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Richard Hanna ’76

March 15, 2020, in Barneveld, New York, from cancer.

Richard served as a Republican U.S. Representative from New York from 2011 to 2017. He was, in the words of Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, “a leader of great integrity who always put patriotism and principles before politics.”

Born in Utica, New York, and raised in nearby Marcy, Richard graduated from Whitesboro High School. When his father died, he took care of his mother and four sisters. But after failing for three years to revive the faltering trailer park his father had purchased, Richard was convinced there was a better way to make a living. Despite a spotty academic record, he applied at Reed.

“I wasn’t a smart kid in terms of numbers,” he remembered, “but I told them, ‘I’m a thoughtful, responsible guy.’ They said, ‘You don’t belong here, but you’re welcome to come.’”

 He worked construction jobs to put himself through Reed, and wrote his thesis, “A Comparison of Public and Private Municipal Fire Protection,” advised by Prof. Kevin Kelly [economics 1974–76]. After graduation, he returned to upstate New York, part of the Rust Belt that had fallen on hard times.

 “I lived and breathed the steady decline of upstate New York,” he said, “but I’m one of those fortunate people who could stay where they liked. It was a risk, but I’d been broke before, and I wasn’t afraid of being broke.”

 He started a small contracting business; three years passed before he hired his first employee. Eventually Hanna Construction expanded into a major builder of schools and government buildings. As his structures rose, he became more deeply involved with the community. He became active in the United Way, local hospital boards, Habitat for Humanity, and Annie’s Fund, a charity he founded to provide grants to impoverished women in Herkimer and Oneida counties.

 When he was 57 years old, he threw his hat in the ring for a U.S. House seat in New York’s sprawling 24th District and won. He was a proponent for government in the Republican tradition of solution-oriented fiscal realism with bipartisan support. In the 114th United States Congress (2015–17), Richard was ranked as the second most bipartisan member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

 Though he was a member of a caucus of conservative Republican representatives, he was no ideologue. He also belonged to the Republican Main Street Partnership, which sought change in the GOP platform regarding abortion and stem cell research, and was a member of the LGBT Equality Caucus, made up of members who—regardless of their sexual identity or orientation—were willing to advance LGBT rights.

 He lamented that extremists in the GOP had drowned out moderates like himself. “They’ve become judgmental and sanctimonious and authoritarian on their approach to people,” he said.

 As a conservative, Richard voted to repeal health care reform and to support the Energy Tax Prevention Act, which would prevent the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases. But he also voted against cuts to NPR and Planned Parenthood. He was the first sitting Republican member of Congress—though he had already announced his pending retirement—to declare that he would vote for Hillary Clinton for president, calling Donald Trump a “national embarrassment.”

 “There’s nothing wrong with railing against wrongdoing or railing against things you’d like to change,” he said. “There’s value in that voice. You don’t have to have great success to have value in terms of outcomes. Progress comes on the margins—you make progress by settling things day to day.”

 In 2016, Richard announced he would retire from Congress to spend more time with his wife and young children, who were upset when he had to leave for Washington, D.C., at the start of each work week. “When all is said and done, if you haven’t raised your family well, you haven’t accomplished anything in life,” he said. “I’ve got good kids and a great wife, and they simply don’t want me to do this anymore.”

 “He worked across the aisle to get things done, and he really cared,” said Senator Chuck Schumer. “His focus was always on the people, never the politics. We need more of that in Congress.”

 Richard is survived by his wife, Kim; his son, Emerson; and his daughter, Grace.

Appeared in Reed magazine: September 2020

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