Delaware's junior senator gives advice to newly-elected senators

By Amy Cherry 4:58pm, November 12, 2012
Sen. Chris Coons (File)
Senator Chris Coons has only been on the hill for two years, but he's already doling out advice for new lawmakers during this week's orientation.

He says it's important to respond to constituents' concerns and requests even before you're sworn in.

"Get on top of the calls and letters, and messages you get by e-mail from home, and so sometimes new senators are tempted to let things settle down first before they start writing letters back, and they really can't afford to. They really can't let that get out of hand," says Coons, who writes 5,000 letters to Delawareans each month.

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Coons also recommends building real friendship with colleagues, even if it means taking the time to travel to their home state.

He tells WDEL about the biggest mistake new senators often make.

"New senators have a hard time getting out of campaign mode, so they spend a lot of time worrying about cable news, and about fundraising and about winning short-term battles, being on top of things. They need to sort of put down their guard a little bit and be willing to get to know each other, particularly to reach across the aisle to work towards some kind of consensus," Coons says.

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Coons says he really had to learn by doing, since he was elected to a four-year term in a special election, he was already passing votes and presiding over the Senate while still in orientation.

"It really was getting thrown into the deep end of the pool," he says.

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But Coons says there is a piece of advice he wishes he had heard more loudly on day one.

"Be less concerned about attending every single committee hearing and briefing and more invested in getting to know the other senators, particularly across the aisle. I started doing that once I'd been in the Senate about six months. But early on, I tried to attend every single committee and subcommittee hearing and briefing, and there's just more than you can ever reasonably get to," Coons says.

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