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Rep. Buerkle says serving in Congress was an honor

Gage Skidmore

Last week, the Syracuse area saw returning Democrat Congressman Dan Maffei sworn-in and Republican Representative Ann Marie Buerkle leave office. WRVO's Catherine Loper spoke with Buerkle about the ups and downs of her time in Washington, D.C.

When Congresswoman Ann Marie Buerkle returned from the nation's capital to Syracuse in the wee hours of Thursday morning, she left behind many things -- a grueling election ending in a recount, one term in Congress, an expensive and bitter second campaign in a newly drawn district, and a defeat that did not end until days after election night. But throughout it all, she says, she stood by her principles.

"I really don’t have any regrets. I mean, hindsight is always easy to look back, but I really don't," the congresswoman said.

Buerkle says the two years she spent in Congress felt like it went by very quickly, but what she is most proud of is how accessible and responsive to the community she and her staff tried to be, which she identified early on in her term as her number one goal.

"We were very engaged in the community, whether it was town halls, or mobile town hall units or community events or meetings, we just were really embedded in the  community, and got to know this community very well. And I think that's what I'm most proud of," she said.

Buerkle believes one of her biggest accomplishments of her time in Congress is the work she did as chairwoman of the House Veterans affairs subcommittee on health.

"Raising awareness of the issues and the obstacles of what veterans face when they leave active duty. And that's something that this country has really got to do a better job with," said Buerkle. "Because the transition from active duty to retirement, or leaving the military, is not seamless. It's fraught with a lot of significant issues that the veterans face, either now or down road when they have health issue."

Proud is a word Buerkle uses often when describing her time in office. But as far as the campaign goes, misrepresented is how she feels her political opponents treated her.

"Oh I was targeted from day one. There was no misunderstanding there," said Buerkle. "There was just disbelieve that I had won the seat to begin with. For two years I've been targeted. And I believe the whole campaign was to paint me as an extremist, which was what was done."

The 2012 election for the 24th congressional district will go down as the most expensive campaign in central New York history. But what some of her constituents may not remember is that Buerkle made history as the first woman elected to the House of Representatives from the Syracuse area.

"It was really, and I've said this, such an honor to be the congresswoman from this area and the first female," Buerkle said. "I really believe that women bring a different perspective, and bring a perspective where they're better problem solvers, they're no so ego driven as the men folk are, and really could begin to address some of these problems.

Buerkle was consistently rated by independent watchers as one of the most conservative members of Congress. She was one of the majority of Republicans in the House who voted against last week's legislation to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff, a vote she says stuck by her principles of lower taxes and less government. And she's passionate that the current atmosphere in Washington is not good for the country.

"That we go from one crisis to another is reprehensible and it's just not a good way to govern this country," she said, "And that just seems to be the mood down there."

But despite that assessment of the politics of the moment, she says she does leave the door open to entering the political realm again.

"I'm looking forward to spending more time in here in upstate, getting back involved with some of my charities I've worked for and worked with, spending more time with family. And I will consider all the options, and certainly running again is one of the options," said Buerkle.

Right now, however, she said she simply wants to thank the residents of her district whether they voted for her or not.

"I just considered it one of the greatest honors of my life to be in Congress. I just loved every minute of it, I loved the interaction I had with the district, with the people here, the great people in upstate New York. And I just loved it - loved the legislative part of it.  But it isn’t my identity," said Buerkle. "I'm so sad that I lost race, I'm disappointed, of course, but it doesn’t change who I am.  I just consider myself so fortunate to have had last two years and that experience. I just loved the job, the loved the people, loved what we were able to do and I will miss it very much."

For a longer interview with Ann Marie Buerkle, see Grant Reeher's latest Campbell Conversations interview in which Buerkle reflects back on the race and her career in Congress, and speculates about her possible political future.