~ Bay Weekly Interview ~ with Sandra Martin
Congressman Steny Hoyer
On Fatherhood First Policy Second
On a rare sunny day in the spring of 2003, the United States Capitol is abloom with tourists. Future Farmers of America so proclaim their heavy jackets, just right for the previous days cool weather are here from Nebraska. From Arizona, Zuni Indians are here for the Senates consideration of their water agreement.
Its a different world up on the third floor of the stately, sprawling and well-fortified capitol, where a big suite of offices rewards the party loyalty of Steny Hoyer, of Mechanicsville in St. Marys County.
The padded carpet seems to feel good to the 11-year-old bones of Hoyers English spaniel Charlotte, who comes to work with him. Charlotte is the only member of his family still at home. But since the death of his wife, Judith, Hoyer has expanded his career, becoming as active a father and grandfather as he is politician.
The 22-year congressman from Marylands 5th District represents the 600,000 citizens of Calvert, Charles and St. Marys counties, plus Anne Arundel up to the South River and a big hunk of eastern Prince Georges.
But to move to the third floor of the U.S. Capitol, Hoyer had to succeed in his 11-year quest to be his party leader. As Democratic and nowadays minority House whip, Hoyers job is just as it sounds: whipping his Democratic colleagues into line on party issues. To line up Democrats, Hoyer does not use a real whip, though when a member is way out of line disapproval must feel sharp as a lash. But there are real carrots, among them prime parking spaces, offices and steps on the leadership ladder.
Its a ladder Hoyer knows well, having climbed it himself since 1966. Then, fresh out of the University of Maryland and Georgetown University Law School, the boy from Suitland whose father had emigrated from Denmark in 1934, only nine years before Hoyer was born got himself elected to the Maryland Senate.
Hes been in public office ever since, except from 1979 to 1981, when he failed in his bid for lieutenant governor on Blair Lees ticket. He stepped up to Congress in 1981, when he won a special election. There, hes been a man of his party as well as a provider for his constituents, first in Prince Georges County and now in five Southern Maryland counties.
|photo courtesy of Steny Hoyer
Judith Hoyer, who died in 1997, was selected a woman of achievement in Maryland history.
As influential in her own way was Hoyers wife and high school sweetheart Judith, an early childhood educator in Prince Georges County and one of the 365 Women of Achievement in Maryland History [Bay Weekly Vol. XI, No. 19]. Judith Hoyer died of stomach cancer on February 6, 1997.
All of which brings us on this sunny day to the minority whips suite on the third floor of the U.S. Capitol, where we are vetted by Charlotte and visit with her master until the bells in his office call a noon vote on the House floor
BW Weve been wanting to interview you a long time. We chose Fathers Day because, since the death of your wife in 1997, youve had to do all the parenting of your three grown daughters and grandchildren how many is it now?
SH My three daughters are Susan, 39; Stefany, 34; and Anne, who will be 32 on June 28. I have five grandchildren: three naturals Judy, 16; Alexa, one; and J.C. for James Cleveland, six and two by marriage. Steven, Annes husband, has two children Matthew, 14, and Lauren, eight by a previous marriage.
|photo courtesy of Steny Hoyer
Hoyer and his daughters Susan Taylor, Anne Eckholm and Stefany Hemmer.
BW Back in 2001, you told The Washington Post that Judy made an observation that has come true. She said, When Im gone, youre going to become closer to the girls. I was always close to my daughters
but were a much closer-knit group I think today than I felt, and I think than they felt, so thats good, probably.
You must have been starting off in politics when your girls were born. Tell us about fatherhood then and now
SH Susan was born in 1964. She was the only one born before I was elected to office. I was in the state senate by the time Stefany was born. So for their entire lives, Ive been in politics.
What Judy meant by that was that their dad was their friend and their buddy and maybe their bank, but not necessarily their confessor. I was always pretty close to my daughters, but they were also great friends of their moms. Their mom was their advisor and counselor and confidant and confessor.
Judys point was when she was gone, there would be a feeling by the daughters and by me of greater communication, and that has come to pass. Were very close. Matter of fact, this weekend Im going to go out and be with Susan and her husband who is CEO of the University of Illinois Alumni Association in Illinois, Champaign and Chicago. Ill be playing golf with them. Then in Chicago, were all going to a ball game.
BW What are some of the ways youve grown closer? Are you now their confidant?
SH We talk to one another more, but confidant? I dont think that anybody can replace a mom. Anne talks to my sister-in-law, her aunt, probably about some things she wouldnt talk to me about. Its a little different talking to dad.
I think we feel very close, and we talk about a lot of things. Luckily theyre all doing very well. Theyre terrific young women, successful in their own lives.
BW So you continue to have an active role in your daughters lives, despite the demands of Congress, both your district and your role in leadership?
SH I am very busy, and theyre very busy. But were very close. I had dinner with my granddaughter Alexa, my daughter Anne and her husband Steve Eckholm Sunday night up at their home in Arnold.
I talked to Stefany, who lives in Queen Ann in Talbot County, two days ago.
BW So none of your daughters lives in your district
BW And your grandchildren: What sort of relationship do you have with them?
|photo courtesy of Steny Hoyer
Granddaughter Judy Hoyer, now 16 and named after her grandmother, hugs Hoyers English spaniel Charlotte.
SH If you ask my daughters, theyd say dad is real close to us and really loves us, but theyd say Judy is really his girl. Judy, the 16 year old, is Stefanys daughter, and Stefany had her very young. She and her father and Stefany lived with us the first six years of her life. When she was born she came home to our house. So we became uniquely close to Judy, who of course is named after my wife.
BW Has the number of women in your family even your dog increased your sensitivity to women and all their ways and issues?
SH I think it has. I hope Im sensitive in any event, but certainly as a father who has three daughters Im particularly sensitive to their future, to how theyre perceived, how theyre treated, the opportunities available to them, the challenges they see.
BW And how does that play out in policy?
SH When I was president of the Maryland Senate, I was sponsor of the sexual offense reforms 1975-77. Historically, rape statutes were related in seriousness not to a womans physical injury but more to the fact that her virginity or chastity had been damaged. That was mainly because women were treated not so much as persons but as possessions historically.
Even today, I think spousal abuse is an issue that our society has not dealt with as well as it should have.
BW And in Washington
|photo courtesy of Steny Hoyer
Daughter Susan Taylor, second from left, with husband Loren, son J. C. and grandmother Jill Pickett, Judith Hoyers mother.
SH Weve had some legislation here in terms of family medical leave. I was brought up by a single mom for a period of time, and she had special challenges. Ive certainly been through that experience. Hopefully, its made me more sensitive. Certainly, its made me more aware.
Minimum wage affects working women, and that includes many single moms. This child-care tax credit which Republicans just dropped out of the tax bill affects 6.5 million children and 12.5 million families.
BW Congressman, how would you answer our readers who ask, What does Washington do for us? What does politics do for us.
SH I started in state government, which has a direct impact on peoples lives. Federal government is not perceived as direct as county government, but it has a real impact. It has a real impact in terms of policies and fairness of its taxes. It has an impact on our children and young people in the long term in terms of their ability to get jobs and be successful because of our fiscal responsibility.
I think it has an impact in terms of what we want to invest in. Education is critical. Young people are going to have opportunities because they get an education. That is mainly a state and local responsibility, but the federal government plays a supportive role. In higher education, the federal government plays a very significant role.
And as I said, on minimum wage, the family leave act, child-career assistance: On all of those issues, the federal government plays a role.
BW Lets take that home to Southern Maryland.
SH In terms of Southern Maryland, I like to think and I hope many people think Ive played a very positive role in the growth of Patuxent River Naval Air Station, the viability of Indian Head Surface Warfare Center [in Charles County, with a focus on specialized ordnance devices and components] and the success of Goddard Space Flight Center, all of which create jobs and economic activity in Southern Maryland and have made it one of the most vibrant regions of our state.
BW To be more specific, lets look at a little creek down in Deale. How does somebody with as much on his mind as you have time to pay attention to whether a second jetty should be put in Rockhold Creek?
SH First of all, hopefully whatever I do, I will never forget that the only reason Im in this office is that the majority of the people I represent sent me here to represent them. So my first responsibility is to them, not the Democratic Caucus, not to national issues except as I represent the opinions, as best I can, of our district.
When [the late House Speaker [Thomas P.] Tip ONeill said all politics is local, not only did he mean that members were driven by that but that members who forgot about the fact that they represented a district, they werent here very long.
Thats why I pay attention to Rockhold Creek or Pax River or the Potomac and Patuxent rivers or to the spill at Chalk Point or Goddard Space Flight Center, Metro, University of Maryland or federal employees. Those are all compelling interests to me.
BW So whats up with that jetty?
SH Obviously recreation and water and the commercial aspects of water are critically important to the 5th congressional district. Were a water district, surrounded by water. Ensuring both commercial and recreational boating access to marinas, which creates jobs and economic health, is an important aspect.
I think since almost the first day I was elected to represent Southern Anne Arundel County, Ive been aware of the issue of Rockhold Creek and its repeated silting in as a problem. A number of businesses built up around it as well as boaters came to me. I went to the committee and I went to the Army Corps of Engineers [which is responsible for keeping the creek navigable]. As you know, its been dredged a number of times. Not too long ago, the Corps raised the issue. Look, the smart thing for us to do is not to have to appropriate money every two or four or five years to redredge. The smart thing is to try to see if we can stop if from filling in.
Thats how the jetty came to be. Now its become somewhat controversial. Well have to see how that develops, but clearly we have to make a decision to ensure that very active businesses, boaters and fishermen, as well as residents, have access to the marinas and to using the channel at the same time not damaging the environment or the aesthetics.
Editors note: The Corps has now extended the public comment period on the jetty to June 30.
BW As well as in the Maryland Senate and in Congress, youve spent your career in the Democratic party. Democrats are out of power now in Maryland and in Washington. Are there one or two things you would recommend for your party to get back in power?
SH First of all, I think the soul of the Democratic party is committed to working people. People who go to work every day, pay their bills and play by the rules and sometimes dont get a fair shake. Theyre not getting a fair shake by the fiscal and tax policies that are being pursued by this administration and this Congress.
The wealthy are getting a fair shake. Frankly, some of the poorest are getting a better shake than the middle income Americans that are making the country go.
There are differences in the Democratic party. But I believe there is a tie that binds all of us together. The issues we favor impact working people, their opportunity, their jobs, their environment, their education, their ability to have good health.
So do we differ on ways and means to serve working people? Sure we do from time to time. But I think the soul of our party is committed to making sure that average working Americans are treated fairly and continue to have hope and opportunity for their future.
BW The bell is ringing to call you to vote, but lets return to fatherhood for one final question: Your fatherly advice to young parents
|photo courtesy of Steny Hoyer
Hoyer celebrates with daughter Anne Eckholm and granddaughter Judy Hemmer.
SH You know the song, The Cats in the Cradle? I tear up when I hear that. The advice I would give to young parents is to take time to be with your children. To get like me a lawyer, a doctor or a politician when youre young, your 20s and 30s, youre thinking of yourself: your career and your future and your success and the competition.
I think what The Cats in the Cradle is all about is that you only have so much time. Your kids have a lot of time, and you ought to spend as much time as you can with them.
I didnt do that. Im much more sensitive now, now that Ive realized the preciousness of time.
I find that older parents who have children in their mid-30s or 40s have a much greater appreciation of time. Its not infinite, what we have.
BW Your grandchildren: Are they a second chance in that sense?
SH My children are a second chance.
It wasnt that I ignored my children. But if you asked them, theyd say dad wasnt around very much. I know there was an awful lot of time when I wasnt there. If Id have been 20 years older