Eleanor Van BurenAmericans rarely shy away from controversy. We're not afraid of starting controversy, and we sure think we know how to end it. In our government, Congress is the means citizens have to fairly contend controversial matter through the advocating and voting done by elected representatives. It seems simple enough, but what happens when Congress is the controversy?

Usually the term “right where they left off” implies a progressive outlook or positive continuation, but Congress defied these implications by opening 2013 right where they left off: with a 14 percent approval rating. According to Gallup, Congress had a 15 percent approval rating for 2012, the lowest in history since Gallup first began conducting congressional approval rating polls in 1974. To give some perspective, Congress’ historic average is 33 percent.

Almost every news report on Congress shows representatives unwilling to budge on an issue, suspending any motion moving forward and delaying any immediate action. One could argue “immediate” is not a part of our legislative lexicon. But why is that? Perhaps it is the 535 polarizing opinions, representing this political party and that political party, forced into the same room. There are numerous voices that talk over each other; the voices from small towns and local communities that are never heard. Are the people who voted for members of Congress truly represented in the way they expected after casting their ballots?

Like a losing sports franchise, Congress is seeing its worst season. When a team is struggling, its players do not want to face the media or answer to anyone, even a fan. Yet, Team Congress cannot be inaccessible. The players are public servants to our nation and must respond to the call to do better. There must a leader, a veteran who knows what better times look like and accepts the responsibility of what it will take to get there. First, that leader must face the fans.

House Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, visited my high school on Jan. 29 on official business to introduce himself as representative to our Southwest Portland community, a part of his congressional district. Along with fellow seniors from my history class, I helped introduce Rep. Blumenauer to an all-school assembly, the majority of which were not of the voting age. Having served as an elected official since before the freshmen and sophomore classes were born, Congressman Blumenauer certainly has been in the business long enough. But of course I knew of his tenure and love for bicycling (properly Portland), before the visit. What I didn't know was if he was the sour standard I've come to think of when I hear “member of Congress” or if he was the delightful exception: the leader among the followers.

He first addressed the assembly by noting it was his first visit to Riverdale and how he felt very welcome. He commended Riverdale's work with H2O for Life, an organization that brings global awareness to the water crisis. In recent years, Riverdale has raised money to support water availability and sanitation projects in local communities throughout Kenya, Uganda, India and the Philippines. After outlining his current work in his new term, Rep. Blumenauer participated in a question-and-answer setting.

I believe it was through this dialogue where my high school and my congressman made the largest impression on one another. Each question was diverse and honest, and amazingly, Rep. Blumenauer offered precise and thoughtful answers, no matter the subject. In the best interest of his audience, Rep. Blumenauer answered candidly about issues ranging from hydraulic fracturing to repealing or reinstating laws that will boost the economy to what the typical day in the life of a congressman looks like (for one, each day is very atypical). My favorite question involved whether there is pressure from his political party to vote a certain way that may be contrary to his personal response and belief towards an issue. He said that is one of the most challenging parts of being an elected official. I felt the authenticity in his answers, accented by light humor and his calm disposition, perhaps the same way he saw the genuine curiosity students have in his world.

My history teacher, Ms. Laura Pridmore-Brown, helped host Rep. Blumenauer during his visit.

“In my nearly 21 years of teaching, I have never taught at a school that has presented this opportunity to its students. It's critical for students to see that politicians are accessible, that they are willing to engage with their constituents, irrespective of age or circumstance, and that they are knowledgeable about critical issues,” she remarked. She, like many renewed fans at Riverdale High School, felt optimistic about the future of Team Congress after meeting such an accessible leader.

Eleanor Van Buren is a senior at Riverdale High School and writes a monthly column for The Review. To contact her, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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