Running for the U.S. House of Representatives is a daunting task, but GW alumnus and former Student Association president John Morris said he mastered one part of the job nearly 20 years ago.
“I’ve worked in several legislative bodies and I’ve never encountered more sophisticated procedures than the SA senate,” he said.
Morris, a Republican, recently announced his intention to run for Congress representing the 18th Congressional District of Illinois. The Peoria native served as SA president during the 1989-1990 academic year and graduated from GW with a degree in radio and television.
Morris recalled his SA election strategy as one of pure perseverance. He estimated putting up 1,000 campaign signs around campus, all of which read “The Greatest University in the World.”
“I really reached out to a lot of students: international students, commuter students, grad students,” he said. “My goal was to bring the whole campus together.”
As SA president, Morris worked to streamline class registration at a time when students had to stand in line overnight at Smith Center to get the classes they wanted. He also collaborated with other student governments to show solidarity with the pro-democracy students in China who famously demonstrated at Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Like many GW students, Morris held several internships around the city, including at the Ronald Reagan White House and the congressional offices of then House Minority Leader Robert Michel. Morris also recalled seeing Mikhail Gorbachev’s motorcade driving down 20th Street to his summit with President Reagan.
“It was a remarkable thing to witness the symbol of the thaw of the Cold War,” he said.
During Morris’ term he struck up a friendship with former University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg. Together, the two developed a graduate program for highachieving undergraduate students, known today as the Presidential Administrative Fellows. Morris himself was named the first fellow and entered the School of Public Policy after his graduation.
Trachtenberg recalled Morris’ impressive political talents.
“He had a prodigious memory for names of students,” Trachtenberg said. “If you walked around the campus with him, he remembered everyone who came by, what their interests were, what they were majoring in, even who they were dating.”
Although Trachtenberg is a lifelong registered Democrat, he wrote out a check to Morris’ campaign immediately after hearing his plans to run for Congress.
“(Morris) would make a terrific congressman,” Trachtenberg said. “He has always seemed to me a hands-on guy and he would be perfect for the House.”
After receiving his master’s degree in public administration in 1992, Morris returned to Illinois. He had not lost his interest in politics and was soon elected to the Peoria City Council.
While on the council, Morris worked to keep down the city’s budget deficit. He led efforts to expand the University of Illinois’ medical campus and was a “passionate spokesman for Peoria’s future.”
“We’re surrounded by some of the most productive farmland in the country,” Morris said. “The Midwest is leading the way in energy independence.”
After two terms on the council, Morris decided not to run for re-election.
“I thought that if eight years was good enough for George Washington, it was good enough for me,” he said.
A self-described conservative, Morris hopes to bring his values to Congress.
“First and foremost, we want a country that is safe and secure. That’s always been a critical issue for me,” he said. “I think we want an American economy that is competing and winning, and we don’t want policies that are going to inhibit development.”
The 18th Congressional District of Illinois covers much of the state’s central and western regions, including the cities of Peoria, Springfield, and Jacksonville. The district is currently represented in Congress by seven-term Republican incumbent Ray LaHood, who announced his plans not to run for re-election in July.