For many people, understanding the roles and responsibilities of an elected official can be somewhat confusing. There are so many different elected positions that it could make your head spin; local, county, state, school districts, federal, etc.
One of the most influential positions that citizens get the opportunity to vote for is not just the President of the United States; on the contrary, it is your United States Representative.
The Houston Forward Times was recently in Washington D.C. with the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) for Black Press Week and had an opportunity to get a behind the scenes look at what happens on Capitol Hill and how the decisions that U.S. Representatives make impact not only their constituents, but all Americans.
ROLE OF A U.S. REPRESENTATIVE
The United States House of Representatives is one of the two houses of the United States Congress. It is frequently referred to as the House. The other house is the Senate. The House meets in the south wing of the United States Capitol.
Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution sets three qualifications for representatives. Each representative must: (1) be at least twenty-five years old; (2) have been a citizen of the United States for the past seven years; and (3) be (at the time of the election) an inhabitant of the state they represent. Members are not required to live in the district they represent, but they traditionally do.
The composition and powers of the House are established in Article One of the United States Constitution. The major power of the House is to pass federal legislation that affects the entire country although its bills must also be passed by the Senate and further agreed to by the U.S. President before becoming law (unless both the House and Senate re-pass the legislation with a two-thirds majority in each chamber). The House has several exclusive powers: the power to initiate revenue bills, to impeach officials, and to elect the U.S. President in case there is no majority in the Electoral College.
Each U.S. state is represented in the House in proportion to its population but is entitled to at least one representative. The total number of voting representatives is fixed by law at 435 and Texas has 36 representatives. Each representative serves for a two-year term.
BLACK PRESS WEEK
Washington D.C. was the setting for Black Press Week 2013, where Black Publishers from the over 200+ newspapers in the NNPA gathered to discuss the State of the Black Press, Sequestration and its impact on Black America and the importance of community empowerment.
Members of the Black Press heard from Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett; U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan; Director of African American Media Kevin Lewis; Director of African American Outreach Heather Foster; Small Business Administration Deputy Director Marie Johns; Assistant to the President and Cabinet Secretary, Danielle Gray; Deputy Director, Domestic Policy Council James Kvaal; Special Assistant to the President for Labor and Workforce Issues Portia Wu; and Deputy Director for Intergovernmental Affairs Jay Williams.
Several key issues were discussed with the members of the administration, such as unemployment, healthcare, small business, education and the state of the Black schools and much more.
Members of the Black press challenged the Obama administration to enhance their outreach to the Black community through the Black press and challenged the Obama administration to champion key initiatives that solely impact the African American community as they have done for other key demographic groups who voted for him.
Officials from the administration agreed to work closer with the Black press in order to better communicate what the Obama administration is doing to address the needs of the Black community.
BEHIND THE SCENES ON CAPITOL HILL
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee is one of the hardest working elected officials in the United States House of Representatives and is an influential and forceful voice in Washington.
Congresswoman Jackson Lee is serving her ninth term (18 years) as a member of the United States House of Representatives. She represents the 18th Congressional District here in Houston and the Houston Forward Times had the opportunity to see what a day in the life of a congressperson entailed.
During Congresswoman Jackson Lee’s tenure in Congress she has served on various Committees including the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Homeland Security, and Judiciary. Currently, in the 113th Congress, Congresswoman Jackson Lee serves on two Committees; The Committee on Homeland Security and The Committee on the Judiciary.
The Committee on Homeland Security was established in 2002 to provide Congressional oversight for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and better protect the American people against a possible terrorist attack. The Committee on Homeland Security has six Subcommittees, where Congresswoman Jackson Lee is the Ranking Member on the Subcommittee on Border, Maritime Security and a member of the Subcommittee on Transportation Security.
The Committee on the Judiciary is responsible for providing Congressional oversight for the judiciary and judicial proceedings, civil and criminal. The Committee on the Judiciary has five Subcommittees, where Congresswoman Jackson Lee is a member of the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security and The Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet.
The Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet has jurisdiction over the Administration of U.S. Courts; Federal Rules of Evidence; Civil and Appellate Procedure; judicial ethics; copyrights; patents; trademark law; information technology; and other appropriate matters as referred by the Chairman and relevant oversight.
The Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security has jurisdiction over Immigration and Naturalization; border security; admission of refugees; treaties; conventions and international agreements; claims against the United States; Federal charters of incorporation; private immigration and claims bills; non-border immigration enforcement; and other appropriate matters as referred by the Chairman, and relevant oversight.
While there the Houston Forward Times was able to catch Congresswoman Jackson Lee in action, as she addressed the witnesses who testified before the House subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security for a hearing involving the separation of immigrant nuclear families. We were also able to observe the Congresswoman at a Transportation Security Subcommittee hearing entitled the “Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA’s) Efforts to Advance Risk-Based Security.” In the hearing, Congresswoman Lee questioned witness, John S. Pistole, Administrator, Transportation Security Administration, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, about his recent decision to allow passengers to carry small knives onto airplanes. During the hearing, Pistole indicated that he would oblige the will of Congress to reverse the ban if it were expressed in bipartisan terms. Rep. Jackson Lee vowed to propose legislation that would come before Congress, that if passed would ban knives on airplanes.
After casting several votes on the House floor and her various meetings with Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett, many of her congressional colleagues and the President of the United States, we were able to sit down with the Congresswoman to ask her about what issues back home are on her radar.
She mentioned the issues involving the many African American school closings in Houston and the North Forest ISD as some of her many concerns.
ISSUES AT HOME
Congresswoman Jackson Lee states that she is constantly keeping her eye on what is happening at home and in her district.
“I make it a point to stay abreast of what is going on back home, while I am here handling the business of Washington,” said Jackson Lee. “Being a U.S. Representative is hard work, but knowing that I am representing the constituents who put me here keeps me going. I am committed to my constituents.”
Congresswoman Jackson Lee is fighting for the second time to keep the North Forest Independent School District open and is excited about a unique partnership announcement that she believes will save the district.
“The plan that we offer to the state of Texas is a unique one, but it will ensure that the community and the students of North Forest ISD have adequate representation and a solid future,” said Jackson Lee. “We have searched across the nation and have found that this will be the first partnership of its kind with public charters and the North Forest School District.”
The schools that Congresswoman Jackson Lee is referring to are KIPP Academy, Yes Prep Academy and Harmony charter schools.
According to the Congresswoman, there would still be a North Forest school board, but one with less power and also a new management group. Former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, who the Congresswoman states supports this plan, would join the board of the new group.
Before the deal goes forward, the Texas Education Commissioner has to approve it and North Forest has already presented their case for appeal in order to reverse the state’s order to close.