Former U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon served as the chairman of the House of Representatives Science and Technology Committee.
U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon served his hometown of Murfreesboro and the people of the 6th District for more than 25 years.
Earlier this week, his career came to a close with the commencement of the 112th Congress.
Gordon, who announced his retirement in December 2009, leaves behind a long record of quiet dedication to constituent services and legislation he says always came from home.
“My experience has taught me no one has a monopoly on good ideas,” Gordon told supporters in one of his last e-mail messages as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
For many of those who worked for Gordon’s office through the years, it’s the stories on the phone or in letters and e-mail that dedicated them to making government work for the people.
“Sometimes a bureaucracy needs a road map,” Field Representative Sean Gilliland told the Post. “They don’t know where to go or what to do, and we were their road map, and that was the biggest way we could be helpful.”
Like many of Gordon’s staffers, Gilliland recounts several stories that summed up their office’s dedication to ordinary problems government is often ill equipped to handle.
“There was a homeless veteran who was kicked out of a motel, and we talked with him and found out he lost his veteran pension because of a $1,200 debt to the Veterans Administration from 1978,” Gilliland said. “After our investigation, the VA forgave the $1,200 and started his pension again. He went from being homeless to a being a veteran on a pension and living in an apartment.”
Gordon’s office often took on bureaucracy for what seemed to be impossible feats for constituents across the district.
“Bart told me one time the second best answer is ‘no,’ but at least you get an answer,” long time staffer Jimmy Stubblefield said. “With the government sometimes just to get a decision or to get the bureaucracy to respond to folks was really important to him.”
Stubblefield recounted one occasion when a school field trip to Paris almost didn’t happen when the chaperon discovered his passport was expired the day before the trip.
“The trip wasn’t going to happen for all those kids, so we were able to get him worked out where he flew to New York and got a special issuance and were able to get his passport hours before they were scheduled to depart.”
In between helping constituents navigate the federal government, Gordon worked to co-author and sponsor hundreds of bills that helped his district and beyond.
The Family Medical Leave Act Gordon co-authored provided unpaid leave for 12 work weeks to employees who needed to care for their family.
The America COMPETES Act Gordon co-authored invests $33.6 billion in science, technology and math programs aimed at making our nation’s workforce competitive with investments made by competing countries.
Then, there are countless pieces of legislation Gordon sponsored or co-sponsored: Civil War Battlefield Preservation Act of 2009, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Adoption Tax Relief Guarantee Act, Social Security Fairness Act, Military Spouses Residency Relief Act, TRICARE Continuity of Coverage for National Guard and Reserve Families Act, Disabled Veterans Tax Termination Act, and hundreds more.
Local residents will benefit for years from the work Gordon did to help fund or improve the quality of life in our community.
“The Discovery Center at Murfree Spring, the Greenways, improvements at Oaklands (Historic House Museum), the expansion of the (Stones River) National Battlefield, all of that will be a long and lasting legacy to Bart not just in Murfreesboro but across the district,” Stubblefield said.
Gordon often connected with people in his district his legislation would help, and that made an impression with voters young and old.
Rutherford County Democratic Party Chairman Jonathon Fagan remembers getting involved in politics at an early age wanting to help average people the same way he saw Gordon helping.
“I was about 13 years old, and Bart Gordon came to my father’s firm in Cookeville to speak about small business investments,” Fagan said. “To me, he cared about my family, and he cared about small businesses back home.”
Kent Syler has been with Gordon the longest, having served as his administrative assistant in the early 80s when Gordon served as the Tennessee Democratic Party Chair and later in Washington as Gordon was elected in 1985 to fill Al Gore’s open seat.
“It’s obviously bitter sweet moments in your life,” Syler added. “You don’t work at something for 30 years and walk away from it without some sadness.”
Syler noted most people might not remember the big stuff that protects their families or makes life better behind the scenes.
Syler said it’s the personal interactions and things they did for people that will be remembered the most.
“I was at a Christmas party the other night and ran into a gentlemen that was one of the first cases I ever worked on,” Syler recalled. “He was in an older neighborhood with mature trees TVA wanted to cut down. We were able to save those trees.”
Syler and other staffers said Rep. Dianne Black (R-Gallatin) will continue to take constituent calls with the same care and attention Gordon’s staff has over the years.
Staffers encouraged anyone with an open case to follow up directly with the agency in question or with Black’s office. Black took office Monday and the 112th Congress convened Wednesday.