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I will always have to travel, sometimes extensively. But right now, I need a little more say in which days I miss and which days I don’t. I’ve missed all three of John’s birthdays and it looks like I’ll miss his fourth, but I’m going to be there for No. 5. Many members have children who are in high school or married, or who have moved out of the house; that’s a completely different situation. Other members who have young children may be able to handle their parenting duties differently. It’s a very personal decision each family must make on its own.
With my family in Arkansas, Washington was never going to be a home, so I chose to sleep in my office. It’s great, and as a bonus, I don’t have to worry about a car or a commute. I can work in my office until late at night, go to bed and when I wake up, I’m already at work. Hitting the congressional gym provides a great opportunity to build friendships. Even if I stayed in Congress for a decade, I would still sleep in my office every night.
From the beginning, I’ve tried to model my service after the Founding Fathers’ ideal of the citizen legislator in terms of accessibility and tenure: I routinely give my cellphone number to constituents, and I always knew that I would serve in the House for years, not decades. My decision to hit the pause button on my time in Congress is also consistent with my 2010 pledge to serve no more than six terms in the House.
Benjamin Franklin wrote in 1785 that members of Congress “are of the people, and return again to mix with the people, having no more durable preeminence than the different grains of sand in an hourglass.” George Mason, a Virginia delegate to the Constitutional Convention, agreed, saying in 1788: “Nothing is so essential to the preservation of a republican government as a periodical rotation. Nothing so strongly impels a man to regard the interest of his constituents as the certainty of returning to the general mass of the people, from whence he was taken, where he must participate their burdens.”
I don’t presume to know how often this “periodical rotation” should take place for everyone serving in Congress; that is up to each member — and the voters — to decide for themselves. All other factors aside, if a representative believes he or she is the best candidate to serve the district, they should endeavor to serve.
After all, it was the various “burdens” Mason referred to, and my worry about what kind of future my children faced, that motivated me to go to Washington in the first place. When President George W. Bush left office in 2009, our national debt totaled $10.6 trillion — an astonishing, unacceptable amount after an increase of $4.9 trillion in eight years. President Barack Obama called it “irresponsible” and “unpatriotic,” but in the five years since, he’s swelled the national debt to a shameful $17.3 trillion. At the end of his two terms as president, he could very well double it to $21 trillion.