Harry Mitchell is still new enough in Congress that he grins with delight when he describes getting to go through stop signs when riding in motorcades, or being allowed to walk into the White House without having to pass through a metal detector.
And all those statues in the U.S. Capitol still impress him.
“Every day I go to work in a museum,” he said Friday to a high school government class, the first time that he had been in a local classroom since taking office in January.
The Tempe Democrat, former mayor of that city and retired 28-year high school government teacher gave some insight into the workings of the federal government to about 60 government students at Mountain Pointe High School in Ahwatukee Foothills.
It’s hard to not appreciate seeing someone in high office return to his or her roots. It would be like seeing Jimmy Carter in a peanut field or Harry Truman blocking hats in a haberdashery, giving the sense that their former lines of work would not be beneath them.
Not surprisingly, Mitchell started off by offering a definition, as teachers often do.
“Politics occurs whenever there is conflict — and the way you solve conflicts is a political process,” he said.
In November, Mitchell defeated a six-term incumbent in a tight race. He won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives that his former contemporary, the popular late former mayor of Scottsdale, Herb Drinkwater, didn’t want when it was essentially offered to him on a platter in the late 1980s.
Today Mitchell represents both Scottsdale and Tempe, Fountain Hills and parts of Chandler, Mesa and Phoenix.
As expected, he encouraged the high school seniors to exercise their upcoming right to vote for the candidates who best represent their concerns as young people.
“Someone’s going to get elected,” Mitchell said. “You might as well participate.”
American history has several examples of idealists who, once elected, slowly but surely succumbed to the realities of politics, one of the first being that there is often little room in it for idealism.
After more than a couple of decades at Tempe City Hall and the Arizona Senate, Mitchell remains an idealist, but he’s not wide-eyed. His long career surely taught him plenty about politics and human nature.
Not that he’s incapable of dodging a direct answer, however. When a student asked his view on abortion, he said that he thought it was a “state issue,” and said no more.
Still, Mitchell doesn’t display the veiled narcissism so often seen in politicians.
They also say holding their jobs is a privilege, but to Mitchell, that’s actually true.
“When I first ran for office, I wasn’t mad at anybody,” he said to the students. ”I didn’t have any axes to grind. I wanted to serve.”
Let’s hope that by the next election, Mitchell won’t change his outlook one bit.