March 19, 2019

PHOTOS: Superstorm Sandy destruction

Cell phone photos taken by Aaron Atkins of the Williston Fire Department show the destruction caused by Superstorm Sandy on the Jersey Shore.  (Observer courtesy photos by Aaron Atkins)



Honest Entertainment

By Michael S. Goldberger

Special to the Observer


We knew Lincoln was a great man, a wit, an altruist, a template for humanitarianism and a darn good rassler in his youth. But often lost is what a brilliant politician he was, maybe because of the negative connotation generally ascribed that occupation. In director Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” Daniel Day-Lewis magnificently rectifies that oversight.


Should you choose to venture with the 16th President of the United States during the last months of the Civil War, be prepared for two and one half hours of the most intelligent, thoughtful and provocative entertainment to come down the cinema pike in recent time. While seeing it won’t earn you an M.A. in history, one should be granted a credit or two.


This is responsible stuff. And though loaded with life’s humor, usually via the title character’s pungent anecdotes, truisms and observations, there is little Hollywoodization here to make the smart and weighty go down easy. OK, it isn’t for everyone. Yet it is a testament to Mr. Spielberg’s brilliance that he makes such heady material so accessible.


There’s a whole bunch going on at once, both in the narrative so splendidly realized and in the grand but deceptively simple process that presents it. The filmmaker sings a paean to the tradition of historical movies, acknowledging the pageantry of the ages, and yet happily skips all the baroque surplus thanks to an instinctive economy of storytelling.


An award-worthy script by Tony Kushner, adapted in part from Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, is obviously  interpreted with due reverence by a stellar cast. It can get a little complicated, especially if you’ve been out of school for a while. However, in time the memory is jogged and you figure out who’s who, by word, deed and even body language.


The scenario: It’s early 1865 and, while it’s fairly certain the North will win the war, the nature and structure of the peace that will follow pose numerous questions and enigmas. Although the union will be preserved, Mr. Lincoln sees his work far from done. Granted, the Emancipation Proclamation fulfilled a military goal, but slavery is still not abolished.


Hence, honest Abe has now turned most of his attention and energies to the proposed 13th Amendment. Passed by a friendly Senate, its future in the House of Representatives is precarious. What thus follows is a world class primer on advice, consent, everything Machiavelli taught, a little Medici and maybe a few moves and stratagems from Caesar.


Lincoln, driven by moral certainty, doesn’t actually say the end justifies the means. But when he concedes to his associates that one ploy in particular is a lawyerly tactic he first ventured back on the circuit in Illinois, we take it as a sly wink cordially inviting us into his confidence. We are aboard to see justice done, and feeling all ennobled for it.


Doing the great man’s bidding and thereby framing for us the length and breadth of Mr. Lincoln’s diplomatic brilliance is Secretary of State William Seward, convincingly realized by David Strathairn. Sullying his hands where the President cannot, we’re literally brought to the back room where two scalawag go-betweens add comic relief.


The negotiations and brinksmanship recall the warning of the pundit who said folks should avoid seeing two things made: laws and sausage. Indeed, it’s tough going for the emancipator. And as the work proceeds, one can’t help make analogies to current, well-meaning politicians, and appreciate the loneliness that can often attend a moral mission


Spielberg, through Daniel Day-Lewis’s all-encompassing command of both the myth and the man, subtly pedestals the protagonist, evidencing the admiration earned even from his most ardent political foes. We check ourselves, rationally sure that he was but human, yet remain in awe of this down home soul whose abilities seem otherworldly.


Creating the time and temper of the intriguing milieu is a solid supporting cast led by Sally Field as the troubled and often maligned Mary Todd Lincoln. But the pick here for a secondary Oscar is Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens, abolitionist, congressman and the cleverly embodied proof that politics makes for strange bedfellows.


However, a nomination for the major male statuette is sure to be garnered by Daniel Day-Lewis. In the vernacular of the texting generation, his portrayal is awesome…totally. The performance, a veritable lesson in method acting worthy of Brando, uncannily captures not only what is known of Lincoln, but enchantingly assumes his spirit as well.


Too bad for those who will avoid this epochal gem because they don’t care for history, preferring instead to repeat its mistakes. This is a sturdy monograph certain to win the muse Clio’s approval. Vigorously reconstructing the watershed era in question, “Lincoln” also shows us that divisiveness can be overcome when good people put their minds to it.

“Lincoln,” rated PG-13, is a Touchstone Pictures release directed by Steven Spielberg and stars Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones. Running time: 150 minutes


EVERYDAY GOURMET: Holiday respite

By Kim Dannies

Feeling ready for a meatless main dish? In the aftermath of the turkey trot and before the roast beef rolls in, I sure am. Consider risotto, the Arborio rice specialty, for a meal that is easy on the eye and the budget. This recipe, adapted from the Dec. 2010 issue of Bon Appétit, is just the ticket for winding down between holidays.

Traditional risotto requires a labor-love intensive technique that results in toothsome grains of rice swimming in a super creamy sauce. It is created by stirring hot stock into a mixture of rice and onion that has been sautéed in butter or olive oil. The stock is added slowly, and the mixture is stirred gently and consistently until all of the stock has been absorbed into the rice. Like pizza, the range of flavors and ingredients that complement risotto is unlimited, so feel free to improvise. When I make risotto, I pick a quiet evening, put on my jammies, pour a glass of wine, grab my wooden spoon and enjoy this quiet, delicious process.

Bon Appétit Butternut Risotto 

Purchase pre-cut butternut squash and cut pieces into half-inch cubes to equal 4 cups. Dice enough sweet onion to equal 3 cups. Measure out 2 cups of Arborio rice. Purchase four 14-ounce containers of vegetable stock. Ribbon cut a bunch of fresh basil to make 1 cup. Grate 1 cup best-quality Parmesan cheese.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add the squash and sauté until it begins to soften and brown around the edges, 5 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl. Reduce heat to medium; add 1 tablespoon butter and the onion to the pot and cook 5 minutes until tender but not browned. Add rice and stir 1 minute. Add 1 cup of broth and simmer until absorbed, stirring frequently, 3-4 minutes.

Add remaining broth by the 1/2 cup, allowing each addition to be absorbed before adding the next, gently stirring all the while, about 15 minutes. Return squash to the pot; continue to cook until rice is tender and creamy, about 10 minutes more. Season to taste with salt and fresh pepper. Remove pot from heat and fold in basil and cheese. Serves six immediately.


Kim Dannies is a graduate of La Varenne Cooking School in France.  She lives in Williston with her husband, Jeff; they have three twenty-something daughters who come and go. For archived Everyday Gourmet columns go to

Eleven CVU soccer stars earn all-star honors

Kate Raszka

Shane Haley

In the wake of Division 1 championship seasons by both  boys and girls soccer teams, six members of Coach T.J. Mead’s boys squad and five girls from Coach Brad Parker’s second straight title combine have captured all-star honors.

Leading the way are Shane Haley from the boys team and the girls’ Kate Raszka, who were selected as Vermont high school soccer players of the year by the Burlington Free Press.

Haley, a forward-striker, is better known as he who smashes balls deep into opponents’ nets. The swift senior tallied 25 goals and added six assists. The last score of his interscholastic career won the championship in overtime.

Raszka was a consistent force at midfield for the Redhawks and added seven goals and seven assists to the offense.

Both also earned first team recognition with the Vermont Soccer Coaches Association All-State team and the Free Press All-State team.

Also named to both all-state first teams were midfielder Noah Lieberman and back Zack Evans. Joe Castano was a Free Press second team selection. The threesome, along with Haley. were named all-metro, while metro honorable mentions went to Roshi Brooklyn and Alden Shumway.

Raszka was joined on the coaches’ star team by midfielder Taylor Goldsborough, Abby Eddy and Kaelyn Kohlasch.

Free Press first team honors went to Raszka, Goldsborough and goalie Lily Harris, while Eddy is on the second team and Kohlasch an honorable mention. All are all-metro selections.


Mal Boright,
Observer correspondent

CVU’s Spillane shines at Nike Cross Regionals

Champlain Valley Union High’s star cross-country runner Taylor Spillane is headed to this weekend’s Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, Ore., but unlike the past two years, she is the lone Redhawk to make the field.

Spillane took second in Saturday’s Northeast Regionals in Wappingers Falls, N.Y., trailing only long time foe Ellie Purrier, who graduated from tiny Richford High this spring.

“Taylor ran probably the best race she has ever run,” Coach Scott Bliss wrote in an email to the Observer. “She has been about that distance from Elle a couple of times but this was one of the closest. She ran the fastest 2nd half of the race of anyone in the field. There was a plan set and she followed it perfectly.”

Purrier, the defending regional title holder, knocked some 20 seconds off her winning time last year with Spillane just six seconds back. Purrier toured the course in 18 minutes and 9.4 seconds.

The CVU team, national qualifiers in 2011 and 2010, fell to ninth among the 27 teams competing. Autumn Eastman joined Redhawk teammate Spillane at the front of the 216 competitors by taking 10th place with a time of 18:54.9.

Julienne Devita came in at number 78 of the 216 runners with a time of 20:27.5; Abby Keim was 105th with 20:55.7; Carly Neeld 120th with 21:13.4; Kestral Grevatt 155th with 21:43.6; and Emma Putre 169th with 22:03.8.

Bliss said the team’s ninth-slot finish was about what he expected.

“We are not as strong after Taylor and Autumn as we have been in the past,” he said. “Autumn ran a great race and improved over a minute from the year before.”

The CVU boys team took 26th place out of 37 teams, led by Nick Bouton and Clarke Shedd, who both ran the course in 17 minutes and 43.3 second, taking 128th and 129th places, respectively. Jared Keyes finished with a time of 17:55.9; Zach Marshall with 18.01.6; Chase Weaver with 18:27.1; and Will Kay with 20:00.8.

Mal Boright,
Observer correspondent

Taylor Spillane

LIFE IN WILLISTON: Tales from the front line

By Karen Wyman

Although you would never know it now, I used to be quite athletic when I was younger. Ever since my husband and I stopped playing on our co-ed softball team when the twins were born, I had thought my days of competitive sports were long over. This may be why it was such a huge shock to my system last week when I found myself actually competing in an extreme sport—Black Friday shopping.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am far from out of practice when it comes to shopping, but Black Friday is like getting called up to the Big Leagues for shoppers. I felt like a rookie completely surrounded by seasoned professionals, and I knew I had to step up my game. I had to be focused and keep my eye on the prize—the latest iPad. My inexperience and total lack of preparation were painfully obvious, but luckily some of the veteran shoppers quickly initiated me.

My initiation started right away as I stood in line with about 400 other people. It seemed everyone was prepared to be outside for a long time, except, of course, me. I naively thought since I arrived only 10 minutes before the opening that I would just walk in after the masses who had been in line for hours were let in first. Apparently a little thing called a “fire code” prevents this from happening. It was the old “two out, two in” once the maximum occupancy was reached. Being the amateur that I was, I didn’t account for all of the employees inside who also contributed to this quota. Needless to say, I now understood why people in line had camping chairs, blankets and coolers with food and drinks. What had I gotten myself into?

The veterans in front of me brought me up to speed on the standard pre-game warm up to be completed while in line. They showed me maps of the store that they had printed out and highlighted where their desired items were located. They also explained their zone offense to me: always bring at least two other people with you, assign items to each person and then spread out and try your best to score. But be forewarned—if you let your team down, you will be replaced next season! They also demonstrated their communication techniques as they handed out walkie-talkies to their team members. The captain would use a cell phone to talk to another team at a different store vying for some of the same items. If this sister team scored a big-ticket item first, the captain would call an audible and reassign one of her players.

Even though there was a lot of trash talk in line about who was going to get what and what they would do to whoever got in their way, I felt that there was a certain sense of camaraderie. Once I was finally allowed inside the store, I realized whatever bond we had formed outside was quickly broken. Game on!  People rushed around with garbage barrels and emptied entire displays of DVDs and video games into them. Shoppers used carts and even their children to block opponents from entering aisles or getting close to displays. It was absolute mayhem.

I anxiously made my way through the throngs of people to the electronics department at the back of the store. That’s when it dawned on me why people had been studying the maps the retailer had provided online. The merchandise was strategically placed all over the store, and people were not willing to disclose where the hot items were located. Finally a nice couple took pity on me and pointed me to the iPad line that started in the automotive aisle.

After desperately making my way to the opposite side of the store, I was handed a ticket and told that the specially priced iPads would be unveiled in two hours, and I was not to get out of line or my spot would be forfeited. This wasn’t an issue for the teams who had players spread all over the store. I, however, was stuck staring at windshield wipers for the next 120 minutes, unable to take advantage of any other deals. For the majority, the game was just beginning. They utilized the time in line to pore over the sales fliers and memorize the maps of the stores they would be hitting next. As for me, I used the time to get in some quality people watching, and boy were there some colorful people to observe! My favorite overheard comment was from a woman bragging how she had even thought to wear Depends.

Before long there was a palpable excitement in the air. You could hear other lines throughout the store roar in delight as big screen televisions and sought after toys were unveiled. People began singing Christmas carols and for the first time it actually felt magical. At this point I didn’t even care if I got an iPad, I was too enthralled with the experience itself. As I marveled to those around me how surreal my first Black Friday was, they quickly corrected me that this was in fact Grey Thursday. The name seemed perfect to me, since I hadn’t felt this much anticipation and adrenaline in my body since I read “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

On that note, I would like to thank all of the employees who kindly worked on Thanksgiving so people could participate in this November Madness. Even though I did score in my first official appearance, I have decided to retire after only one season. I realize that, unlike the real sports heroes whose jerseys are hung from their stadium rafters, I will never have enough skills to have my purse hung from the rafters at Wal-Mart as one of the greatest shoppers of all time!

Karen Wyman has been a Williston resident for seven years, and lives with her husband and twin 5-year-old daughters.

PLACES I’VE PLAYED: When good boys do bad things

By Bill Skiff


My buddy’s grandmother was a wonderful cook. She baked delicious pies. My favorite was apricot.

Grandma used dried apricots for her pies; she kept them in a glass jar with a tin screw top. The jar was stored in her pantry. We were not allowed in the pantry—for good reasons.

One day, we developed a strong hankering for dried apricots. We shinnied up the porch pole, crawled across the floor, opened up the pantry window and climbed in. After filling our pockets with the dried fruit, we reversed the process and headed for the barn to devour our spoils. After a while, the dryness of the fruit gave us a huge thirst. We went to the watering trough for a drink. Our stomachs were soon filled with cool spring water.

One does not have to be a chemist to know what happens when dried apricots are combined with spring water: soon our stomachs were so tight you could play Drums Along the Mohawk on them.

As we rolled around on the ground in pain we experienced the price of breaking and entering.


The wife of Dad’s hired man was mean—at least, as 8-year-olds we thought she was. She lived in the tenement house next to ours. My buddy and I liked to walk through her yard on our way to the sugarhouse. She would yell and scream and tell us to stay away from her house and her yard. It made us mad.

One day, as we watched her leave the driveway our eyes drifted over her yard. We spotted her newly washed sheets hanging on the line. We had the idea that perhaps another laundering might be in order. We walked over, pulled the cloths off the line and threw them in the brook. Then we stomped them down to the bottom where they came to rest among the mud and stones.

After the second laundering, we ran into the barn, climbed up into the hay mow and hid. As we sat there joyfully, fear crept in, as we knew it was only a matter of time before Mother’s voice would pronounce our fate. It came: “Billy, you come down here right now, and I mean right now.” Mother could dish out quick and timely justice.

We learned it is better to leave drying laundry alone than to get hung out to dry together.



One summer, I had a job working for Jimmy Beard who owned a hardware store in Jeffersonville.  Jimmy hired me to stock shelves and wait on customers. I received $10 a week for my services.

When payday came, I never seemed to have any money to take home. I always needed to pay off a bill for some item I had purchased during the week. One week it was a Remington 22 rifle.

I became a good shot—and was always looking for new targets. One day, I began taking interest in an air vent that protruded out of our hen house roof. The angle provided a challenge, but soon I could hit it with regularity. Not the safest target in the world, but it was fun hearing the ping as the vent was contacted.

One day, I decided to play army. I went up on the hill and dug myself a WWII foxhole. Then, I sighted across the hill at the smokestack of the sugarhouse. It was a long way away, but I had seen John Wayne do it. He sighted his rifle to allow the bullet to travel in an arc to reach the target.

After a few practice rounds, and some angle adjustment, I could hit the stack most of the time. It was fun to hear the sound of the rifle followed by a few seconds of silence before the ping as the smoke stack was penetrated—again, not the safest target in the world.

All went well until sugaring season came around. One rainy day while Dad was boiling, he noticed the sugarhouse roof was leaking. When he looked up, he saw a series of small holes around the base of the smokestack. It didn’t take Dad long to put two and two together and come up with 22.

Another month spent in purgatory, to say nothing of losing the use of my favorite rifle for the summer.



Like most farmers in the 1940s and ‘50s, we piled our trash in the shed during the winter and took it out in the spring. One day, I noticed a skunk was living in the shed. He was crawling all around looking for food. I decided to use my new 22 to eliminate the problem.

As I sneaked into the shed, I saw him about to crawl into a small barrel. I crept up the stairs leading to the storage room and looked down. There he was checking out a morsel of food. I aimed my rifle down and fired. I missed—but he didn’t.

They say if you get sprayed by a skunk in the face it improves your eyesight. I can vouch for that: I could still see all those people standing so far away from me.

I ate my supper in the barn that night (Mother wouldn’t let me in the house). I had to throw away all my clothes, including my Johnson breeches. I suffered through a couple of baths in some combination of tomato juice, and, I think, kerosene. I also was not popular at school for a few days. Who would want to go to a dance with a skunk?

They say let sleeping dogs lie—I say that goes for skunks, too.

Bill Skiff grew up on a farm between Cambridge and Jeffersonville. After a career in education, he now lives in Williston, where he is a justice of the peace and Fourth of July frog-jumping official. In “Places I’ve Played,” he shares his experiences of growing up in Vermont. Comments are welcome at



Leah Maple Boutin, 88, of Williston, passed away Nov. 13, 2012. She was born April 22, 1924, to Frank Senna and Leona Lapierre. Leah was predeceased by her husband, Robert Maple; son, Larry Maple; second husband, Albert Boutin; sister, Theresa Lehoullier; brother, Peter Senna; half brother, Clement Senna; and half sister, Julianne Washburn. Leah is survived by her daughter, Rhonda Maple; granddaughter, Angie Maple; sisters, Janet Senna, Janice Lague, Dorothy Theriault, and sister, caregiver and best friend, Doris Lamphere. At Leah’s request, there will be no services.



Charlene Tibbits Johnston, 73, of Williston, passed away on Thursday, Nov. 22, 2012, at home surrounded by her family, after a two-year bout with lung cancer. Charlene was the youngest daughter of Ivan and Myrtle Tibbits of Enosburg Falls. She graduated from Enosburg Falls High School in 1957. Charlene married Vernon Johnston on Dec. 2, 1961. Charlene is survived by her husband, Vernon of Williston; daughter, Laura of Winooski; sister-in-law and brother-in-law, Karen and John Colgrove; and several nieces, nephews and cousins. She was predeceased by her sisters, Lucille, Geraldine Godin, and Susan; and two brothers, Ivan and Paul. Family and friends were invited to a gathering at the Johnston home on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012, from 1 to 3 p.m. Burial will be at the convenience of the family. Memorial contributions may be made to the charity of one’s choice.

Letters to the Editor

Turf fields not a luxury

As a parent who has persevered through CVU’s stuttering soccer season, I feel compelled to respond to the misguided facts put forth in the letter (Williston Observer, Nov. 15) regarding the request for a turf field.

The suggestion that coaches are requesting turf as a “luxury” item and have not considered the facts is way off the mark. The current CVU fields have proven unable to support sporting activities in periods of inclement weather, resulting in students having to miss classes (traveling to “home” games) and having to improvise training (e.g. on asphalt in the parking lot).

The request for turf is to simply provide a usable playing surface for our athletes. It is an embarrassment that such an eminent school as CVU is unable to provide such a basic need.

Several arguments in the letter simply bear no relevance to CVU (e.g. the potential for heat exhaustion may be an issue in southern states, but not Vermont) and should have been substantiated prior to publication. Let’s face a simple reality—there is a reason that UVM, St. Mike’s, Burlington and South Burlington have made educated decisions to install turf, and this is a well-established precedent.

By way of context, CVU recently invested in upgrading the auditorium to support the arts. If we were to have posed similar arguments prior, would we have considered it OK for our musicians, dancers, singers and actors to perform rehearsals in the parking lot as our athletes have been forced to do?

Turf field decisions need to be based on relevant and substantiated facts, and whether we as taxpayers wish to provide the level of support that athletes enjoy at other Division 1 schools.

Alan Brown



Learn about adoption

Do you believe every child deserves a family? We do.

Thousands of children in America live day-to-day moving from home to home, without the love and care of permanent families. November is National Adoption Awareness Month and as we celebrate all forms of adoption as a wonderful way to create or extend families, I would like to draw your attention to a very special group of children—right here in America—who desperately need families.

Today, more than 100,000 children are in foster care through no fault of their own as victims of child abuse, neglect or abandonment, and have been permanently removed from their homes. These children urgently need to move from temporary foster homes into permanent, loving, forever families. We aren’t talking about someone else’s children; we are talking about children in our very own Vermont. In Vermont, there are more than 100 children waiting to be adopted.

The need has never been greater. Children often wait five years or more to be adopted, can move three or more times in foster care, and frequently are separated from siblings. And tragically, tens of thousands of children available for adoption turn 18 and leave the system each year without families.

So, we invite the community to learn, donate, adopt and support the work of organizations like the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption that find children in foster care the forever families that they deserve.

Wanda Audette

Lund’s director of adoption


Brick Church still used for worship

Regarding the Observer’s Nov. 21 front page story, “CVU athlete spurs unprecedented support for Brick Church concert,” I’m not a music buff, but give me the opportunity to sing a Christian song to the glory of the Lord and I’m in heaven.

My point: the first sentence of the article says, “The Old Brick Church … is no longer a place of worship.”

Not so: every Sunday morning, since 1981, excepting when the building was being repaired for lightening (fire) damage, our fellowship has been worshipping the Lord Jesus Christ, mainly in the basement area of the building, being that we are less than 50 in number. We have, at times, used the main floor, also.

Our moniker: Christian Faith Assembly (CFA). Our pastor: John Fresia – 802-893-0049. Mail address: PO Box 400, Williston, VT 05495.

We invite you to come and check us out any Sunday at 10 a.m. For more information, please visit

Al Parsons 


GUEST COLUMN: A bipartisan goal: good constituent service

By Lee H. Hamilton

The rigors of the campaign are still fresh, but for newly elected House members and senators, the hard part is just beginning. Already, they’re inundated with advice on the issues they’ll be facing: the fiscal cliff, crises overseas, how to behave in a highly partisan Congress.

All of this will take time to sort out. But there’s one task I’d advise them to tackle right away, whatever their party: learning how to do constituent services right.

Many years ago, when I was still in the House, I accompanied a senator to a public meeting. A woman approached him afterward to ask for help with a Social Security problem. Irritably, my colleague told her that he didn’t have time; he had important policy issues to deal with. I was stunned. So was the woman. I have never forgotten the look of helpless chagrin on her face.

Self-interest alone would have counseled a more helpful approach. I ran into someone from my district once who told me, “I don’t agree with you most of the time, but I’m voting for you because you take good care of your constituents.” People notice. And they care. That senator who rebuffed the plea for help? He was defeated in the next election.

But there’s more to it than just currying favor with the electorate. Good constituent service, I believe, is crucial to being a good elected representative.

There’s no mystery why. The federal government is vast, complex, and confusing, and it touches far more lives than any private company. Sometimes it’s a model of efficiency, but too often it’s agonizingly slow to get off a passport or approve a disability payment. And it makes mistakes—a transposed Social Security number, a wrong address, a benefit miscalculation—and then drags its heels fixing them. Its rules and regulations can be hard to navigate. Ordinary Americans get caught up in the gears, and they need help.

As a member of Congress, you can learn a lot by paying attention. Though it’s a habit for legislators to think of policy-making and constituent service as two distinct halves of their responsibilities, that’s not always the case. The problems people are having keep you alert to what might need to be done legislatively. If there’s a huge backlog of disability cases at the Social Security Administration, for instance, or a surge of veterans having trouble getting their benefits, that ought to be a warning sign. Workers in those agencies may be struggling to remain efficient, or they may need additional staff and resources—either way, it bears investigating and, possibly, legislative action.

The challenge, of course, is that helping constituents with their problems isn’t easy. It demands a commitment of staff and time. It means being careful to avoid even a hint that a constituent’s party affiliation matters. It requires walking a fine line with the bureaucracy—which can sometimes resent congressional “meddling”—so that you’re helpful without going overboard on a constituent’s behalf. Sometimes, the people you’re helping don’t tell the whole story. The best you can do is ask for fair and prompt consideration for their pleas, without putting yourself at cross-purposes with either the law or the federal officials you work with daily.

But none of this is a reason to downplay constituent service. Because the need is endless. I used to set up shop in a local post office in my district, and was constantly amazed at how many people would turn out. They needed help getting their mail delivered properly, or tracking a lost Social Security check. They were having problems with the IRS, or getting enrolled for veterans benefits. They got confused by the overlapping responsibilities of different levels of government, and needed help finding the right person to call.

The point is, these problems are constant. I’ve been out of public office for over a decade, yet the other day a neighbor stopped me on the street to ask for help speeding up a visa application. Americans need a point of contact with their government. If you’re a public official—or even an ex-public official—get used to the idea that you’re it.

Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.