Local Hero


Steny H. Hoyer, a veteran of 40 years representing Washington's suburbs and Southern Maryland, talks about his impending role as House majority leader

Q&A// Steny H. Hoyer

December 10, 2006|By Ronal Kobell | Ronal Kobell,Sun Reporter

When he entered politics at the age of 27, Steny Hoyer wanted to be the top man in Annapolis. He worked the halls of the State House, eventually winning election to the Senate president's office in 1975 and becoming the youngest person to serve in that position. Four years later, he became Acting Gov. Blair Lee III's running mate, hoping to eventually become governor.

But the Lee-Hoyer ticket lost, and Hoyer found himself out of a job. Three years later, when Congresswoman Gladys Noon Spellman suffered a stroke and a special election was held to replace her, Hoyer decided to run for her seat. He has been in the House ever since, rising to capture a number of leadership positions and earning a reputation as a consummate fundraiser and consensus-builder. In that time, his district, which includes the Washington suburbs of Prince George's County and once-rural Southern Maryland, has evolved into one of the state's fastest growing areas.

Last month, when the Democrats took control of the House, Hoyer's colleagues elected him majority leader in a landslide contest. Hoyer won despite the fact that Nancy Pelosi, the incoming speaker of the House and a native Baltimorean who has known Hoyer for 40 years, had campaigned for his opponent, Pennsylvania Rep. John P. Murtha.

Now, the native New Yorker of Danish heritage is the highest-ranking Marylander ever to serve in the House. The Sun asked Hoyer what the state can expect to see from him and his party in the coming years. You've just been elected to one of the most demanding positions in government. How will you balance the needs of your district with that new role? In other words, can constituents still expect to see you at events such as the Patuxent River Annual Wade-In and the Leonardtown Veterans Day parade?

The short answer is yes. When Tip O'Neill said that all politics is local, what he really meant is that none us serve in any leadership positions in Congress unless our constituents decide that they want us to represent them.

One of the things I'm advantaged by is that I live next door, and I am very close to my district. I would expect perhaps not to be at everything, and I'm not at everything now. But I certainly expect to be at the two events that you talked about. Those are definitely on my calendar. We've seen a lot of money flowing in to the state for projects like the Goddard Space Flight Center. What have been the projects you have been most proud to have helped fund?

Clearly, the National Archives at University of Maryland, College Park. That's a very significant investment for the nation. It draws scholars and researchers from all over the world.

And the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center. We've made a lot of investment there. The Patuxent Naval Air Station in Lexington Park is one of the principal economic assets of our state - a lot of jobs, a lot of economic investment. The Naval Ordnance Center at Indian Head, which has become the premier naval ordnance center for all the armed forces. And the Food and Drug Administration's state-of-the-art research facilities in College Park. We're saving money and providing the FDA with top quality facilities to ensure the safety of food and drugs in our country.

And the Patuxent Wildlife Refuge near Fort Meade, between Baltimore and Washington. The Reagan administration wanted to sell it off. It might be subdivisions or a business park if they had. But we made sure that it wouldn't be developed, and now it's 11,000 acres of green space. Paul Sarbanes refers to it as the "green lungs of Maryland." We have preserved a huge swath of land between two major metro areas, which is good for the environmental health as well as the aesthetics of our region. Can Maryland expect to see a lot more of the "Steny dollars"? And for what possible projects?

Without giving specifics, transportation is a huge issue in our state, whether it's mass transit or roads. On the Chesapeake Bay, we still have a long way to go. We're going to continue to work on our military bases. We need to make sure they have the capabilities and the up-to-date technology to do what we expect of them. How will all of Maryland (not just your district) benefit by having you and Maryland native Nancy Pelosi in the two top spots?

Nancy is a Californian but she is a favorite daughter of our state, and Maryland is very proud of Nancy for becoming the first woman speaker. That's an extraordinary achievement. She has a great appreciation for the state of her birth. We will both do what we can to make sure Maryland is a state that is considered very carefully. Many people are worried that the Democrats won't do any better than the Republicans when it comes to cleaning up the culture of corruption, doing away with earmarks, restoring civility and not letting big-money interests run the show. How do you think Democrats will be able to tackle these issues?

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