A newly launched compilation of interviews with outgoing Members of Congress is slated to include the accounts of at least three of the 33 Members set to retire at the close of the current term.
The musings and recollections of Reps. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.) and Martin Sabo (D-Minn.) are scheduled to appear in “The Reflections Project: Retiring Members of Congress Assess the Institution,” the brainchild of New York University’s John Brademas Center for the Study of Congress.
Linda Douglass, a senior fellow at the Brademas Center and former chief Capitol Hill correspondent for ABC News, has been tapped to spearhead the project.
“We think this class is very interesting,” Douglass said. “It is a large class of Members who are retiring, period. So many of them are veterans.” She added, “There’s a lot of talk about the frustrations that many Members have in both parties. It would be interesting to get the views of those Members who have been there for a while.”
All outgoing Members will be asked by the Brademas Center if they would submit to one-on-one interviews, follow-up questions from a student audience and possibly a questionnaire composed by the center.
Members will be invited to hold forth on a variety of subjects, including their personal reasons for retiring, their impressions on how Congress has evolved during their careers and their assessments of the institution’s health and prospects for the future. Interviews will be audiotaped or videotaped.
The recordings will be available to researchers and the public at New York University, but Douglass said she “wants to disseminate this thing as widely as we can, because obviously the goal here is to really educate the public and interest the public in the way Congress makes policy as much as we can.”
Douglass said the center has discussed the possibility of airing some of the Members’ oral histories on a television program or publishing them in book form.
Don Ritchie, Associate Historian of the Senate, said that past oral history compilations involved interviews not just with departing Members but also with their former staffers, their opponents in Congressional races and journalists assigned to cover them.
Douglass said that such a project would be too ambitious for the center to undertake at the moment.
“We’re just beginning this year with the members themselves,” Douglass said. “As we build this project over the years, it would be very important to paint a full picture, with the views of the people who worked with them and the reporters who covered them. So that’s the goal.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.