Thursday, November 7, 1996
Let's let our lawmakers stay at home

BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Now that the election is over, I have a recommendation for the winners. Stay right where you are.

Congresspersons celebrating with the people who elected you, unpack your bags. Senators, introduce yourselves to your families who haven't seen you often enough to recognize you without a nametag. Then stay for dinner. Every night.

Get out there and mow the lawn and rake leaves and shovel snow. Lean over the back fence. You might be surprised to hear what your neighbors have on their minds. They'd be honored to tell you.

You could help the soccer moms slice oranges. You could coach Little League. You could mentor a high school student. You could joust with the orange barrels on the interstate. Just like the rest of us.

There is no reason for you to live in Washington, D.C. Something weird happens to people who stay there too long. The same goes for state legislators, who spend most of their time in capital cities that bear no resemblance to their districts.

None of us worries that politicians are not spending enough time together. We think you don't spend enough time with us.

Go home and stay there. Insist on it. Make the folks from the tobacco companies and the unions meet you on your own turf. Let them spend money on lunches and gasoline and hotel rooms in your district. Let them be the ones with frequent flyer miles and unopened bags of peanuts.

A virtual Congress

The president says he's going to make sure every student in the country has access to the Internet. Can he do less for you? The technology is there right now. All we need is the will.

''I couldn't agree more,'' says Rob Portman, father of three, husband of one, U.S. congressman of Ohio's District 2. He got up early Wednesday morning, had breakfast with the kids, then back to the beltway for IRS hearings.

One of the first pieces of legislation he co-sponsored would have allowed lawmakers to vote through a ''secure electronic device'' in emergencies. ''It went nowhere,'' he says. ''The leadership wants us there so they can twist our arms.''

So do we.

For two-thirds of the year, Mr. Portman lives in a Spartan apartment with ''late '60s frat'' ambience. He could be living in beautiful downtown Terrace Park. With beautiful, uptown Jane Portman. ''It's really the worst part of my job,'' he says, ''although Jane and the kids and I talk every day and fax things back and forth.''

Wouldn't you rather be home and ''faxing things'' to Newt Gingrich and John Kasich?

''Absolutely.''

I say let the leadership do some virtual arm-twisting. They can send endless e-mails and faxes. They can set up a conference call. Or a chat room. How about a face-to-face with the president? Maybe he'll come to you. If not, maybe he'll let you use the Lincoln bedroom for the night. You might have a chance to short-sheet Harry Thomason's bed.

Real family values

You could probably be home before dark. It's not like you have to travel three days by horseback to get there anymore.

Those of you who tell yourselves that you need book deals and speaking engagements to make ends meet could save money on housing. You could work right next to the people who pay the bills. And find out how we make ends meet.

We want to see you. We want you to know what our lives are like, and we don't think you are getting a realistic picture in our nation's capital. Or in capital cities.

When President Clinton was on his train trip, he told a crowd in Toledo that ''people lose the connection between what is done in government and what happens in their daily lives.''

With all due respect, Mr. President, I think you are mistaken. I think we regular citizens and taxpayers know perfectly well that what happens in Washington and Frankfort and Columbus comes back to us. The connection has always been crystal clear.

You do it. We live with it.

We want the people who make the rules to live with it too. And look us in the eye. Coming home would be a start.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax to 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.