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THE STEALTH CONGRESSMAN

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He has busied himself behind the scenes, earning influential positions on the House Veterans Affairs and Armed Services committees and, recently, a place in Roll Call's annual "Obscure Caucus." (Obscurity is an honor, according to the paper--you keep your head down, bring home the bacon and try to avoid the easy sound bite.")

Pat Bosch, a Democrat from Tolleson who lost to Stump in 1982, insists that it's the congressman's laissez faire attitude that secures his reelection every two years. "If you do nothing, you just sort of blend into the woodwork. They [the voters] see his name, they go to the polls and they say, 'Ah yes, I've never heard anything negative about this man. Of course I'm going to vote for him,'" she says.

Clearly a politician from a bygone era, Stump has carved a careful niche for himself away from the spotlight, among the senior, conservative members of Congress he calls his friends. He maneuvers the twisting hallways beneath the Capitol with an ease befuddling to lost tourists, and greets his colleagues heartily--blue-green eyes twinkling with pride.

Stump leans back from his stack of mail and removes his reading glasses to solemnly reflect on his station.

"Only 10,000 people in the history of this country have had this job," he says softly.

@rule:
@body:A phone is ringing. Stump snatches up an extension. "Yello!"
It's 7:20. The sun is up and so is Sonny Montgomery, a Mississippi Democrat with 27 years under his belt at the Capitol. Montgomery and Stump are, in the Arizonan's words, "as close of friends as any guys in the Congress." Montgomery is chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee; Stump is the committee's ranking minority member. The two also serve together on Armed Services and co-founded a regular congressional prayer meeting.

Stump and Montgomery met as fellow Democrats and even started the Boll Weevils, a group of conservative Southern Democrats, like Arizona "pinto" Democrats, who sometimes wind up brokering legislation. They remained friends after Stump moved over to the Republican side.

Unlike most of their colleagues, who roam the House floor, these two can always be found in the same seats--toward the back, across the aisle from one another; their friends gather around them.

For years, Stump and Montgomery have met for breakfast almost every morning in the Longworth Cafeteria, an unassuming public restaurant in the basement of the House office complex. The all-male breakfast group has grown to include other members--mainly conservative Democrats and Republicans from the South. Staffers say it's one of the most influential unofficial gatherings in the House, a group that often includes Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Democratic senator from Colorado, and Kentucky's Bill Natcher, chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

"Damn!" Stump mutters as he approaches the glass doors of the cafeteria and spies two men waiting inside. His schedule for the day--he carries it with him on a card--indicates that constituents would join him for breakfast, but Stump is peeved that his carefully reserved time--time alone with his friends in Congress--will be interrupted.

Always cordial, he greets the men heartily, escorting them through the cafeteria line to a big table in the corner marked "reserved." There they'll eat side by side with Stump's colleagues. Accents around the table are as thick and Southern as the ham gravy on Owen Pickett's plate. Pickett is a Democrat from Virginia. Stump digs into fried eggs, oatmeal with butter, a banana and apple juice. Montgomery pours coffee for everyone.

"Hi, B.S., how ya doin'?" Mike Parker, another conservative Mississippi Democrat, asks from across the table.

Sometimes the breakfast clubbers bargain for votes and fill each other in on important committee activity. Today they're considering their options in the weekly football pool.

@rule:
@body:Last fall, Stump's pal Larry Hopkins, a Kentucky congressman who stepped down in 1992 to make an unsuccessful bid for his state's governorship, made light of Stump's appearance. En route with Stump from one building to another, Hopkins called out to crowds of gawking visitors to "make way for Mr. Perot."

With his slight stature and fleshy ears, Stump could easily be mistaken for Perot. When it comes to temperament, though, the similarities end. Stump is a quiet guy til you get to know him, Montgomery drawls: "He dahhsn't git up on the flowah and tawk on every bill, which some mimbahs do. But whin he dahs tawk, mimbahs lissin."

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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at amy-silverman.com.