Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Introducing Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee

For those that don't know Sheila Jackson Lee (the Congresswoman who can't be bothered to get off her phone to listen to her constituents), here is some info on one of our finer representatives in congress:
Jackson Lee is routinely chauffeured the one short block to work--in a government car, by a member of her staff, at the taxpayers' expense.

Take, for example, the morning of December 6, a balmy Thursday when the temperature in Washington would climb to 73 degrees. At 8:43, a blue Ford Contour with government plates--the car Jackson Lee's office has leased--pulled up to her building. For the next 23 minutes, the aide impeded traffic on one of Capitol Hill's busiest streets, pulling in and out of alleys and reserved parking spaces. Finally, at 9:06, Jackson Lee appeared.

The aide jumped from the car and hurried to help the congresswoman. First she opened the rear door so Jackson Lee could deposit a bag and sheaf of papers; then she opened the passenger door. But Jackson Lee took this opportunity to place a phone call, and the aide stood patiently by. After a minute or so of this, Jackson Lee determined she was ready to climb in. But something was wrong. An uncomfortable moment passed as the congresswoman and aide stared at each other. Of course! Jackson Lee's coat and shawl were still on!

The aide sprang to remove the garments, and Jackson Lee gave an exasperated look. After Jackson Lee climbed in, the aide gently closed the door, scurried around the rear of the car to the driver's seat, and they were off to the office, a block away. It was such a short trip, Jackson Lee didn't even bother to fasten her seatbelt.

For years, Jackson Lee tormented the airline's office in Washington that handles VIP booking. When Congress was in session, her staff would make several reservations early in the week for return flights to Houston. After the House finished its business that week, she would grab whichever flight was most convenient and scrap the others. But this kind of rule-bending put the carrier in a difficult position. Not only was Jackson Lee only paying coach fare (she was routinely bumped up to first class), but Continental was unable to sell the premier seats she didn't use.

Meanwhile, airline crew regularly complained about Jackson Lee's rudeness. Continental managers, however, feared reprisal and saw little they could do. "After medicine, airlines are the most heavily regulated industry in the United States," says a lobbyist for a Texas-based carrier. "Every airline feels they have to kiss up to Congress; they always feel their livelihood is in Congress's hands."

But in February 1998, things finally came to a head. On a flight home to Houston, Jackson Lee became enraged when flight attendants failed to produce the seafood special she liked. "Don't you know who I am?" she reportedly thundered. "I'm Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. Where is my seafood meal? I know it was ordered!"

That outburst prompted a phone call to Jackson Lee from Rebecca Cox, vice president of Continental's government affairs office in Washington and the wife of California Republican Chris Cox. The message? Straighten up and fly right, or don't fly with us.

Jackson Lee got back on board with Continental, but not for long. In May 1999, as Continental flight 1961 prepared to leave Reagan National Airport in Washington, Jackson Lee became flustered when she couldn't find her purse. Thinking she had left it in the boarding area, she went back to search for it. Meanwhile, the plane pulled away from the gate. Moments later, her purse was found onboard. According to aviation lobbyists at the time, Jackson Lee demanded that she be let back on the flight. Airline employees explained that FAA rules prohibit planes from returning to the gate once they've taxied away, but Jackson Lee was unconvinced. She accused the gate staff of racism and demanded to see their supervisor, who was a black woman. Her purse, meanwhile, was unceremoniously dropped out of the cockpit window and ferried back to her.

A year earlier, at a March 2, 1998, reenactment of the march on Selma, an irate Jackson Lee called her scheduler in D.C. demanding to know why she hadn't been given a ride to the event by the organizer, as a white colleague had been. According to the aide--who quit after just a month and a half on the job--Jackson Lee shrieked, "You don't understand. I am a queen, and I demand to be treated like a queen."

Queen Lee is a real treat.

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