Sitting in Sen. Jon Kyl's office waiting for my scheduled interview, I was struck at just how hard any senator is expected to work and how much time is spent doing it by those who, as most do, take their job seriously.
His rather typical day back home was tightly scheduled in 15-minute segments, ranging from media and constituent interviews to a ceremony awarding a Bronze Star to a deceased WW2 vet's son. He was kept busy from an early morning radio interview to a 6 p.m. appearance with 800 Tea Party folks in Oro Valley.
Members of Congress receive $174,000 in salary and the same benefit package as other federal employees, phony e-mail blasts to the contrary notwithstanding. Prior to his first election to the U.S. House in 1986, Jon Kyl was one of the top attorneys in Arizona. He doesn't need the job. Regardless of party, those who don't tend to give you better government.
We all want members of Congress to "read the bills." Someone who would read every word himself if possible, trust me, is Jon Kyl. He can't, there's simply too many. Kyl handles it by breaking bills into portions and sharing them with his staff, and also by sharing information with trusted colleagues. He specifically mentioned one of my favorites, Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.
Kyl also is number two in the GOP Senate hierarchy, which further stretches his time commitment. I asked him to assess the 2010 Senate elections, and he named eight states where he felt the GOP had good to excellent chances of pick-ups along with holding current seats. He doesn't bluster, that's an honest assessment.
We went through the major issues, with health care at the top of the pile. Kyl observed that the process has been as damaging to the Democrat product as the product itself and noted that we have only seen the obvious pay-offs and have no idea what other commitments were traded for senators' votes. He believes it's not over yet, and that opponents should keep the heat up, particularly Arizonans who have three Democrat House members in marginal seats – Giffords, Kirkpatrick and Mitchell – who voted for it.
Jobs creation was next on Kyl's list. He believes you don't fight unemployment with more stimulus money to local governments, but by giving private industry including small business the stable economic environment necessary for them to expand and create jobs.
Kyl supports military efforts in Afghanistan and believes President Obama acted correctly if too slowly. Space prohibits listing the many other areas of this administration's foreign policy he differs with.
Illegal immigration was on the minds of many at the Tea Party meeting. Kyl firmly believes that before any revision in policy occurs, securing the border by finishing the fence and hiring the as-promised additional Border Patrol officers is mandatory. He met with Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano prior to her confirmation to stress this, obviously without avail.
Watching Kyl in front of a Tea Party was edifying. How did an establishment GOP lawyer/senator do with all those supposed right-wing crazies? OV types aren't atypical. Kyl treated them with respect, and they responded in kind.
He randomly selected questioners on any subject, unlike some colleagues who wanted them in writing and pre-screened them or, worse, were too craven to show up at all. His answers were succinct, responses were direct and occasionally not what the questioner wanted to hear. Kyl doesn't pander, something the audience would have caught anyway.
TIME magazine rated both he and John McCain among the 10 most effective members of the United States Senate. It's easy to understand why.