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Congressman fields questions from kids

"Congressman Jack Metcalf answers questions from an interested audience at the Shared Schooling Co-op.Jim Larsen / staff photoThe audience may have been young, but the questions they pitched were hard enough to make some seasoned members of the press corps look like softball players.Congressman Jack Metcalf, R-Langley, was greeted by some 35 students at the Shared Schooling Co-op on Wednesday. He was invited by U.S. geography teachers Patti Craig and K.K. Iversen. The kids ranged in age from about 8 to 12 and had obviously done their homework beforehand. After all, it's not every day a member of the United States Congress visits your class.Metcalf was asked about everything from his China trade beliefs to his role as a Congressman, family information, and his reaction to the dead whale that recently washed up on his beach just north of Langley.Standing in front of the room with aide Norma Smith, the silver-haired Metcalf was dressed in island casual: cowboy boots, gray pants, and a blue sweater pulled over a flannel shirt.The kids seemed most interested when he was talking about his wife Norma, their four grown daughters, their 11 grandchildren, and the now-infamous whale. When talk turned to trade policy a few yawns were unavoidable, but generally the students were very attentive.Metcalf revealed a lot about his life in the other Washington. He and Norma generally dine in their small apartment. When she's gone he usually finds a free dinner at one of the receptions members of Congress hold for lobbyists. There's wonderful food, you talk to people, and they're very happy to have another Congressman, he said.In what little free time Metcalf has in Washington, he and Norma go to an occasional movie or visit a daughter who lives there. When Norma's back on Whidbey, I go to the office and work -- there's always things to do.A boy asked about the hardest issue he's had to deal with, and Metcalf responded that at the present time it's this vote on China. Congress is considering whether to extend more free trade to China.Metcalf said he'll buck the opinion of two-thirds of the people in my district, and vote against liberalizing trade with China. He noted Chinese threats against Taiwan and efforts to upgrade its missile system with, Metcalf charged, the help of the Clinton Administration.It hasn't been an easy decision. At times, it's really, really hard, said Metcalf.When a sympathetic girl asked if being a Congressman is ever fun, Metcalf said sometimes it's exhilarating. He said he enjoys it when I take things I believe in, whether anyone agrees with me or not, and express those things on nationwide TV. It was a reference to the C-Span cable TV camera. In addition, he told the kids, he finds satisfaction in introducing laws and trying to get them passed.Metcalf kept to his long-held belief in small government when a boy asked about his reaction to I-695, which slashed the motor vehicle excise tax in this state. Recalling his days in the state Legislature, Metcalf said, Whenever they needed money they just raised the tax on cars. And while Metcalf understands the desire for more money -- they see things that need to be done and want to do them -- he said elected officials take more than they probably should. I just like the idea of once in a while slapping the government down.A girl asked, What was it like to see a whale washed up on your beach?Metcalf, the champion of the anti-whaling cause in Congress, replied, It was sad. I'm a great defender of whales -- when it washed up on my beach, maybe it just felt 'here's a friend.'The Metcalfs hired a tug to haul the whale out to a buoy, from where the Army Corps of Engineers took it to deep water and sank it. They hadn't yet received the bill for the tug. It may cost a thousand dollars, Metcalf said.After nearly an hour of questioning, Metcalf patiently posed for an individual picture with with each of the children.He was a dear, said Nancy Thompson, school director. It was really well done."

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