Peoria Journal Star

December 9, 2006

Hare prepares to join House
Rep. Evans packs up his Capitol Hill office



WASHINGTON, D.C. - Rep.-elect Phil Hare kept a frenzied pace this week as he met with key House Democrats trying to secure his requested committee assignments and signed the lease on a Capitol Hill apartment.

"You spend a lot of time just figuring out where you're going. You get lost. I've done that," admitted Hare, who in between meetings has had to address more mundane tasks, such as filling out paperwork for health insurance.

On Jan. 4, Hare will be sworn in and officially take over the House seat vacated by his former boss, retiring Rep. Lane Evans, D-Rock Island.

As Hare prepares for that day, Evans' remaining staff is tying up loose ends to help ensure a smooth transition. They share a tiny basement cubicle with one desk, one computer and one phone until Dec. 15, when the last plug will be pulled.

On Capitol Hill, it's called a "friendly takeover."

Evans had endorsed Hare, his long-time district aide, who was elected Nov. 7. Other exiting lawmakers, who are booted out by voters, aren't inclined to help their replacements.

Hare said he hopes to hit the ground running by hiring Evans' chief of staff Dennis King and office manager Eda Robinson to run his Capitol Hill office.

This week, Hare met with several incoming Democratic leaders including new Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and new Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C. Both campaigned for him.

He also met with the incoming chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, James Oberstar, D-Minn. Hare has asked to be placed on either the Transportation, Veterans' Affairs or Education committees.

"Oberstar gave me some good advice. He said 'you might not get all three, but that doesn't mean you don't have my ear,"' Hare recounted. "That was very encouraging for me."

Hare joins more than three dozen Democrats newly elected to the House and already has made some friendships with members from Connecticut to Hawaii.

"I'm very excited about it. I'm nervous. These freshmen aren't afraid to ask questions. They're on a mission to get things done. And they're activists, which is great because that's what I am," Hare said.

Hare was scheduled to return to Illinois on Friday and hoped to take a few days off.

"I'm tired, to be honest with you," he said, but he noted he still has many details to work out.

Hare is keeping Evans' district offices in Galesburg, Moline and Decatur so constituents will have no trouble finding him. It also saves taxpayers' money, he said. Phone and e-mail service to Evans' Washington and district offices will end Dec. 15. Constituents will be able to contact Hare on Jan. 4.

"Some of the other freshman members are calling me 'Mr. Lucky,"' Hare said, because he's not starting from scratch as many of them are. "I said it's a blessing and a curse" to follow in the footsteps of Evans, who spent 24 years in the House.

Speaking from experience, Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., who followed former Rep. Pat Schroeder in office, advised him to "just be yourself and realize you're different."

"For 24 years, he did a great job. But I'm not Lane," Hare said. "My style is different. But our values are the same." Meanwhile, office manager Robinson is overseeing the final details of closing up Evans' congressional office.

She started packing boxes over the summer. The last batch of 49 boxes was sent to storage a few weeks ago, awaiting shipment after his retirement is official.

Personal items, including the many photos of Evans and various political celebrities that graced the walls of his congressional office, will be shipped to his home in Rock Island. His professional papers will be donated to Western Illinois University, Robinson said.

"It wasn't until we turned in the keys and went to lunch that the emotions kicked in," said Robinson, 50, who has worked for Evans for 23 years.

At Evans' Moline office this week, Jerry Lack, his district director, was still doing some last-minute packing of personal items for Evans, who purchased new bookcases at his home to hold the many awards and other memorabilia he's collected over the years. The reality is setting in for Evans too. During one of Evans' last visits to the Moline office, "he got a little emotional as he saw us taking stuff down," Lack said.


Dori Meinert can be reached at (202) 737-7686 or