. Conyers visited the Angola, La., State Penitentiary to meet with inmates who may have been wrongly convicted. Jackson Lee toured Houston’s Federal Detention Center in response to a recent prison riot.
AFGE Council of Prison Locals President Bryan Lowry, a correctional officer in Arkansas, has been on approximately six prison tours with lawmakers. He said his organization is so desperate to get them to understand the dire state of prisons that its leaders have contemplated asking politicians to become prison guards for a short spell.
“We have considered that and would love it to be a first-hand view,” he said. “The only thing [is] that … we wouldn’t want to expose them and put them in a dangerous situation because of their title or status.”
Smith, a near-expert at prison visits after having gone on roughly a dozen during his time as a public official, laughed off the idea of being nervous about his most recent tour.
“I was walking around this unit with 30, 40, 50 prisoners walking about,” he told ITK, adding that he spoke with a guard who lost an eye in a prison fight a couple of years ago.
Smith also noted that he could see how prison security can quickly go awry, with a ratio of something like “one guard [to] 100 inmates.”
Everything went as planned.
“You’re not nervous until something happens,” he said.
The band breaks up
For Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.), the stampede of Republican retirements this cycle is already taking a toll on his social life.
In the past few years, when the going got tough in Washington, McCotter and several GOP colleagues, as well as Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), would get their band together to relax and take a break from all the tension.
They called themselves the 2nd Amendments and traveled the military circuit, with gigs in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait. Peterson played guitar and was lead vocalist; McCotter, lead guitar; Rep. Dave Weldon (R-Fla.), bass guitar; Rep. Jon Porter (R-Nev.), keyboards; and Rep. Kenny Hulshof (R-Mo.) on the drums.
But two of the band members are leaving the House after this session, and Peterson’s elevation to chairman of the Agriculture Committee leaves him little time to get together and riff.
Before the recess, a colleague asked McCotter whether the band was breaking up.
“Yeah,” he lamented. “Hulshof is running for governor, Weldon is retiring and Peterson is stuck under a farm bill.”
McCotter, however, hasn’t given up hope. He’s trying to recruit new members and is considering a new name.
“Maybe we’ll call it the 3rd Amendments,” he said. “I’m still researching exactly what that one is all about.”
Speaker Pelosi’s birthday: No longer a national secret
There was an apparent shroud of secrecy around Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s birthday. The California Democrat turned 68 last Wednesday, a day she spent traveling back to the United States from India. She visited the country with nine other members of Congress.
At first, Pelosi’s press office would not offer any details on how Pelosi planned to spend her birthday or whether her staff planned to at least offer her a dessert on the plane. But after repeated inquiries from ITK, spokesman Brendan Daly confirmed that: “Staff and members who were traveling with her on her recent trip to India had a birthday cake for her on the plane as she flew back to Washington last week.”
ITK hopes she had a wonderful birthday
Security tightens at bottom of hill’s spiral staircase
Security has tightened at the base of a spiral staircase in the Capitol ever since a tourist recently fell down the stairs and sustained injuries.
Under orders by the Office of the Sergeant at Arms, officers stationed there have been instructed to be extra strict when it comes to keeping the hallways flowing smoothly and as clear as possible.
And strict they are. Last week, Stephen Mallory, a Capitol Police officer, glowered at ITK and a photographer for standing well out of the way of tourists at the base of the stairs. “We have to keep the traffic flowing. You can’t stand there,” the officer snapped, explaining that if one person takes photographs, then all the tourists will stop and take them. At which point, he explained, the hallway will clog and present a danger to tourists traveling down the spiral staircase.
But no tourist did stop, despite momentary camera flashes. They kept moving swiftly through the alcove.