Two former Representatives, Sue Kelly (R) of New York and Earl Hutto (D) of Florida, visited JSU this week as part of the Congress to Campus program. They spoke with many classes during their participation in the Constitution Day program on Tuesday, as well as with the student senate and Freshman Forum.
Referring to Dr. Lori Owens of the Political Science and Public Administration Department, Kelly said, “Lori has set us up with a full schedule, and I love it. We are used to working hard in Congress.”
Kelly served as a member of Congress for 12 years, while Hutto served for 16 years. During that time, they worked tirelessly to represent their constituents.
“I don’t think I ever put in any less than at least an 18 hour day, seven days a week,” Kelly says. “I chaired subcommittees. To do that and hold hearings requires an enormous amount of work, because I didn’t want my staff knowing more about an issue than I did. I didn’t want them drafting my questions.”
She says that she would take stacks of law books home with her at night and would fall asleep on top of them around 3:00 a.m., then have to get up four hours later and make a speech. Regardless, Kelly also says that she loved her time as a representative. “It’s so much fun, because you get a chance to learn,” she says.
“You learn so much about how people feel about things, and what the government is really doing in their lives, and how things operate in the United States.”
Hutto stressed the importance of college students meeting with public officials as often as they get the chance. “The program that we’re here under gives the opportunity to college students to see face-to-face those who serve in Congress and ask questions about what goes on,” he says, in reference to the Congress to Campus program.
“I think I’ve seen better participation here than in most other colleges where I’ve been.”
Kelly added that she was impressed that the students at JSU had been asking questions of the Representatives that were obviously not things they could just find on Google. She says that it’s encouraging that the students are thinking for themselves.
Kelly had this advice to give to students who are considering a career in politics or public service: “Get a job. If you graduate from college and then you go into public service, you are doing the people you represent a disservice, because you don’t know how the world works. The right thing to do is get a job, go to work, and get some gravitas under your resume. Do some things that count.”
The two Representatives shared why they themselves decided to run for office.
Hutto was a journalist who was working with a television station in Panama City, Florida. The station would send him to Tallahassee during the legislative sessions to interview members of the House and Senate. “That kind of whetted my appetite for it,” Hutto says.
Kelly stated that she decided to run for office because, “I got mad at the Republican party.” She says that when a particular seat came open, she didn’t feel like the candidates who were being backed by the Republicans would have been right for the job.
But she also didn’t feel like the Democratic candidate would be the right representative for that district either.
“I called 12 people, and I begged them to run,” Kelly says. “Then I called my husband. Every single one, including my husband, turned me down. So I got mad. My husband said, ‘You run. You care about it.’ So I ran, and I won.”
“Did your husband vote for you?” Hutto asked.
Kelly replied, “I hope so.”