Who let the Wally out?

If you ever want to see Congressman Wally Herger, R-Marysville, let his guard down, you have to see him hold a town hall meeting with a group of schoolchildren. I watched him take on fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders at Jay Partridge Elementary on Jan. 16 and was impressed by both him and his young constituents. Speaking in a cafeteria decorated like a pirate ship, Herger came across as, if not “cool,” at least a good guy. Here’s why:

Student: “Do you have a wife?”

Herger: “Yes, her name is Pamela. We have nine children.”

Students: [in awe] “Wow! Oooh!”

Student: “Who’s the head of all of you guys?”

Herger: “That would the speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert from Illinois.”

Student: “How old are you?”

Herger: “56.” [This drew more awe than the wife report.]

Student: “Have you met the president?”

Herger: “Yes.”

Student: “Have you ever shaken hands?”

Herger: “Yes.” [He has a picture of the event in his office.]

Student: “How much do you get paid?”

Herger: [After minimal hemming and hawing.] “It’s about $150,000 a year, I think.”

Student: “What were your thoughts during the Sept. 11 attacks?”

Herger: “It was a scary day. The Pentagon is right next door to where I work. It was a lot of shock. It was hard to believe it.”

Student: “What’s your full name?”

Herger: “Walter William Herger Jr.—so maybe you can see why I go by Wally.”

Student: “Are you a millionaire?” [This was my personal favorite, because you could see Herger weighing property values and such in his head.]

Herger: “I think I am rated as one, even though I don’t have that much money. I guess the answer would be, technically, yes.”

Student: “Why do we have SATs?” [He meant the Stanford-9 standardized achievement tests.]

Herger: “I don’t think I ever liked takings tests, [but] it shows us what we’re learning so we know where to improve.”

Student: “What kind of car do you drive?”

Herger: “A Ford Expedition. It’s a four-wheel-drive so I can go in the mountains.”

Student: “What’s your favorite football team?”

Herger: “The 49ers…” [Interrupted by boos, the consummate politician adds:] “…and the Raiders.”

Student: [Looking off to the side at sturdy, good-postured Field Representative Alex Oehler.] “Do you have any bodyguards?”

Herger: “No. Only the president, vice president, cabinet and leader of the House have bodyguards.”

Student: “Why did Afghanistan bomb us?”

Herger: “It wasn’t the country itself; it was terrorist groups that just live there. I really don’t know exactly why people do terrible things. … There are always bad people in the world, but most people are good people and don’t want to do terrible things like that.”

Student: “Do you like your job?”

Herger: “Yes.”

Student: “Do you have any pets?”

Herger: [This answer seems to be more embarrassing than the millionaire one. He talks about how he grew up on a farm, milked cows every morning and then…] “My wife has a poodle.”

Student: “Do you like cats or dogs better?” [A tension hangs in the air—this answer is decidedly more critical than the 49ers-Raiders rivalry.]

Herger: “Dogs.” [Boos mixed with sighs of relief.]

The questions continued for almost an hour, from “Can you name all the presidents?” to “When is your birthday?”

Herger, who came to the school after students in Grant Oliver’s class wrote him letters, also presented members of the student council with a flag that had flown over the Capitol.