The beltway traffic was at times more than an average motorist might calmly endure.

But on a recent drive to his Washington, D.C., office, Rep. Todd Platts spent the two-hour drive kindly referencing his mother at least a dozen times and succumbing to tears when sharing a story about his late father.

Finally at the office, the congressman spent the better part of his midday making sure a group of students he had delayed (because he "inherited Dad's talking gene") were given their tour.

And he seemed to engage every person he knew in the Capitol, from doormen to Dan Quayle's son. Some of them, upon hearing news of his imminent retirement because of a self-imposed 12-year term limit, lamented the loss of "a good man," a "really good man" or a "great man."

U.S. Rep. Todd Platts talks to U.S. Capitol staff while helping Dallastown eighth-graders on a tour. Platts is retiring after 12 years representing the
U.S. Rep. Todd Platts talks to U.S. Capitol staff while helping Dallastown eighth-graders on a tour. Platts is retiring after 12 years representing the 19th District. (Bill Kalina photo)

"I'll admit, there are some Republicans I'd like to see leave, but Mr. Platts is not one of them," said Rep. Stephen Lynch, a Democrat who represents Massachusetts' 9th Congressional District. "He's a common-sense Republican, and he has the respect and admiration of a lot of members of Congress."

Lynch, who became a House member after winning a special election in 2001, said Platts has

found friends from both sides of the aisle in a Congress where partisanship creates bitter divides.

"When the comptroller position was open, members ... asked him to apply," Lynch said. "He had 160 members of Congress, about 110 Republicans and 70 or 80 Democrats to recommend him."

Support ranged from the most conservative Republicans to the most liberal Democrats.

"Barney Frank even signed," Lynch recalled, saying he believes it was the first time some of the people had ever had their names on the same document. "But that's just a testament to what a good man he is."

Wild side: In February, Platts was uninjured in a fender-bender on the commute. He was spun down the highway, then threw on a fleece jacket over his suit to change a tire before getting to the House, where he had missed two votes.

When a reporter called about the incident, he promised an interview only if she waited until he could tell his mother, who might worry, that he was OK.

Babs Platts might want to avoid Lynch.

"He has gotten me into some situations overseas that I could not imagine I'd be involved in," said Lynch, who claims Todd Platts had a wild side when the two served together on the House Committee on Oversight & Reform and a subcommittee on foreign operations.

The men once visited a volatile tribal area of Afghanistan, near the Pakistani border, where rifles were being sold to an Afghan security force.

He and Platts went to inspect the sales, because some people were selling old weapons from the Vietnam era but charging the price of new ones.

"They did a demo on firing sniper rifles, and Mr. Platts challenged me to a shooting contest," Lynch said. "I am not as good of a shot as Mr. Platts, I will admit that. The kickback was so strong ..."

The rifle caught Lynch on the eyebrow, and he needed stitches.

On another trip, the two were inspecting conditions after Israelis fought Hamas.

Underground tunnels needed to be inspected near the Egyptian border, so Platts "decided that he would get lowered down by a cable into the tunnels so he could inspect them. He is totally hands-on," Lynch said.

The two also flew onto the decks of aircraft carriers, twice.

"The USS Enterprise and the USS Abraham Lincoln," Lynch said. "He insisted we visit the sailors and Marines on both of those aircraft carriers because they hadn't had a member of Congress on board, ever. We went from 142 miles hour per to 0 in 2.7 seconds. I don't know who thought that up, but it was violent."

Stitches and sudden deceleration aside, "the people in your district in Pennsylvania could not have a better person in Congress representing them, and I say that as a Democrat."

A different legislator: Charlie Dent, a Republican colleague who represents Pennsylvania's 15th District, has known Platts since the Yorker joined the state Legislature in 1992.

He said Platts has been an effective and persistent congressman, "more of a workhorse than a show-horse," who pushed for about eight years before the whistleblower-protection legislation changes he wanted came to fruition. Even then, the version that passed was a compromise that didn't include all of the changes Platts wanted.

Dent said the Yorker is well-regarded and gained a reputation for doing things differently from other members of Congress because of his daily commuting and grassroots approach.

"In Washington, you get pushed and pulled in all sorts of directions from all sorts of people," he said. "You have to figure out how to spend your time."

Platts has relied on persistence instead of publicity, so people listen when he speaks, Dent said.

"He's usually very careful and measured in his comments," Dent said. "He's very responsible, and not one to throw around a lot of incendiary rhetoric just to get him some headlines."

-- Reach Christina Kauffman at ckauffman@yorkdispatch.com.