By Adam Hornbuckle
On Tuesday, Oct. 17, former U.S. Representative Steve Israel and Professor Amy Freedman, chairperson of the political science department, spoke about an array of current and thought-provoking issues during “Conversations with a Congressman,” hosted by the Hutton House Lecture Series.
The event, held during common hour in Humanities 119, began with opening remarks from Israel, who quipped he was going to give a “seven minute confession of a Congressman.” Israel remarked that the longer one stays in Congress, the more the “tongue tends to cleave to the left or right side of the mouth.” Freedman jokingly responded, “he got out when the getting was good.” “She’s right, being a former Congressman is liberating,” Israel said.
Israel expanded on his decision to leave Congress; “in the odd year when you spend six weeks at home…you think maybe to not run for reelection.” He opined that “I fundamentally believe there comes a time when you need to pass the torch.” And he described his observation that “my colleagues left in one of two ways, either they lost their election or they lost their minds.”
“I discovered I was a writer,” Israel said. Israel published his first novel, “The Global War on Morris: A Novel,” in December of 2014. “I could not stand the screaming…and finally the money. The funding is so bad.” Israel noted that he does miss the collegiality of Congress. He is now the Chairman of the LIU Global Institute.
“The best advice I got, I tell young people when they make a life decision. You should choose two mentors. One you agree with and one you disagree with,” Israel said. He noted he sought advice about leaving Congress from former Republican Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, a congressman he often disagreed with. “My former colleagues, 90 percent are good, decent people. We just disagree on fundamental issues.”
Freedman asked Israel about balancing competing interests. Israel responded that his experience was that of Congressman in a moderate district, one that is not predominantly Democrat or Republican. “The bad news is however I voted I always pissed off half my district,” Israel joked.
“I have two regrets about votes,” Israel noted. “The first is the vote to authorize the war in Iraq. It was a horrific vote… The second vote that bothers me is a vote on a measure that would restrict the number of refugees that could enter the U.S. I still toss and turn about that bill.”
Israel spoke about redistricting and gerrymandering, gun control, his writing career, his 2014 book “The Global War on Morris: A Novel,” his upcoming book ”Big Guns,” and money in politics. The audience, comprised mostly of senior citizens from the community and a handful of students, were invited to ask questions.
Throughout the Q&A, Israel stressed, “people say this is the darkest time we have ever had…I’ve always said I’m not the smartest member, but I do believe I am the biggest student of history.” He asserted, “folks, this ain’t nothing.”
Israel identified several issues that the U.S. is facing, including our need to have a growing middle class. “We have no mobility; it’s why Hillary lost and Donald won,” he said. “We need to build things,” he said as he remarked on the success the building of the interstate highway system in 1956 had on the U.S. economy. He expressed concern for the news media. “The networks, there is no news, its tribal opinion.” He also cited the need for redistricting reform and the need to reverse the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case which allows corporations to donate to political campaigns.
When asked whether he stressed patience or activism for students concerned about the government’s effectiveness, Israel chose activism. “There is too much at stake for patience,” he said. He also expressed concern for the growing student loan debt. “We had a meltdown in 2008, but that is no comparison to the trillions in student loan debt.”
Israel served as a U.S. Congressman from January 2001 to January 2017. During his tenure, he served six years in leadership positions within the Democratic party.
For more information on the LIU Global Institute, visit www.liu.edu/globalinstitute. The Hutton House Lecture Series is a non-credit enrichment program offering an array of courses and lectures for senior citizens and members of the local community.