Meet the Lawmaker Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Va.), 5th District

What’s the best thing about Washington?

Rep. Perriello: The best thing is the number of people who are genuinely motivated by the desire to make people’s lives better. The people who put in the long hours are doing it because they’re thinking about people back home who got laid off or don’t have health insurance and are here to make a difference. This place works when people wake up each morning trying to make that kind of an impact. Right now there’s a real dedication to problem-solving. If you look at what we’ve done in the last few weeks on credit cards and predatory lending, if this stuff would have been done 10 years ago, we wouldn’t be in this mess.

What’s the worst thing about Washington?

Rep. Perriello: [The worst thing] is the role fundraising plays both in affecting policy and taking up people’s time. … Given the gravity of the problems we have, I think — as much as possible — all of our time and energy needs to be spent on policy. And until we do serious campaign finance reform, we won’t be able to crack that nut.

After a long night of votes, how do you unwind?

Rep. Perriello: I don’t. We have 25 percent unemployment in parts of my district, so a solid night of sleep is not something I yearn for when that’s going on. And I have a staff who is putting in the same kind of hours. We are just intensely aware of the pain in our district and try to spend our time addressing that.

What’s the craziest constituent request you’ve received?

Rep. Perriello: Two weeks after my father died, a constituent told me that my father had visited them in a dream and told me how to vote on a certain bill.

What’s something that shocked you about how Congress operates?

Rep. Perriello: There’s a lot more genuinely substantive debate than I expected. For the most part, what happens on the floor is theatrics, but what happens in the caucus rooms and committee rooms, there’s real debate among serious people, which has been refreshing.

What household chore do you dislike?

Rep. Perriello: The milk in my fridge always seems to go rotten. It’s a real pain to have to throw out the rotten milk and go get new milk. And I always had this vision of eating something other than peanut butter and jelly [sandwiches] or whatever’s in the caucus room, but that hasn’t quite happened.

If you weren’t yourself, which lawmaker would you be?

Rep. Perriello: I’ve always been inspired by Bobby Kennedy, more the Bobby Kennedy of his presidential campaign than perhaps when he was a senator. Around here I’ve been getting a lot of great advice from [Rep.] Rick Boucher [D-Va.] and [the rest of] the Virginia delegation.

What is your guilty pleasure?

Rep. Perriello: T.I., the hip-hop artist.

Jordy Yager