Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler is a 34-year-old Washington state Republican beginning her second term in Congress. The youngest female representative in Congress, she won’t be old enough to run for president until November. But the people she relies on to carry out the day-to-day work of legislating make her look like an old hand.
Of her 21 staffers, only two arrived with any Capitol Hill experience. Her legislative director spent 2010 working as a legislative correspondent, one of the lowest positions in the Capitol, for another member. Her chief of staff for most of 2011, Afton Swift, spent a few years working for several lawmakers nearly a decade earlier but been out of the game since. Mrs. Herrera Beutler shared one other staffer with a few years’ experience with other members.
The mammoth House tea party class elected in 2010 arrived as paradoxical players in a culture they crusaded against. They decried Washington experience as corrupting, a sign of what needed to change. The Washington Times found that many of the new members staffed their offices accordingly, eschewing those with legislative experience for those with roots in their home districts.
Eighteen members of Congress, including 15 House Republicans and one Democrat first elected in 2010, filled their offices with staff members who had an average of no more than one year of experience in Congress. So how did that work out?
Mrs. Herrera Beutler’s staffers found much-needed guidance from fellow congressional staffs from Washington state.
“We knew them, so we might not have a lot of Capitol Hill experience, but they can tell us where the bathroom is,” said Chief of Staff Casey Bowman, a former public relations consultant who took his first job on the Hill after working for her campaign.
Other longtime staffers occasionally regarded Mrs. Herrera Beutler’s office with condescension or impatience, he said, “but you have to have thick skin.”
Levels of experience
The Washington Times examined a decade of congressional payroll data, standardized by the website Legistorm, to determine which members had the most- and least-experienced office staffs. The snapshot from the previous Congress came from summer 2011, and years of experience were determined by looking at where a given staffer worked during summers. Interns and other temporary employees in 2011 were excluded.
Alan B. West, the outspoken Florida Republican elected in 2010 but defeated last year, named Jonathan Jeffrey Blyth his chief of staff, even though it had been eight years since Mr. Blyth had worked on the Hill, where he was chief of staff for Bob Barr, a Georgia Republican who retired from Congress in 2002.
No one from the class of 2010 has made the climb from outsider to the heights of power faster than Rep. Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican who was recently appointed to the state’s vacant Senate seat. Nick D. Muzin, his chief of staff in the House, is a doctor, a lawyer and a former federal worker, but one of the few things not on his resume is prior Capitol Hill experience. Mr. Scott announced last month that he was hiring new staff, many with Senate experience, for leadership roles in his new office.
On the other end of the spectrum, Rep. Rob Woodall, Georgia Republican, attained the most experienced office in the freshman class by taking one off the shelf: From the highest to the lowest positions, he retained the personnel of his predecessor, John Linder, who retired in 2010 and for whom Mr. Woodall served as chief of staff.
By some measures, the insider experience seemed to make a difference: Mrs. Herrera Beutler introduced the third-fewest bills among the 2010 freshmen, while Mr. Woodall, a member of the Rules and Budget committees, sponsored the fifth most.
But having staffers plucked straight from a home district help maintain a focus on the district’s residents. In Mrs. Herrera Beutler’s case, that meant paying close attention to issues such as forestry.
When it came to hiring, “first was a willingness to serve constituents back home, and there was not a lot of weight put on having people who had been part of what was really a dysfunctional [Washington] culture,” Mr. Bowman said. “You can always ask a question and learn what you need to know in the Capitol, but the knowledge of what people know back home is really hard to replicate.”View Entire Story
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Luke Rosiak is a projects reporter on The Washington Times’ investigative team. He formerly covered lobbying and campaign finance for two watchdog groups as well as transportation for The Washington Post. Luke can be reached at email@example.com.
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