Stephanie Tubbs Jones: Keeping Congress Honest

Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-OH) is the first black woman to represent Ohio in Congress. In January 2007 she was named chairwoman of the House ethics committee. She tells NPR's Farai Chideya that new ethics rules should staunch the excesses of the last Congress. The following are highlights from their conversation:

On bringing sweeping ethics reform to Congress: "This is what the American public wanted, and this is only the beginning of some of the work that we're going to do to assure the American public that members of Congress are acting ethically. But I do need to qualify my statement and say this to you: There are few members of Congress that have been involved in this activity, not all 535 members of Congress. And as the new chair of the ethics committee, I am going to work to make sure that the people of America have confidence in the work of the ethics committee and members of Congress."

On the influence of government lobbyists: "You know, people make the term 'lobbying' out to be a terrible term. Just because you're a lobbyist doesn't mean you're a terrible person. We all are lobbying on various issues. ... Lobbying is a position of merit. It is a job that is well respected. And what these rules will do will cut out those who believe that they could buy a member of Congress, or they could buy another elected official. You can't buy me for a dinner. You can't buy me for a trip. And other members of Congress are steadfast in that position, as well. But so that there's clarity on the whole piece, we're restricting those heights of interactions. But there will still be interactions among lobbyists and members of Congress. And I will say to the American public, it's not a bad thing. The interaction is not bad."

On choosing a career in politics: "You know what, I'm not sure when it happened. But as a young woman, a high schooler, I worked in the campaign of Carl Stokes, the first African-American mayor of a major American city, which was in 1967. And then the next year in 1968, I worked in the campaign of my predecessor, Louis Stokes — first African-American member of Congress from the state of Ohio, who chaired the Ethics Committee as well. Just a wonderful, wonderful role model. So I got involved in their campaigns, but at the same time I was a '60s girl. So we were involved in issues impacting the African-American community, tutoring young people in the city. I was involved with CORE [the Congress of Racial Equality], the Urban League, the NAACP, Operation Big Vote. But at the time, I didn't necessarily view it as my entrée into politics, but I guess that really — that's what it was."

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