Let’s start at the beginning. The beginning in this case was when my wife Barbara and I stepped off the members-elect bus on the plaza where you enter our nation’s beautiful Capitol building in Washington, DC. It was a dark and stormy night, the wind was howling through the… no not really but it was dark that November night in 2010. As we stepped off the bus at the base of the Capitol directly under the dome and looked up at Old Glory waving and at the sight of that magnificent dome lit up from every angle, I was left utterly speechless and overcome by emotion. Speechless that is other than muttering to my wife “Look at that!” From there we were ushered inside to an astonishing array of murals, frescos, marble floors and right into Statuary Hall where soon to be Speaker of the House John Boehner was to host a fancy dinner with cloth table clothes for all incoming freshmen Republicans and their spouses. Speaker of the House of Representatives is a thankless job I would not wish on my worst enemy but Speaker Boehner and his wife Debbie became dear friends to Barbara and me. During my freshman term the Washingtonian Magazine did a ‘Best and Worst’ analysis of several different categories. The nicest person in Congress that year went to one of my best friends on Capitol Hill, Representative Brett Guthrie of Kentucky which surprised no one. However the top two finishers in “The funniest person in Congress” surprised everyone. The funniest person award went to the afore mentioned Speaker Boehner and finishing a close second was yours truly.
I was a 55 year old freshman Congressman with no political experience – you see I had never run for any elected office before because I was always afraid that I might get elected! They say we need to elect normal everyday people off the street to go to Washington and serve in Congress and not career politicians. Well that year we had done it on steroids. Two auctioneers, two car dealers, farmers, the owner of a pest control company, a pizza parlor owner, a roofing contractor, lawyers, doctors, nurses, radio personalities, members of the military, veterans and small business owners. We had it all, just like Bogey and McCall.
Outgoing Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi hosted a reception in the conference room adjacent to her office and had invited all members-elect to attend. I don’t remember any other Republican members-elect joining besides myself and Barbara because the Speaker was a Democrat of all things. When we met Madam Speaker herself I asked if we could take a picture with her and she immediately obliged. I handed my iPhone to someone who took the picture which I immediately texted to a reporter at our local paper in Springfield, Missouri who printed it the next day. Man ‘o man did that set off a firestorm, one comment I remember was “can you believe how dumb Long is, he let someone take a picture of him and Pelosi together.” My thought was ‘yeah, I’m so dumb I asked for it to be taken on my personal iPhone and texted it to a reporter at my local paper.’ Many speculated that such an unforced rookie error would definitely end my tenure in Congress after only one term. It turned out that photo wasn’t such a dumb move after all. as I was elected to Congress five more times after that,.
I came to Congress after a 32 year career as a real estate broker, 31 years as an auctioneer and 6 years as a radio talk show host. To be successful in those fields you have to be U.F.O. as I call it, Upbeat, Friendly and Open. As I reflect on the end of a 12 year career in Congress I probably have as many friends on the Democrat side of the aisle as I do the Republican side. I have one of the most conservative voting records of anyone in Congress so I don’t hardly ever vote the same as my Democrat friends but just because we don’t agree politically doesn’t mean we can’t be friends personally.
I am proud of what I was able to accomplish in Washington such as working to protect Table Rock Lake homeowners from bureaucratic red tape and unnecessary restrictions, helping provide financing for American manufacturers to sell their products to international buyers, working across the aisle with my friend Congresswoman Doris Matsui to reauthorize the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act, preventing harassing robocalls, strengthening broadband internet access to close the digital divide in rural and underserved areas, working with my colleague Congressman Emanuel Cleaver from Missouri on suicide prevention, combatting our nation’s opioid epidemic, modernizing our nation’s energy infrastructure for the 21st century, ensuring children get the care they need by closing the treatment gap for newborns, keeping in place protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions, stopping the military vaccine mandate, strengthening bilateral ties with Japan in my seven years as Co-Chair of the Congressional Study Group on Japan, supporting the important H-2B visa seasonal worker program that is so critical to small business’ in my district, and most recently expanding the boundaries of Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield to include acres that are relevant to the Newtonia Battlefield site.
But I’m really proud of what I accomplished for my constituents back home in the district. With my work on the subcommittee on Telecommunications when I learned how inaccurate our broadband maps were which rendered them useless, I went to work on a mapping bill to correct the situation. I did not work alone as I needed a partner on the Democrat side of the aisle to help me. There was only one man for the job – one A. Donald McEachin the Democrat Congressman from Virginia’s 4th Congressional District. Don and I got ‘er done and our bill was eventually signed into law by President Trump. It’s times like this that it’s good to have friends to work with across the aisle. Speaking of bipartisanship earlier this month on December 7th I did something else in a bipartisan fashion. What I did was to join some of my colleagues from both sides of the aisle at Joint Base Andrews for a flight to Richmond, Virginia to attend Don’s 2 hour and 40 minute funeral although it seemed like it lasted only 40 minutes. It was an incredible service. He was taken too soon but I was sure glad we had been able to get to know each other by working on our broadband mapping bill together.
Another thing I don’t like about Congress is that when you first get elected you’re told never to talk about your staff, don’t mention them or praise them. When I queried “What do you mean, why would that be?” I was told “You want the people back home to think you’re doing all the work – don’t ever mention your staff.” That may not be the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard but it ranks right up there in the top two or three. When I first ran for Congress I was attacked for having no political experience – ‘Long knows nothing about politics, he has no experience and won’t even know how to hire staff’. My reply was “There’s enough experience in Washington, DC to choke a horse,” and if you were with my auction company 20 years or less you were one of the newer people there. You see it’s like Teddy Roosevelt said, “I always hired good people and had the sense to stay out of their way and let them do their job.” You always run the risk of leaving someone out when you go to naming names but I’ve narrowed my list of Missouri District 7 All-Stars to two categories. The first is the dedicated folks that were with me on the third day of January 2011 and will be with me until high noon on January 3, 2023. The second is a group that didn’t start the race with me but will be with me in their official capacity serving the Constituents of Missouri’s 7th Congressional District until noon on January 3, 2023.
The longest tenured on a personal basis with me is my Director of Farm Services Bob Kollmeier, you see Bob and I have been together since the sixth grade when we met and he has been working in my District Office helping local farmers since I came into Congress. Next to Bob in time of service to me is my District Scheduler one Karen Meads. Karen joined me in the auction business and then in the Congressional office, in total she has worked for me for over 32 years. Then there is my Chief of Staff Joe Lillis who will retire from federal service after 27 years, four serving in the US Army and 23 on the Hill, he has worked for a United States Senator, and three Congressmen including myself. That brings us to Mike Ussery my District Director back home. Mike also started with me on January 3, 2011 and plays the part of me when I’m not home by representing me at any meeting he could attend in the district and has done an outstanding job of it. Mike’s not going far but he is moving across town to go to work for U.S. Senator-elect Eric Schmitt. Last but not least is our longest serving staffer in the 7th District who boasts 16 years of service because she worked for then Congressman Roy Blunt for 4 years before starting with me on the day I started and she just won’t leave. You’ll still be able to find Kim Mackney behind her desk in our Joplin office working for my successor Congressman-elect Eric Burlison beginning January 3, 2023.
Now for those that didn’t start in 2011 but have vowed to stay by my side until they change the locks on our doors. Batting leadoff is Ben Elleson who is fairly new in my office, as he’s only been with me for 11 of my 12 years. I’ve heard it numerous times over the years, Ben Elleson is the best staffer on the hill and I won’t disagree. I believe their thinking is it that takes a lot to make me look good and Ben does it every time without fail. Next up is Jeremy Pruett who’s been a huge asset handling any issue or problem that is given to him. Hitting third is Lisa Saylor who all of the veterans in our district think hung the moon. She’s my veterans specialist but she’s more of a magician than anything when it comes to getting veterans their just desserts. Luckily for the veterans of Missouri’s 7th District, Lisa will also be staying on with Congressman-elect Burlison. Batting clean-up is Sydney Ingram Johnson who handles a myriad of constituent issues including assisting Lisa with our hero veterans and helping out with our annual ‘Fishing Dreams’ event for veterans. Next to step to the plate is Dylan Maddox who not only handles legislative issues but also makes sure the trains or in my case Suburbans run on time. Next we have my Communications Director Michael Appelbaum whose middle name is ‘Loyal’ he has been with me since 2017. Then we have Gwen Delano, who has worked in my Joplin office since 2019, after working in the Missouri State Legislature since 1984. Rounding out our stellar All-Star lineup is our DC scheduler Sean Manzelli who needed to be a world class juggler to handle all of the requests for my time. I hope all of the remaining Congressmen are blessed with staffs half as talented and dedicated as mine has been.
And finally I’d like to say a few words about my family. Being a Congressman is tough but being the family of a Congressman is a lot tougher. It ain’t easy and they didn’t sign up for it. You could not ask for a more ideal Congressional spouse than my wife Barbara. If you ever want to find her at an event look in one of the four corners of the room. You see she always wants to make sure others are served first but she’s ready to jump in and help out at a moment’s notice. She just plugs in and helps out wherever needed. Everyone asks where we met and the answer is at the E. Tolerton School of Dance in Cheyenne, Wyoming she in her tutu and me in my four-four. Our oldest daughter Kaleen made it to DC before I did as she completed a two year post baccalaureate Pre-Med program at Georgetown and left town six months before I was sworn in. And when our youngest Kelle called one year after graduating from Pepperdine to say she had been offered a job at NBC in Tenleytown outside of DC I said come on out! Kelle’s husband Dan joined our family a few years ago. Next in time of service with the family is ‘Tex’ the toy poodle or ‘Sir Texcellent’ as I call him. And last but certainly not least is one Walker Bill Rathe who turned one month old yesterday making him the most junior member of our family. Everyone asks what my title will be once I leave Congress and thanks to Walker for the first time you can call me Grandpa Long. Grandpa out!
For more information on my activities in our district and in Washington, I encourage you to follow my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Rep.Billy.Long and my Twitter page at https://twitter.com/USRepLong. You can also subscribe to my weekly newsletter, “Long’s Short Report,” by visiting https://long.house.gov/forms/emailsignup/.