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This little-known education program just lost its champion

Rep. John William "Jack" Buechner died in March.
Rep. John William "Jack" Buechner died in March. (Anthony Marill/CQ Roll Call file photo)

John William “Jack” Buechner’s time in Congress may have been short, but he spent nearly three decades as a former member — and that’s where he made his mark.

The former Missouri congressman and ex-president of the Association of Former Members of Congress died this month at 79. During his time with FMC, he is credited with reviving the group’s primary domestic program: Congress to Campus.

“First, and most importantly, Jack Buechner was a friend and a mentor to me,” FMC CEO Pete Weichlein told Heard on the Hill in a statement. “His passion was always for encouraging the next generation of leaders.”

Buechner served as FMC president from 2004 to 2006 but stayed active in the group by co-chairing Congress to Campus, which aims to educate students about the government by getting former lawmakers to share their firsthand knowledge of the legislative process.

While traveling to college, university and community college campuses for two-day visits, a bipartisan pair of former members conduct classes and hold community forums. They also meet informally with students and faculty, visit high schools and civic organizations, and do interviews and talk show appearances with local press and media. The goal is to give students a more personal side of democracy, the group says.

Buechner helped rebuild the program into what it is today, Weichlein said. 

Congress chartered the nonprofit FMC (but does not fund the group). More than 700 former senators and members of Congress conduct international legislative exchanges, election monitoring and domestic education programs.

The late congressman was also proud of the program for its bipartisan record. “For Jack, it was for students to learn about Congress and public service from our bipartisan former member teams, but also for them to witness Republicans and Democrats engage in a healthy partisan debate on crucial issues, in a respectful and pragmatic way,” said Weichlen.

Buechner represented Missouri’s 2nd District from 1987 to 1991. He lost a tough reelection battle by a mere 54 votes after the 1990 budget battle, in which he voted to raise taxes.

In October 2016, Buechner was among 30 former GOP lawmakers who signed a letter saying they would not support then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. “He offends our allies and praises dictators,” the Republicans wrote. “His public statements are peppered with lies. He belittles our heroes and insults the parents of men who have died serving our country. Every day brings a fresh revelation that highlights the unacceptable danger in electing him to lead our nation.”

Post-Congress, Buechner also served in various leadership roles with the International Republican Institute and the Presidential Classroom for Young Americans. 

“Jack’s positivity and love of country will be missed greatly,” said Weichlen. “But through the many programs he created or enhanced, he’ll continue to have a positive impact.”

This month the Congress to Campus program was scheduled to come to Hobart and William Smith College, Arizona State University and Colgate University.

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