WASHINGTON - On her final day of voting after a decade in Congress, Allyson Y. Schwartz reflected.
The Montgomery County Democrat sat in the Rayburn Room, just off the House floor, and discussed her proud moments, her future plans, and the divisions that have come to define Congress.
Schwartz, 66, spoke at the end of a long congressional career that followed a stint in the state Senate and concluded after an unsuccessful run for governor of Pennsylvania this year.
Buzzers rang to signal the coming votes, some of the last for her and U.S. Reps. Jim Gerlach (R., Pa.) and Jon Runyan (R., N.J.), who are also leaving Congress.
Their terms end Jan. 3, but their last votes were Dec. 11.
Below are some of Schwartz's comments. Interviews with Runyan and Gerlach appeared Sunday and Monday.
Question: What are you most looking forward to after Congress?
Answer: I'm proud of the work I've done and it will take me a little time to wind down from 10 years here [and] 14 in the state Senate.
What I'm most looking forward to is being able to continue to work on many of the issues I care about, particularly in the area of health and human services, both in Philadelphia and, maybe, nationally.
Q: You have a fellowship at Penn. Will that be full-time?
A: That's part-time. There are some other things in the offing that are in that realm.
Q: What are you proudest of?
A: My first bill, which was for veterans [it offered incentives to employers to hire veterans]. To be able to do that was very meaningful.
And then being involved in the health-care laws was certainly very important, because I could bring my experience as a state senator working on health policy.
We got greater access to primary care, we got children with preexisting conditions, and adults are no longer excluded from health insurance, and we have millions of Americans benefiting.
So, to be here during those debates, be very much a part of those debates, and being able to find a way to move that forward, has been very important.
Q: You don't have regrets about the Affordable Care Act, as some Democrats have expressed?
A: This is a very major piece of legislation. We need to look at what works best and what doesn't, and to make sure that it is working well, that's our first priority and then to continue to build on it.
I do think it is a major step forward for us in this country, getting accessible affordable health coverage.
Q: Is there anything you'll miss?
A: Being a member of Congress, you're able to get things done for your district.
The main streets in Ambler and Lansdale look different today because of local leadership, civic leadership, but also because I was to be able to be directly helpful, so I know that I've actually gotten things done.
What I will miss is being engaged in such a variety of issues and ways to impact those issues and working with colleagues from all over the country who do bring different perspectives, not just Republicans and Democrats, but regionally.
Q: Do you think you will ever run for office again?
A: It's not my plan to run for office again.
Q: Has Congress changed a lot in your time here?
A: It's become increasingly difficult, particularly, to have the public debate on serious issues that are not heavily rhetoric on one side or the other.
(The interview had a brief pause while Schwartz left for a procedural vote.)
Q: What has caused that partisan divide?
A: Several things, but primarily these are districts that are more Republican, more Democratic, there are fewer swing districts.
And it's also because there is - I'll be partisan here, I guess - the Republicans are more, I believe, really very right-wing Republicans, and you see it in the Republican conference. They are a force within that conference and move the debate much further to the right.
Q: What about outside groups? Have they gained more influence?
A: I'm not sure I would say that.
In the campaign it's a different question. I do think that there are the issues of money and independent expenditures and interest groups that can plunk in millions of dollars in the race. That does have some influence on who gets elected.
But I think here, interest groups come visit us - and that's our choice who we see and talk to and listen to and how we weigh the decisions.
Q: What can be done to make Congress more productive?
A: We shall see. The Republicans have pledged to be less partisan and to end gridlock. What I hope it means is that they will actually attempt to pass legislation that could become law.
Because simply passing legislation that is a statement, a political statement, vs. something that can become law, does not actually advance that ability to find the common ground to get something done.
Q: Do you think people are turned off by Congress and declining to seek public office?
A: A lot of voters are discouraged by Congress and just elected officials generally because of some of the sharpness of the tone and the feeling that things don't get done.
I headed recruitment [in 2012]. We [Democrats] were coming off [the losses] of 2010. I said, 'It's going to be hard to recruit people to run.'
And it turns out it wasn't, and that's because there are good people of all political persuasions, good people who come from a wide range of backgrounds, who are willing to step forward because they believe in this country. And that's really quite wonderful.
Q: Do you have any advice to new members?
A: There are lots of ways to be a member of Congress.
Some people pay more attention to the districts. Some people become more expert in some areas and some become generalists. Some want smaller committees, some people want the important committees.
You need to think about who you are and who you want to be.
What are your guiding principles: politically, ideologically, for the district?
How will you first represent your district? And then, how will you participate in the major debates of the day and contribute and think about not only your own district but the nation? That would be my advice.
And learn from your colleagues, there are a lot of very good people. It's been an honor to serve.
To read interviews with all three representatives, go to www.philly.com/ExitInterviewEndText