Del. Congressmen Keeping Connected to Home By Commuting - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Del. Congressmen Keeping Connected to Home By Commuting


WILMINGTON, Del.- Perhaps no other American politician is more connected to Amtrak in people's minds than Vice President Joe Biden.

You probably know he commuted on the train to Washington, D.C., nearly every work day of much of his 36 years as a U.S. senator for Delaware. What you may not know is the state's entire congressional delegation continues that tradition today.

Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons and Rep. John Carney all do it. It is about two hours for them front door to office door. That's a manageable commute. But it's more than the average person would want to make daily.

It is just about 7:15 on a Thursday in February as the delegation arrives on the platform at Wilmington's train station. They board the Northeast Regional and are soon headed for Washington. And because the men take the train, commute time can be work time.

"The best quiet time I have, until I get home at night, is on the train," Carper said. "It's a very productive time for me."

"Most of the time I do reading," Carney said. "I'll do a lot of communications with staff through email. I'll also check out the posts we've gotten on Facebook."

Sen. Coons sometimes use the time to record YouTube video answers to constituent letters and emails. He calls it "Correspondence from the Commute."

The open work time, though, is just an added benefit of what the men agree is a necessary system to meet one part of the expectations unique Delawareans have for elected officials - extreme accessibility.

"Town picnics, Boy Scout Courts of Honor, 150th anniversary of a church congregation," Sen. Coons said. "Delawareans expect to see you at events."

"It's partly because of political leaders in the past who have created those expectations - who showed up at events that are important to people individually but not big events, if you will," said Carney.

The men pay for the majority of the commuting out of pocket. But taxpayers do pick up some of the tab. Senate disbursement records from last fiscal year show Carper got $6,300 reimbursed for Delaware to DC travel - and Coons $4,000. House records show for Carney it was $2,700 for "commercial transportation."

All members of Congress get some travel reimbursement. And, loosely compared the amounts for other members, the numbers for Coons, Carney and Carper are relatively small. Take Sen. Max Baucus, D-Montana. His office reported $25,000 for Montana to Washington travel during the same time period.

In addition to the financial costs of commuting, the men agree there are political costs, too.

"Something that the vice president shared with me," Coons said. "The one downside is you miss a lot of events in Washington."

"You don't have the opportunity to meet more informally with your colleagues," Carney said.

"I think you lose something from that," Carper said. "There's not enough interpersonal relationship time with your colleagues."

"I have to invest time in these relationships or I'm not going to be able to do my job for Delaware," Coons said. "But that's at tension with wanting to see my kids every night."

"It's just about comfort and closeness and keeping your family close," Carney said.

That's especially important on a day like this one. It happens be Valentine's Day.

"Before I left the house this morning," Carper said. "I put on the pillow beside her head a Valentine's card with, I thought, a pretty nice note in it. So, she knows she's my girl."

In the end, it's that ability to balance work and personal life that started this tradition, as the clock hits 8:45 a.m., keeps it rolling into Washington today and will likely keep it on that track for years to come.

The congressmen say sometimes their colleagues from far away are a bit jealous of their commute. Representatives from states on the West Coast told WBOC that not being able to go home has its challenges. But each member finds a way to make their particular situation work.

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