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Congressman Gregg Harper a role model for other politicians

 

Just so you know before you read, I do not live in Gregg Harper’s district and do not agree with him on most political issues.

Along with student body presidents from three other Mississippi public universities, I recently traveled to Washington, D.C., for the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference.

During some down time on Monday, we headed to Capitol Hill to meet with a few of Mississippi’s elected representatives. In the first two meetings, we told the gentlemen where we were from, took group photos and listened to them talk for a combined 15 minutes.

I asked the first one where he thought we should cut the federal budget to reduce the deficit. He dodged the question with a short talking point. I followed up by asking him to talk about some of the issues on his agenda. He said re-election. Our second meeting, while more pleasant, was also disappointingly brief. We took an official picture and talked a little bit about our experience at the conference but were whisked out before we could ask about the topics we’d come to discuss.

Beginning to feel as if we’d wasted the afternoon, we showed up to the office of Rep. Gregg Harper around 4:45 p.m. and were greeted by his legislative assistant and Ole Miss alum Jordan Downs. Downs led us into Harper’s office, where we admired the collection of signed baseballs and, via a television, watched the congressman finish up a committee meeting in the Capitol. Harper flew through his door minutes later wearing a wide Mississippi grin framed by his thick curly hair. 

After talking to all of us about our hometowns and post-graduation plans, it was our turn to question him. He engaged us with a level of candor absent from our other two meetings. 

When we asked if there was any big legislation coming up related to higher education, he said plainly that not much was going on at all in the House because everyone was concerned with re-election. 

“There are a lot of stereotypes about Congress that aren’t true,” he said. “But that one is true.”

Around 5:10 p.m., Harper asked us where we had to be next (Gala, 6 p.m.), looked at his watch and said, “How about a 20-minute tour of the Capitol and then we’ll get you guys on your way?”

We popped off the couch like kids being offered free candy. “Y’all can walk fast, can’t you?” he called over his shoulder as we tried to keep up.

Zipping us through the tunnel connecting his office building to the Capitol, he pointed out the wall display of winning high school art pieces from each district and spoke proudly of his district’s portrait from a Starkville High School student.

When we got inside the Capitol, Harper dropped one fascinating tidbit after another about our nation’s history. Did you know that John Quincy Adams served as a member of the House after he was president? Or that a young Illinois congressman named Abraham Lincoln was a pallbearer at Adams’ funeral? 

In the Rotunda, Harper bumped into a friend he hadn’t seen in a while. The friend looked at us and said, “Hey! That’s a good man you’re following, there. Good, good man!” Harper’s friend was a custodian.

After a group picture on the Speaker’s Balcony overlooking the National Mall, Harper finished the best tour of our lives in record time and followed us all the way to the street with cab-hailing instructions before speedwalking back to his office to finish his day’s work.

Riding Harper’s coattails through the Capitol, watching him engage other congressmen, security guards, staff and visitors, I felt proud to know he was from my state. Representing all the best Mississippi qualities, he clearly hasn’t forgotten his roots. 

Democrat, Republican or otherwise, I wish we had more in Washington like him.

 

Taylor McGraw is a public policy leadership senior who will be in New York with Teach for America following graduation. Follow him on Twitter @taylor_mcgraw.