tv A Conversation with Freshman Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman D-NJ CSPAN May 31, 2015 11:35am-12:01pm EDT
up, and we have not been doing a real good job. host: what would you say are the conditions of roads and bridges are in your state? rep. mike bost: they are rough. i think they patchwork things, because of funding problems. they do not go to the depth that they need to restore them to the point that they were. host: you are one of the several new members of congress with military experience. how long did you serve in the marines? rep. mike bost: i served three years in the marines. i was an electronic specialist radar repairman. i went to san diego for boot camp. then to yuma, arizona, where i did my duty. host: are there any similarities between the military and the house of representatives? rep. mike bost: no, not really and let me explain why. in the -- in the -- in the marine corps, our job was to -- we had immediate obedience to order, and quite often, that would save your life, by the way.
here, we are independents, representing our own district. there might be those that want to rule over and give you orders, because we do have leadership, but leadership has to represent -- recognize that each and every one of us represents our district. host: have you been put in this position where you want to vote one way and are holding your own? rep. mike bost: will that come up at some time? it may. i still have to work with my district, and that may upset some people. because, you know, there are a lot of coal mines, a lot of unions in the district, and i am a union firefighter, but i am a republican, and so it is about jobs, and it is about keeping people working and straightening out economy out and all of the other issues. there are the borders, all of those. host: were you born in your district? rep. mike bost: yes, born and
raised. host: you joined the marines after high school? rep. mike bost: i was driving for the family trucking business and i got hit on a motorcycle by a drunk driver. it was in october and i got hit hard. but i ended up with just a slightly twisted ankle. so i was at home, not in the truck, when the iran hostage situation happened. and at 18 years old, you think you can change everything. i looked it up and waited it out and the next thing i knew i woke up in marine corps boot camp and i was serving. host: so it was the iran hostage situation that motivated you? rep. mike bost: maybe that is why i run into buildings other people run out of. host: looking back to that
incident and where we are with iran now, what are your feelings? rep. mike bost: i am not a big fan of what the president is trying to do as far as his negotiation with iran. they have a history. the history that we have had to deal with. we want to be very careful. i don't -- i want to make sure that whatever we do, we make sure that they don't have a nuclear weapon. so i'm going to be standing very very strong to make sure that my voice is heard through congress that we are not going to go down that path. host: getting back to campaigning a bit. you're in your first term. campaigning never end. tell us about the process of winning reelection to your seat in 2016. has that started? rep. mike bost: it has. it always does. as i said, 20 years in the
illinois general assembly, i ran every two years. you immediately go right back into running in the state of illinois because it is an early primary. it is actually seven months from the time you are sworn in until the time you are circulating petitions to run again. we are going to be out and doing that shortly. it is part of the process. somebody said they felt we should change the constitution. no i don't think so at all. , i think the best way that we can keep our congress in check is that every two years they have to go back to the voters. it is the voters that make that decision. host: do you feel you fit the bill of citizen legislature? rep. mike bost: i'd like to say yes but, in a moment, if they don't want me, i'll go right back to being and doing whether it is the beauty salon or the grandchildren and doing all of those things. but i also think that we need people with experience and that is also a reason why we -- why i don't agree with term limits.
we have a couple states around us that have term limits. what happens is that bureaucrats end up running the government, not those that are elected. i want to be sure that it's the elected people. host: you have a picture of your grandkids in your office. that's it in your office. rep. mike bost: we had to tape one of the newest ones on the top. because birdie was born a week ago sunday. there are 10 of them now. they range in age from 14 to newborn and they all live within six miles of the house. i have three children of my own. they are -- i think they are done now. i don't know. my wife made the statement because there was no more room in the car, she said i think we've had enough. i told her she doesn't make the call. host: have your kids and grandkids been back east to washington? rep. mike bost: they have.
behalf. -- they have. i had one of the greatest lessons. i have a picture of it hanging in my office. my grandson pinned the pin on me for the first time. and it was so -- that was an amazing moment. and he got to sit on the floor with me. host: would you like to see one of your grandkids in office? rep. mike bost: i don't know. that is up to them. my children, i am kind of wondering. my son is 34 now. an attorney. he knows the strain it puts on a life. i'd be very proud of them whatever they do. i don't know that i would definitely push them that way. host: illinois congressman mike bost. thanks for being with us. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2015] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org]
announcer: next, a conversation with congresswoman and freshman bonnie watson coleman. she is the first african-american female in congress. this is about 20 minutes. host: congresswoman bonnie watson coleman of new jersey. what do you think of your time in washington so far? rep. bonnie watson coleman: it is exhilarating and frustrating all at the same time. it has been a great learning curve for me. and it is so wonderful to be sort of in the midst of all of this activity and all of these important policy initiatives and the discussions that are taking place that impact people throughout the country. host: you come from a background of having served in the new jersey legislature. was it easy to transition with staff and issues from that setting to capitol hill? rep. bonnie watson coleman: from the extent that i knew certain kinds of staff. and what the function would be.
that was a pretty easy transition. the experience down here is very different than the one in state government. in state government, you had a predictable committee schedule. you had a predictable employee -- voting schedule. everyone was on the floor when you were voting and debating issues. it is very different down here. you never were called out of a committee meeting into voting and then go back to your committee meeting or resume your duties like you do down here. the rhythm is very different. host: has it been hard to get used to? rep. bonnie watson coleman: no, actually it is kind of exciting. you really don't know what is going to come up next. your senses are heightened. you are ready to move quickly and you know that you have to be prepared in a shorter period of time. you're always in the midst of finding out what you are going to do next. what your approach is going to be, all of that. it's really quite exciting and
interesting. host: we are taping this conversation in a studio in the capital and you came over here i -- by one of the tunnels before we started. you said your experience working here has been like one constant tunnel. explain that. rep. bonnie watson coleman: a lot of times, we move from our office buildings to the capital and we go through the tunnels. everything around you is about the work you are doing down here. and i mentioned that i sometimes feel like i am in a tunnel even when i'm not in there because my whole existence is like being -- is about being here as a legislator, dealing on the floor with our issues, becoming part of a caucus, raising special order hour issues. things of that nature. everything i am doing that surrounds me is about being here. host: has a bit hard for you to -- has it been hard for you to
make the transition personally from being able to go home in the evening as opposed to staying in washington? rep. bonnie watson coleman: my husband is principally retired and is a part-time pastor of a church. so he is with me a lot when i come home at the end of the evening and come to our little tiny apartment. he is there. so i do get a chance to have that consistency in my life and it is very nice. host: you also brought from your office a picture that hangs in your office. who is in the picture? rep. bonnie watson coleman: it's my father. i am one of four and the only girl. i was a daddy's girl. my father served in the legislatoure for a number of years. and i ended up taking his seat. host: how long did he serve? rep. bonnie watson coleman: it -- he served for 10 years. host: what does it say to you
when you see his picture each day? rep. bonnie watson coleman: it says i was raised to be a public servant and that my father and mother always taught all of us to give as much as required. it is, do what you have to do, do it to the best of your ability, and be honest in all things. host: i read a profile of you that said you were an activist legislator or wanted to be. what does that mean? rep. bonnie watson coleman: i believe very strongly in issues. women's rights issues, the civil rights movement, voting rights affordable health care, i recognize the importance of immigration and immigrants to the economy here. and i am very supportive of and recognize that in order for everyone to prosper, we have to concentrate on middle-class values and working-class values. so i'm very supportive of unions. i have always been outspoken. and i have found issues and i have addressed issues that
didn't necessarily have a strong voice. i have taken them on. i guess that with things that i have done with regards to second chance legislation, giving individuals alternatives to incarceration and recognizing the negative impact on our society and our economy on this mass incarceration. those issues are perceived as activism issues. i guess that makes me an activist. host: you just introduced your first bill into congress, it deals with online gun sales. -- ammunition sales. take us through that process. why that issue? how do you move that forward? rep. bonnie watson coleman: that's not my first piece of legislation. but the bill basically makes it difficult or impossible to purchase ammunition anonymously. if you purchase ammunition
online, you will have to go and secure it through a licensed dealer and you will have to show identification. in addition, if someone is purchasing more than 1000 rounds of ammunition within a short period of time, the dealer has the responsibility to report it. it gives us a chance to look into these issues before they become another tragedy. so, i worked on gun legislation. i think it is very important that we reduce the access to guns and ammunition, not not necessarily for sportsmanlike activities or for hunters. i come from a family of hunters so i know, don't mess with their rifles. or they're bowing arrows -- their bow and arrows. but we have a society now that is so very dangerous because ammunition and guns get into the hands of the wrong people.
so coming here and looking at areas that i can move into and extend what i did in new jersey, sort of a natural evolution of who i have been and who i want to be here. host: how are you and your staff moving this forward? rep. bonnie watson coleman: we are first of all trying to get as many people to sign as cosponsors as possible. we have 28 now. it is brand-new. we had a press conference yesterday. we reached out to organizations that are interested, the million mom's march, peace coalition clergy coalition, etc. as well as community activists so that they can reach out to their various networks. so we can get them on board. we have to build up a sense of willingness that this is an important piece of legislation that we can approach it from a bipartisan perspective. this is a bipartisan issue
because the tragedies that have happened with the mass killings, they don't care whether or not you are in an urban, democratic, republican, rural environment. this is something we can all coalesce around and recognize that there is value in limiting the access anonymously to people who want to purchase ammunition. host: what is a typical day like for you here in the house? rep. bonnie watson coleman: it -- there is no typical day. it can start with a meeting or it can start with a reception in the morning or a meeting at 8:00 in the morning that is off-site. it would involve a series of meetings in your office. you would be called out into your committee meetings and your subcommittee meetings. at some point you will be interrupted during that time and you will come over to the house floor and vote and you will be there for a series of votes and then you will go back and either
resume a committee meeting or subcommittee meeting or meetings in your office and you will go back again to the floor to vote again. and then from there, you will either go to a caucus meeting or you will go to a reception or some sort of after our meeting. -- hour meeting. i get home around 9:00 at night. 10:00, maybe. and sometimes around 8:00. it is a pretty full day. host: what keeps you on schedule? rep. bonnie watson coleman: i've got some incredible staff. i have a scheduler. who, obviously, creates the schedule. i have the chief of staff and i've got my legislative director. i'm working with my communications director who always finds an opportunity for me to reach out in this fashion or other fashions. i have a really great staff. host: how is your communication and relationship with democratic leadership? rep. bonnie watson coleman: i
think we have a good communication and relationship. i am new. i'm not necessarily their priority. but i certainly embrace our desire to work for working-class families. and to elevate and protect those who are most vulnerable. i think that is who we are as democrats. that is what we stand for. and i am very comfortable with the direction in which we are being led. host: different scenario from the new jersey legislature in terms of the majority here in the house being republican. how well do you get along with members across the aisle? rep. bonnie watson coleman: when -- when i first came in, i was in the minority. then i was the majority leader in the legislature, i had to work with republicans. i think i have old friends here like leonard lance. i haven't had the opportunity to meet a lot of new legislators from the republican conference
because we don't get to interact as much as except for the committees we are on. host: does it help to have the new jersey delegation, republican or democratic helping guide you through some of the inns and outs of capital hill? rep. bonnie watson coleman: i have relied on mr. palone and mr. payne. they have been very good to me, introducing me to many people and helped me not get lost. and in general, i look to other colleagues. they may not know me as well, but they have been here longer. and they are very open and supportive of new members. and that is good. host: you're the first african-american woman to represent the state of new jersey. what does that mean for you personally? and to the broader community? rep. bonnie watson coleman: for
me, it means that i am the congress representative to women who feel that we haven't had a congress representative for a very long time. so i am in my district and out of my district of going to women's organizations and trying to help women candidates. it is the same with african-americans. fortunately, new jersey has three. we have senator booker, -- , and myself. we have a responsibility to uphold the cause and issues for people like us all over the state of new jersey as well as representing everybody within our district. so it means that i get called to come to suffolk county or cumberland county to meet with a woman's group or an african-american group in addition to doing the things within my district that i do. host: and it is generally the trenton area?
rep. bonnie watson coleman: i -- it goes from mercer to middlesex and a little bit of union. host: you mentioned your dad's service. where and when and why did you get involved in public service? rep. bonnie watson coleman: i have always been involved. i was a career state employee in the executive branch for 28 years before i decided to run for my father's seat. my father died. he always wanted one of his children to take on this position and we always told him no. you already compromise or -- our anonymity. but when he died, it was a way of honoring him and the work he had done. we used to tell him that that was his ministry. so when he died, his seat became available, not because he -- he had already retired, but because the person in his seat
had moved up to the senate. it seemed to be the right time. i had a wonderful experience serving that 15th legislative district. i learned so much. host: how long did you serve in the statehouse? rep. bonnie watson coleman: 15 years. host: back to your district. you explained it geographically. what is it like? what is the typical constituent like? rep. bonnie watson coleman: i have probably the most diverse district in the state of new jersey and maybe even in the country. it is predominately white and nonminority and has a strong south asian population, asian population black population, latino population. it is basically an educated district. and a working-class district.
i go from trenton to princeton to plainfield to old bridge in south brunswick. host: what are some of the typical requests that come up for your constituents that are addressed here on the hill? or back at your district office? rep. bonnie watson coleman: i have a large senior population concentrated in the communities that have been built for seniors. so it is social security and medicare. it is higher education, access to good public education and affordable higher education. and it is jobs, jobs, jobs. and in the urban communities, it is about all of those things and public safety on top of it. host: since have been in congress, tell us about a constituent that has had an issue that you thought to yourself, i'm really glad i am
in this position to be able to do this. rep. bonnie watson coleman: we have had constituents that have had problems with immigration. and we have been able to pull it out of the system and straighten it out for them. we have a very large immigration population in my district. that has been something that we have been very proud of. we have very strong caseloads back in the district for if people who have questions and concerns of that nature. host: long-term, what would you like to accomplish in the house? rep. bonnie watson coleman: i would like to help the house become majority controlled democrat so we can get back to the work of working families and ensuring we have the safety net needed for those in the greatest need, whether it is our elderly or our children. i would like to make sure that we are the progressive nation we have been. that we protect and respect the woman's right to choose, and that we will ensure that the -- that there is unfettered
access to voting. that is what i would like to accomplish. host: how long would you like to serve and do you believe in term limits? rep. bonnie watson coleman: i believe that the terms are limited by the people voting or not voting for you. from that perspective, that is my answer. how long i will serve is dependent upon what god has for me and what the constituents and voters of the congressional district have for me. host: you mentioned that your husband is partly retired. so you are here in washington at least during the workweek. what is it like when you are back in a district work period or on the weekends? rep. bonnie watson coleman: i go to a lot of events and have meetings with constituents that can't make it to washington. i meet with groups and i just try to make sure that i am seen in the community and accessible to those who are supporting me and looking for me to support them in washington. host: is the work you do here in terms of the issues you take
on exponentially harder than the work you were doing in the legislature in new jersey? rep. bonnie watson coleman: it's different in a sense that it has a national and international focus. i was not involved in homeland security when i was in the state legislature, but that is a committee i am on a here. so, obviously i am looking broadly to what is happening around the world and how it affects our homeland security. but basically, the issues are -- the issues may be the same, but they may be looked at differently and the role of government, federal government may be different in them in supporting the state acco