Some parents give their children cars for their 18th birthdays. Phil Andrews ’81 (political science) received a membership to Common Cause, a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization that works for honest and accountable government.
“I was a Washington Post newspaper carrier during the Watergate years, from 1972 to 1977. The first thing I read every morning was about corruption in government, and I was inspired to change that,” Andrews says.
He began volunteering for Common Cause Pennsylvania while at Bucknell, where he majored in political science, and has since spent his professional life working for more open, responsive government. Just out of college, Andrews worked for the League of Conservation Voters in Philadelphia, later moving back to his home state of Maryland to become executive director of Common Cause Maryland.
In 1998, Andrews was elected as a Democrat to the County Council of Montgomery County, Maryland, which borders Washington, D.C. With a population of one million and a budget of $4 billion, the county is akin to a small state, Andrews says, “and it has all the issues that go along with that.”
So far, his constituents seem happy with how he’s handled those issues. He’s been re-elected three times.
County Council work isn’t the stuff of glamour, but what Andrews achieves matters for people’s daily lives. He’s accomplished such initiatives as requiring annual fire code inspections of county schools and reducing the county property tax rate. In the interest of public health, he led the way for Montgomery County to become the first jurisdiction in the area to require smoke-free restaurants.
Outside of his county, Andrews was appointed chair of the Emergency Preparedness Council for the Washington Metropolitan Council of Governments, a group tasked with ensuring that the area is prepared to deal with everything from snow emergencies to terrorist attacks.
He is perhaps most proud recently of taking the lead on numerous measures to open more job opportunities to people with disabilities, a group for which the unemployment rate can exceed 60 percent. “I do a lot of door-knocking to stay in touch with constituents,” he explains, “and I heard from a lot of people with physical and development disabilities and their families that measures such as these would really change lives.”
Although primaries are not until 2014, Andrews recently began his “grassroots campaign” for county executive, and, harkening back to his earliest days with Common Cause, still refuses to take campaign contributions from any special interest groups.