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Freshmen reformers in Congress avoid Hill experience in staffing
But knowledge shown to help
Question of the Day
Overall, House Republicans had an average of 20 fewer years of cumulative experience in their offices, which average about 20 people, than House Democrats did, according to the Legistorm data. That held true among newly elected members as well, with Democrats first elected in 2010 having eight years’ more cumulative experience in their offices than their counterparts.
Supply and demand
In many cases, the lack of legislative experience among the huge 2010 class of House Republicans was a problem of supply and demand.
“The size of the 2010 class was unprecedented, so there weren’t even enough experienced Republican staffers around. It took awhile for these offices to staff up,” said Claude Chafin, spokesman for the House Armed Services Committee, which had 14 freshmen members.
More than a dozen self-professed anti-Washington reformers in the class of 2010 got a jump-start by hiring as top staffers people who didn’t have recent Hill experience, but had spent much time there nonetheless and could hardly be called outsiders: federal lobbyists.
Rep. Andy Harris, a Maryland Republican elected in 2010, hired as his chief of staff Kevin C. Reigrut, a former project manager for consultant Booz Allen Hamilton. He has one other employee with two years’ experience, plus a veteran employee who is shared with other offices.
Rep. Reid J. Ribble, Wisconsin Republican, has a combined 11 years of experience in his staff of 15 — and it’s his executive assistant who is the most senior person in his office, with at least five years on the Hill dating back to 2001. (The Times’ analysis includes only experience dating back to that year.) His chief of staff, McKay L. Daniels, hadn’t worked on the Hill in more than a decade.
Mr. Ribble is a part of an institution that he contends is so broken that he started a Fix Congress Now caucus. But his ambitions have been tempered by the reality of the legislative pace.
The congressman “is a small-business man who’s owned a business for 35 years, and it’s been frustrating to work really hard and only have to make baby steps forward. He doesn’t view himself as an insider or a politician, but once you’ve experienced the inner workings, you kind of adjust,” said spokeswoman Ashley Olson.
“He came into this wanting to change things and how things are done here, but during his first term it was a lot about learning and getting used to how everything works in Washington.”
His second term will be more productive than his first, she said, but that doesn’t mean he intends to stay forever.
“He’ll only be here for eight years. He thinks getting new people in here is the best possible thing you can do to make changes. You only have so much time left, so you prioritize and work to get those things done.”
Rep. Jim McGovern, a nine-term Massachusetts Democrat whose staff of 22 has an average of seven years of experience, the fourth most of any member of Congress, said that because no lawmaker can do it alone, experienced staff members are needed to get things done.
“It’s important that we’ve got institutional memory. We go through these big battles and it’s helpful to have people around who know how to deal with this crisis because they’ve dealt with the last one,” he said.
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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