Interview with the US Congressman John Sarbanes
On the occasion of the webinar “Peaceful Transfer of Power in the US”, hosted by the Dukakis Center at ACT, we had the opportunity to share views with US Congressman John Sarbanes, a prominent member of the Greek American diaspora.
John Sarbanes has represented Maryland’s 3rd Congressional District in the US House of Representatives since 2007. A Democrat like his father Paul, Congressman Sarbanes was educated at Princeton and Harvard Law School and has worked in private practice and in public service since graduating in 1989. He serves currently on the Committee on Energy and Commerce and the Committee on Oversight and Reform and is a member of several congressional caucuses. Following in his father’s footsteps, he has emerged as a solid player on the American political scene, having recently been re-elected to his eight-term in the House of Representatives. Both Sarbanes, father and son, have been firm friends of Greece in Washington, DC, and active supporters of ACT, Anatolia College, and the Dukakis Center.
Mr. Sarbanes stressed the importance of expanding educational opportunities that empower students and benefit society, such as the CTY Greece program, of which he has been a keen supporter. He also emphasized the role that his Greek heritage played in helping him establish his political creed and his perception of civic responsibility.
In September 2013 you spoke at an event at the Johns Hopkins University when Niarchos Foundation, JHU, and Anatolia College launched the Center for Talented Youth in Greece. How can a country like Greece benefit from programs that promote the education of talented students? More generally, what do you believe to be the important components of education at all levels to meet the challenges of the future?
Expanding educational opportunities and providing students with empowering learning experiences can yield tremendous benefits for our economy and our society – in Greece, in the United States, and around the world. Programs like CTY Greece, which not only help enhance the ability of Greece’s best and brightest students to receive a world-class education but also build strong cultural ties between our two nations, are critical tools in our ongoing work to improve the quality of education around the world and build a more equitable and prosperous future for the next generation.
What role did your Greek heritage play in establishing your political beliefs and your thoughts on civic responsibility?
As a Greek American, I take special pride in the democratic traditions that we trace back to the ancient Greeks. That commitment to democracy – to the government of, by, and for the people – has informed and inspired my longstanding effort to advance transformational anti-corruption and clean election reforms in the U.S. Congress with H.R. 1, the For the People Act. This comprehensive package would protect the right to vote, ensure the integrity of American elections, hold elected officials accountable, end the era of big, dark, special money in our politics and build a more equitable, inclusive, and resilient democracy.
On a more personal note, when my grandmother and grandfather left Greece to immigrate to America more than a century ago, they brought with them a deep and lasting commitment to democratic values, which fueled their determination to work hard and succeed. Their convictions – which made a strong impression on me as a child – were passed on to my father, and in turn, passed on to me. Those convictions guide and inform my work in Congress, where I fight tirelessly for Maryland families and to help make life better for all Americans.
What would be your advice to a young person who wishes to pursue a career in politics or public service?
As a first step, I would encourage young people interested in public service to volunteer in their local communities. If you find purpose and passion in that important work, if you enjoy helping fellow citizens and if you find meaningful ways to make a positive difference in your community, then you will build the necessary skills and competencies to thrive in a public service role.
Before I ran to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, I spent many years in the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE), working to make Maryland’s public school system one of the best in the nation. I also worked with public interest organizations in Maryland, like the Public Justice Center (PJC), where I had the opportunity to engage in several projects to protect consumers, provide decent public housing and ensure fair treatment in the workplace. Those experiences in my community not only strengthened my commitment to public service and inspired me to run for office, but also helped me fine-tune the knowledge and tools that I would ultimately lean on to represent Marylanders effectively in Congress.