Wolf to students: Stuttering helped him in his effort to reach Congress

Posted: October 26, 2013

The Winchester Star

Rep. Frank R. Wolf

WINCHESTER — As he spoke eloquently to about 200 Handley High School seniors on Friday, Rep. Frank R. Wolf, R-10th, revealed how a speech impediment led him to Congress.

“I wanted to be in Congress since I was in third grade,” he said to the students gathered in the Patsy Cline Theatre.

However, he stuttered, Wolf said, and even today, he still struggles with some words and abhors talking on the phone.

“[Other students] would laugh at me,” he said. “Stuttering was kind of a defining moment for me. It gave me an empathy for the underdog.”

The impediment also made him driven, determined and committed, Wolf said.

He didn’t get elected until his third try in 1980.

These days, Wolf is very passionate about human-rights abuses and religious persecution around the world.

That wasn’t the case when he first got into office. But in 1984, a Democratic colleague from Ohio urged him to go to Ethiopia, which was in the midst of a devastating famine.

“The scenes that I saw were frightening — death all over and I had never seen this,” Wolf said. “That was a life-changing experience because you can read about something, but when you hold a baby in your hands that’s probably going to die through the night ....”

The next year he went to Romania, which had horrors of a different nature. The Communist regime there was more oppressive than the Soviet Union, Wolf said.

Those experiences sparked his interest in human and religious rights.

“Around the world, there’s never been more persecution of people of faith than we currently have today,” Wolf told the students.

He said the House has passed a bill that would set up a special envoy to advocate for Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East.

Wolf said he was the first member of the House to visit Darfur in Sudan.

“The genocide in Darfur continues today,” he said, his voice rising in emphasis. “It’s been going on for 10 years. We have a museum down on the [National] Mall, the Holocaust Museum, that says “never again,” and yet it continues.

“The genocide that we said will never take place continues in Sudan. The world is silent. Governments are silent. Our government is relatively silent.”

Wolf said Catholics, Protestants and Muslims are being persecuted and jailed in China, and Buddhists are oppressed in Tibet.

The congressman also has strong feelings about the annual deficit and the resulting impact on the national debt.

“I know it may sound like a boring issue, but your generation will be the one that will pay the price and bear the burden more than anybody else,” he said. “Today, we’re $16.7 trillion in debt. In 2023 ... the debt ... will be $26 trillion. No nation has ever come back from those numbers. I worry for my children, my grandchildren.”

And a large portion of the U.S. debt is owed to China.

“There’s something immoral about [us] relying on people who are persecuting their own people in order to fund our government,” Wolf said.

Students peppered Wolf with questions on topics such as the Affordable Care Act (ACA), his thoughts on the Obama administration, immigration, gay rights and National Security Agency spying.

“I voted no [on the ACA],” he said. “I think it’s turned into a disaster. The premiums are high. People are having a very hard time getting the plan. They rolled it out too fast.”

He said an alternative could be devised that would retain some aspects of the plan he thinks are positive, such as allowing parents to keep their children on their plans until age 26 and covering people with pre-existing conditions.

The Obama administration has “one of the worst policies on human rights and on religious freedom,” according to Wolf.

He said he found NSA spying “very, very troubling.”

Handley senior Adam Arslan said he appreciated Wolf’s visit. “He seemed really honest about all of his views and opinions. I learned about how overlooked human rights are around the world.”

Senior Evan King said he enjoyed learning about current issues.

“I think we’re very privileged here at Handley to be able to have a congressman come here and speak about political engagement, civic engagement, which was great because we’re getting ready to vote in November,” he said.

Wolf’s visit brought classroom topics to life, said senior Veronica Hamme. “It was interesting to see because sometimes I feel like in [class] it doesn’t seem real, really.”

Students posed good questions, government teacher Mike Siraguse said.

“The fact I have students waiting around [after the bell rang] just to talk to him, I think, is a testament to our students and how they care,” he said.

“We want them to. That’s our goal as government teachers and social studies teachers — get them ready to be citizens.”

— Contact Sally Voth atsvoth@winchesterstar.com