Meet the Lawmaker Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), 5th District

What are the best and worst things about Washington?
Rep. Quigley: The two worst things are: They don’t know how to make pizza, and the extraordinary work of having to raise money. If it was just the legislative research and working with groups and individuals to get something done, that’s all great, but just the drudgery of sitting there and trying to raise money all the time is the worst part of this city. And, of course, they can’t make pizza or Italian beef or any of the foods that a good Chicago boy is used to.
[The best thing:] This is perhaps the most exciting time to be here in our nation’s history. We have an extraordinary alignment of circumstances to accomplish great things. It’s all there at your fingertips.

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What’s the last book that you read?
Rep. Quigley: I’m reading [Rep.] John Lewis’s [D-Ga.] book right now, but I’m probably in the middle of three or four others, including Team of Rivals, [by Doris Kearns Goodwin] and several others. Just the circumstances of being in D.C., people give you books and there are issues you want to learn more about, so you are tearing into as many as you can.
What did you want to be growing up?
Rep. Quigley: Depending on the season, either a right wing for the Chicago Blackhawks or second baseman for the Chicago Cubs, but at some point my genes betrayed me. I always wanted to do something that dealt with the environment if it wasn’t going to be sports. Ironically enough, why I got into politics is because I came to the conclusion that if you wanted to save the world, which in my mind was through the environment, those elected officials seemed to be the ones who made a lot of the important decisions, if not the most important decisions. So from high school, you can see my Sierra Club card — I’ve been a member since 1979. That gives you an indication of early interest.

If you could be any lawmaker besides yourself, who would you be?
Rep. Quigley: I’ve got to tell you, I’m pretty satisfied. I came in here midterm. So it’s like being transferred in the middle of your senior year to a new high school. Four hundred thirty-five new kids to meet. You don’t even know which one is the cool-kids table to sit at at lunchtime.

What do you think your most embarrassing political moment has been?
Rep. Quigley: My most bizarre embarrassing moment was during my first political speech. I ran for alderman in Chicago, so this would have been in late ’90 that I gave this speech … It was a group of about 200 senior citizens, and I gave the best speech I thought I possibly could. I opened it up for questions, and this woman came up and stood up, and said, “You look just like Michael J. Fox,” and I didn’t know what the heck to say back. Then another woman got up and said, “No” — remember, this is 1990 — “he looks like Pat Sajak.” Then the body of senior citizens started arguing over who I looked more like. I just wanted to crawl out of there because I didn’t know what the heck was going on.

Who is your favorite Republican member?
Rep. Quigley: I knew Mr. [Mark] Kirk [R-Ill.] before, but he’s been very kind and easy to work with here, and helpful in demonstrating knowledge on issues. But I don’t want to diminish one over the other. Most members have been very generous with their advice, time and consideration. Most.

What household chores do you like to do, and which ones do you not like?
Rep. Quigley: I like to take out the recycling because I actually feel like I’m doing something. I like walking the dogs. I’m not as big on picking up after them, and you know back in Lakeview, in Chicago, that’s a big deal. Lakeview landmines.

What’s the one thing about how Congress operates that you didn’t realize until you got here?
Rep. Quigley: When you are an outsider, you look at the current makeup [of Congress] and say, “Wow, 60 members of the Senate are Democrats, and there’s an overwhelming majority of the House that are Democrats, and the president is a Democrat. You ought to be able to fly through with the Democratic agenda.”
What you don’t recognize from afar that is unique to adjust to when you get here is that there are factions. That’s become very pronounced, obviously, with the healthcare reform bill. But before that blew up in the manner which it has so far, you could sense it in other issues, and that took some adjusting. And that’s true on both sides. The outsider looking in sees this as one monolithic group versus the other, and it’s really very separated into other, smaller factions, which you have to appreciate. In the end, that pushes issues, no matter who is in charge, toward the middle.