U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall talks at the Corner Stop Cafe in Lawrenceville, during the August edition of “Out to Lunch”
WHAT WE ATE
Pot roast with collard greens and squash casserole, sweet tea
Pot roast with collard greens and mashed potatoes, water
(Congressman took the bill for himself and his aide)
Baked chicken with green beans and squash casserole, sweet tea
Editor’s note: “Out To Lunch” is a periodic feature that allows readers a chance to learn about the people behind the titles in Gwinnett County through a lunchtime conversation with a member of the GDP staff. The subject picks the place, we pick up the tab and then share the conversations that occur during the meal.
In Washington D.C., a Georgia staple takes a turn to the high-brow with a five-star restaurant based on the South’s favorite onion.
But instead of pronunciation based on the Georgia town, even the name takes a pretentious air, as “Vi-dah-lia,” says U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall.
He’s never been.
Instead, the local Republican sits down during this edition of the Gwinnett Daily Post’s “Out to Lunch” at Lawrenceville’s Corner Stop Cafe, noshing on pot roast and swigging sweet tea — well, iced tea with Sweet N Low.
Settling down between a tour of a local non-profit and a slate of constituent meetings at his district office, Woodall talked politics over a plate of food, flanked by aide Martin Wattenbarger.
Woodall flew back home a the beginning of August, as part of the annual legislative summer break. In his first week, he attended a church revival, met with veterans, talked with bankers about home loans. He had speaking engagements with local Rotary, Kiwanis and Commerce clubs.
“We have so much to be proud of. Not that we don’t have problems here, but we have really good people working on those problems, and yes, those can be models for place across the country,” Woodall said of his listening tour.
The August break is “not for relaxation,” the congressman said, adding that the history dates back to agrarian harvest times and the unpleasant D.C. temperatures.
In recent years it has allowed him and other dignitaries to take extended trips to visit troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, but Woodall said he decided to forego the government expense at a time when the military is seeing sequestration cuts.
Instead, Woodall plans to work in his district, visit with constituents and see what he can get done in Lawrenceville … and maybe slip away for a weekend to St. Simons with his parents and sister and nieces.
In the future, the traditional break from Washington could go away altogether, Woodall said, since congressman in his “freshman class” two and a half years ago made a point of creating a calendar that allows for more time at home.
“That has been an incredibly affective pattern because no longer can anyone say, ‘I’d love to come to your Rotary Club because I’m too busy serving you to actually come and visit with you.’ That excuse is gone,” said of the calendar that has included two weeks of congressional sessions then a week of time in the local districts. “I learn so much here that is valuable for folks to hear there. I would like to see this relic of past times — the August district work period — to go away (in favor of the new schedule) … It’s hard to find that balance of listening to people and serving people.”
Beginning the meal with a blessing and ending it with a “dessert” of squash casserole, Woodall talked about the day-to-day business of being a congressman, working for constituents with issues with veterans benefits, Social Security and other problems. As a former chief of staff for his predecessor John Linder, Woodall said those basic duties make up his most rewarding work.
Conversation turned from his father’s own healthy living healthcare plan to the impending implementation of the national “Obamacare” plan, which Woodall expects will be delayed when people realize how much costs could rise.
Even though the federal seats are a year away from election, Woodall is grateful to stay in the background amidst scramble for an open U.S. Senate seat, since Saxby Chambliss plans to retire at the end of 2014. And the congressional seats that have opened up because of politicians hoping to move to the higher Chamber.
Neighboring U.S. House District 10, which includes a portion of Gwinnett, has a half-dozen GOP contenders, including local state Rep. Donna Sheldon and former Congressman Mac Collins’ son Mike. After district lines changed, pastor Jody Hice is attempting a second congressional run, after being among the slate that ran during Woodall’s first election.
Woodall recently met with Hice, he noted, but he is happy to keep out of the race until closer to time.
And all of those congressmen running for Senate, Woodall noted, could mean that in 2015 his seniority among the Georgia GOP delegation could sky-rocket.
When it was time for the bill to come, Woodall declined the GDP’s usual offer to pick up the tab, saying that could land one of us in prison. So we split the check.
And Woodall headed back to the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center for another meeting.
So far, after two-and-half years in office, he has never turned down a request for a meeting, Woodall said proudly.
“We said when we got here, for pete’s sake, that when someone asks for a meeting and we say we don’t have time, then we will have gotten too big for our britches,” Woodall said, adding a joke on the end. “They (constituents) are the boss, so don’t think this (lunch) is something special.”