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'Professor' Roskam Lends a Hand with Government Lesson

Location: Glen Ellyn, IL


U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam made some great strides on alternative vehicle and fuel legislation Friday. After a vigorous discussion with Connor Burgess, a freshman out of Nebraska's 3rd District, and Kyle Murphy, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the power trio decided to throw support behind tax-free hybrid cars.

But the bill isn't likely ever to see the light of day. Not because the concept isn't promising but because Burgess and Murphy weren't exactly voted or sworn into office in the conventional manner.

Roskam initiated the fourth-grade boys for their unofficial term of public service with a handshake and an oath met with giggles. The newly elected member of the U.S. House of Representatives spent the morning at Forest Glen Elementary School in Glen Ellyn giving about 90 students a crash course in congressional dealings to parallel their government unit.

He was a hit. His presentation evoked transfixed stares, laughter and cheers with regularity and he framed legislative nuances in simplified terms that elementary school kids could understand.

"I'm not supposed to tell you this, so be cool about it and don't tell anyone," said Roskam, speaking in a low voice and nervously peeking out of the windows to make sure no spies lurked outside. "I don't want to read a blog tomorrow about the secret I shared with you."

He urged to group to move in closer.

"In all of government, even if 435 representatives and 100 senators all said 'Woo hoo' about this bill. ... Even if we do the wave at a Bears game in Connor's honor. ... Connor bobbleheads, days off of school in celebration, Katie Couric is interviewing classmates saying, 'Is it true you know Connor?'" Roskam said animatedly. "Even if everyone in the world thinks that this bill is genius, here's what the president can do: He can use a v- ... Can I trust you? Veto. It's the coolest thing in the world!"

Roskam then went on to explain how the U.S. Constitution invests enough power in one person "to say, 'I don't think so!'"

Earlier in the morning, choosing among straining raised hands from his captive audience, Roskam asked the students to name a law they wanted to create or change. They settled on energy and fuel initiatives after one precocious student spoke about electric-powered cars, ethanol and the ozone crisis. Then Roskam, who lives in Wheaton, walked the novice lawmakers through incentive programs that could be formed into legislation.

"A bill is not just something you get at a restaurant," he said. "It's a recommendation for a law. A suggestion."

Once Roskam assigned the bill to the appropriate committee, he replicated the negotiation process for the kids, assigning several to parts in the role-playing experiment.

"Katy (Ludington) is on the committee and she's from Michigan, where there are lots of auto manufacturers. She says, 'Hey, the companies I represent -- we don't make hybrid cars. I'm not so wild about this idea. Let's phase this in,'" he explained. "And everyone likes Katy and she's very influential. She says, 'Connor -- who really cares about this rascal? He's just from an area with a hybrid car facility.'"

This allowed Roskam to segue into a discussion on how amendments are attached as bills wend their way through the two chambers of Congress. But after he spilled the beans on the president's veto power and mentioned how two-thirds of both houses can overrule it, Roskam again distilled politics for the students.

"When the vote is coming up, Hannah (Marcheschi) is going to get a call. 'Hannah, this is the White House. Please hold. The next voice you hear will be the president,'" he said.

"And the president comes on and says, 'You know that Hannah Highway near Hannah Lake under the Hannah tunnel you want built? It's federally funded,'" Roskam added. "'Unless you want to kiss all that goodbye, you might want to reconsider your stance on this issue. Goodbye!' Now Hannah is under some pressure."

As Roskam wrapped up, he said he was impressed with the students' breadth of knowledge of current events.

"You guys want jobs? This is great," he asked.

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