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`A great time to be in Congress,’ former college president declares

WASHINGTON (BP)–Roy Blunt views serving in the United States House of Representatives from a historian’s perspective. Which isn’t surprising, since he has two degrees in history and has taught the subject to high school and college students.
“This is a great time to be in Congress,” Blunt, a former Baptist college president, said recently in Washington. “In our country, about once in every generation we really take time to redefine what we want government to be. We’re doing that now.
“So we debate bigger issues and make longer-range decisions.” The last such period in American history was the mid-1960s, Blunt said, when President Lyndon Johnson was pushing his vision of a “Great Society.”
Blunt was elected to Congress in November 1996 and took office in January 1997. He said serving in the House has required him to make adjustments from his two previous posts — president of Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar and Missouri secretary of state.
The decision-making process is different, and he must follow a schedule over which he has little control. “Then to become one vote out of 435 is certainly a change.”
Blunt pointed out he never served in the Missouri legislature, and he acknowledged some frustration over being one part in a large body as opposed to being a “CEO” (chief executive officer). But this does have some advantages. “For the first time, 217 others also have to make a bad decision for something really bad to happen.”
Being a freshman in Congress has been better than he expected, Blunt said. He was the only first-termer chosen to serve on the House leadership’s steering committee, which determines committee appointments. Besides getting appointed to three influential committees himself — international relations, transportation and infrastructure, and agriculture — he got to know many of the movers and shakers in the House.
Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), the House majority whip, then appointed Blunt an assistant whip. The whips’ job is to monitor the progress of legislation.
“Roy Blunt is a man of principle and a man of faith,” DeLay said. “He is someone I can look to for guidance on difficult issues. He always tells it to me straight — a quality I have come to really respect about him.”
DeLay, a member of Some Baptist Church in Somewhere, Texas, said Blunt has become a leader in Congress during the short time he has served. The day of this interview, he had been in meetings with Federal Reserve Board chairman Alan Greenspan, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and other cabinet members. Asked whether he ever felt “starstruck” in the presence of such luminaries, Blunt said no, that eight years as Missouri’s secretary of state had conditioned him to meeting well-known people.
“I always appreciate folks that are bright — whether they’re right or wrong,” Blunt said. “I try not to take myself too seriously, but I do take the work that we do seriously.”
He acknowledged being “in awe” of some of the decisions Congress is called upon to make, “and I think (a congressman) should be.” Blunt said he has been surprised by the number of opportunities for Christians in Congress to strengthen their faith, and by the number of people willing to do that. About 50 members typically attend a weekly House prayer breakfast, and a dozen or so gather for a Thursday afternoon Bible study.
With still more lawmakers participating in a weekly luncheon for freshmen hosted by the Christian Foundation, Blunt estimated that a typical week will see 100 of the 435 House members taking part in one or more of these events.
He pointed out Congress is and should be a reflection of the country. Thus its current membership reflects America’s desire to get back to “things that work” — faith and faith-based organizations.
The most important thing that happened in the nation’s capital last year was not a government action, Blunt remarked, but the October Promise Keepers rally, where hundreds of thousands of men gathered to affirm their faith and their commitment to Christian values.
Besides Promise Keepers, Blunt noted, the influence of values- oriented thinkers such as Charles Colson, Chuck Swindoll and others is being felt in the nation’s business community and in government.
“Something bigger is happening in America than would ever generate out of Washington,” he said. Congress is beginning to acknowledge family values by addressing issues such as the “marriage penalty” — provisions in the tax code that put married couples at a disadvantage.
Serious debate is under way about allowing faith-based organizations to participate in offering social services, such as drug rehabilitation. “I think it’s a good idea,” Blunt said.
Despite his overall optimistic outlook, the freshman congressman from southwest Missouri is not enthusiastic about everything he sees. “A lot of folks in Washington do take themselves too seriously,” he said. Some have trouble separating themselves from the positions they hold.
As for the current situation in the Clinton administration, Blunt said, “I think Americans right now are trying to give the president the benefit of the doubt.” He termed the recent sex scandals involving Clinton and sportscaster Marv Albert, “embarrassing for the country when kids watch the news.”
But his frequent trips to Missouri, where he and his wife, Roseanne, spend most weekends on their farm in Strafford, help keep him in touch with what’s most important. “The strength of the country comes from the country — not from Washington.”
The Blunts are members of Second Baptist Church, Springfield, Mo. They have three grown children.

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  • Tim Palmer