The Congressional Management Foundation rolled out a figurative red carpet Thursday morning to present its annual Democracy Awards, or as they are more affectionately known, “the Oscars for Congress.”
Even though less than one-quarter of the American public approves of Congress’ performance, and much of the legislative activity can be reduced to politics and partisanship rather than productivity, there is still good work taking place.
And CMF, along with the Democracy Awards’ founding partner, the Bridge Alliance, honored some of the top performers on Capitol Hill.
Brad Fitch, president and CEO of CMF, noted that the awards ceremony comes at a critical time in our nations’ evolution, with election deniers and others on the fringes threatening the American system of government.
“Perhaps the best way we can combat those who attack our democracy is to prove to them it actually works,” Fitch said. “That there are people who still believe in excellence in public service and that demonstrate that patriotic commitment every day. They are the past, current, and future winners of the Congressional Management Foundation’s Democracy Awards.”
The Democracy Awards, like the Oscars, are broken down into several categories. But rather than honoring a man and a woman, CMF honors a Democrat and a Republican in each.
The top awards, for Lifetime Achievement, went to a pair of House members who are retiring at the end of the current session: Democrat Lucille Roybal-Allard of California and Republican Fred Upton of Michigan.
“Imagine what we could co-create if we had a Congress comprised of elected officials like the two receiving lifetime achievement awards,” said the Bridge Alliance’s Debilyn Molineau, who presented their awards. (Molineaux is also co-publisher of The Fulcrum, a project of the Bridge Alliance.)
She noted Upton’s cross-partisan endeavors that welcomed the 40 percent of Americans who do not identify with either major party. “In today’s environment, that takes a lot of courage, and I personally thank you,” she said.
Roybal-Allard was the first Mexican-American woman elected to Congress, when she won her first term in 1992, when the number of women in office nearly doubled. She became the first Latina to serve on the powerful Appropriations Committee (as well as chair one of its subcommittees.)
“You’ve broken through so many glass ceilings for those of us who will follow in your footsteps. Your tireless work for the people of your district, especially those who could not speak for themselves, is an example for the younger generation to follow,” said Molineaux.
The other awards for lawmakers were broken down into different aspects of the job, and Democratic Rep. Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania was named a winner in two of them.
- Constituent service: Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) and Houlahan
- Innovation and modernization: Rep. Garrett Graves (R-La.) and Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.)
- “Life in Congress” (workplace environment): Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Houlahan
- Transparency and accountability: Rep. Bryan Steil (R-Wis.) and Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kan.)
In addition, CMF gave two awards for lifetime achievement by congressional staffers.
Annamarie Feeney, currently the senior constituent services representative for Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.) has worked on Capitol Hill since 1987, handling constituent work for a series of lawmakers from Pennsylvania. According to CFM, she has helped thousands of constituents with various issues and recovered millions of dollars for individuals.
Ann Rogers, counsel for the Office of House Employment Counsel, provides legal advice related to labor laws covered under the Congressional Accountability Act and acts as legal representative for House employees. She has worked in the House for 27 years.
“We all know that Congress is not held in high regard by the American public. But those in this room also know that the Congress we see – the real Congress – is made up of amazing and dedicated public servants, tirelessly working for their constituents,” Fitch said. “CMF hopes that we can shine a light on those Members and offices, if only for a brief moment, then perhaps we can chip away at the wall of cynicism in our nation.”