A Daze on the Hill.

Every April—well, not this past year, of course—but every April in previous years, the Rail Passengers Association has met in Washington for its annual three-day Spring meeting. There are workshops, outside speakers, and usually a key Amtrak executive shows up to brave what always seems to be a skeptical—if somewhat hostile—crowd.

The second day of the three-day meeting has become known as our Day on the Hill. That’s when we break up into small groups and visit our senators and representatives urging their support for Amtrak, specifically, and for  passenger rail in general, including public transit.

The reality, of course, is that, as a visitor, you rarely get to see “the Member”. Rather, your appointment is with a bright, young person who listens politely, takes notes, and assures you that he or she will personally make sure the senator hears of your concerns. My association colleagues often come away from those meetings vaguely unsatisfied . . .  never really sure that association concerns ever work their way all the way up to “the Member”.

And no wonder. The halls of government are crowded with people who are anxious—perhaps even desperate—to present their concerns to their senator or representative. In the vernacular, the specifics of what they want are referred to as “The Ask.”  A Day on the Hill is very likely to be frustrating, even disappointing. There are exceptions and, for the most part, members of the Hawaii delegation treat the visiting constituents with real aloha. 

On one of our Days on the Hill, the late Senator Daniel Akaka came into one of our sessions with his staff person and to the astonishment of several of our association members from other states, engaged in a spirited discussion on Amtrak issues that lasted a full quarter of an hour. 

I must add here that Dan Akaka represented Hawaii for a total of 36 years in both the House and then in the Senate. And he was loved.