When the 111th Congress of the United States convened a little more than two weeks ago, a lot of new faces showed up on Capitol Hill. Many of those faces, while new to Capitol Hill, were not new to politics. They had been involved in local and statewide politics for years. That isn’t the case for the newest congressman to represent the 8th Congressional District – a district that includes Cumberland County.
    {mosimage}Larry Kissell knows a lot about politics – not because he played an active role in it – but because he taught in the classroom. Kissell, a former textile worker turned teacher, taught social studies and world history to high school students in the very high school he graduated from. In the classroom he told his students about the formation of a government for the people by the people. And in teaching his lessons, he took them to heart.
“I hadn’t ever been involved in politics. My brother was in local politics, but I wasn’t involved in any level,” said Kissell during a recent interview.
    But what he saw in our elected leaders changed his mind. Kissell, like many in the country, believes that many elected officials have lost touch with the people they represent. Key among them was Robin Hayes, the man Kissell defeated in November to take the seat.
    Hayes’ family owned a textile mill. Kissell worked in one.
“I look at things from the perspective of the regular working people. That is one of the disconnects that has been in government. Elected officials were not looking at the needs of their constituents. People didn’t feel like the issues being addressed by their elected leaders affected them. They wanted someone to look at the issues that affect their families,” said Kissell.
    “So I ran based on the sheer belief, that why shouldn’t someone who just has a lifetime of the study of working and being part of a community be able to go to Washington to represent the people they worked with all their lives,” he continued. “Who knows their wants and knows their needs and frustrations more?”
    It is that simple mantra that Kissell has taken with him to Washington. He wants to be the voice of the working man in an institution that seems to have forgotten who they represent.
    “I woke up on Wednesday morning after the inauguration and thought ‘Has it really only been two weeks since I came to Washington?’” he said.
    Those two weeks have seemed like a long time. Kissell said there have been a lot of forces at work; he’s been learning a new job, getting to know new people, and doing what the people who elected him wanted him to do – working on the things that are important to them.”
    Kissell has had a lot to adjust to. There is, after all, a big difference between standing in the classroom and standing on the floor of the United States House of Representatives.
    “There’s a big difference in the two professions, but I have not been overwhelmed,” he said. “The classroom is challenging, and I remain in awe of teachers and the job they do, but the classroom prepared me for this change.”
    He said there are a lot of people in place to help ease newly elected officials into the job. One of the most helpful, he noted, is the Capitol Police.
    “They are the most amazing folks in terms of helping you get around,” he said.
Kissell made his presence in the House known immediately. His first official act was to co-sign the bill to rescind the automatic pay raise for Congress.
    “As soon as I heard about the pay raise I said this isn’t for me,” he said. “It’s not the right message to send to the American people. We are asking people to sacrifice, so it wasn’t the time to give ourselves a pay raise. When I worked in textiles, we all knew that when things got tough, you didn’t get a pay raise. So the message I wanted to send to the people of our country was that I was elected to be the voice of working people, and getting raises is not their lives right now.”
    His next act was to sponsor an amendment to an act to extend funding for children’s healthcare.
    “I’m proud that the House passed the legislation to fund children’s healthcare, but that funding was coming on a cigarette tax that would affect a lot of working people. It would hurt a lot of people who work in the industry. So my amendment modified the implementation of the tax to cut down on its affect on working people,” he explained. “We hoped to make the point that as much as the act will help children, it will hurt other families who will lose their job and therefore hurt other children. We need to find a balance. That’s a message that needed to be sent.”
    Another message that Kissell helped send was that money spent by the Congress had to be accounted for.
“The House just passed a bill that would put stringent guidelines on the second part of TARP (Troubled Assets Relief Program),” explained Kissell. “It is the general feeling, and my opinion, that the first $350 million of TARP funding was not used effectively. That’s why I was against it. The money was not used in the right places. The bills passed this week, are designed to be more specific as to how this money is spent. It requires a report back to Congress and the American people. This money can’t be used for bonuses or overseas projects. It has to be used to recapitalize our economy and to help in the terms of trying to slow down on foreclosures, which the first TARP agreement didn’t do at all.”
    As Congress has turned its attention to tax breaks designed to turn the economy around, Kissell, too, has taken a hard look at them.
    “We are looking at 95 percent of working families realizing tax benefits and tax breaks,” he said. “But that’s not enough. We have to supplement the process with infrastructure by reenergizing demand and stabilizing the economy. We have to reinvest in our nation.”
    Kissell said the “reinvestment program” authored by President Barack Obama is the key to turning the economy around.
    “We are going to make sure that the money is well spent so that it can stimulate the economy,” he said, adding that he wants to ensure that people in the 8th District are aware of where this money is intended to go, so that they can take advantage of the money.
    “A lot of the money is going to go through the governor and the state,” he said. “My office is going to facilitate communication, so that the people in district are aware of what’s coming and can take advantage of this opportunity.”

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