Heard on the Hill: Two Republican Freshmen Took Different Paths to the Hill

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Washington, January 10, 2017 | comments

Just like Donald Trump, who showed that any career path can lead to the White House, newly sworn-in members of Congress come from many walks of life.

Two in particular — Republican Reps. Jack Bergman of Michigan and Jodey C. Arrington of Texas — took distinctly different paths to the House.

Arrington’s path was one of public service, from studying government in school to coming from Texas to Washington, D.C., through a job with President George W. Bush. Bergman came from a different kind of service — 40 years in the Marine Corps before deciding to get into politics later in life.

Arrington, 44, said he first knew he wanted to be a politician when he was 16. 

“I was taking my first government class at Plainview High School, I had just come off of eight years drinking the Ronald Reagan Kool-Aid and feeling great as an American and my dad is a real armchair politician,” he said.

“I think it was the confluence of a great teacher that inspired me, Ronald Reagan who inspired me, and then my dad,” the Texas Republican added. “And something clicked with me that I thought, ‘I want to make a difference in this world and for my country, and politics seems like a great place to do that.’” 

Arrington started working for Bush in 1996 at age 24 when Bush was governor of Texas. After a four-year stint, in 2001, he received an appointment to advise on personnel matters in the Bush White House and later that year, he was named chief of staff of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

In 2005, he was appointed to a task force working on the federal response to Hurricane Katrina.

“I certainly enjoy working with people and I have some of the personality for it,” Arrington said. “I never changed. I went to Texas Tech to study [political science] and I got a master’s in public administration and public policy. Twenty-eight years later, here I am.”

“I get to talk to these kids in my district in junior high and high school — it’s one of my favorite things to do,” he said. “I heard, growing up my whole life, you can be whatever you want to be. You can dream big and work hard and you can do it.”

For Bergman, 69, the idea of a political career came to him quite recently.

“Actually, we made the decision, my wife and I, it was a joint decision, just a little over a year ago when we found out that our representative, Congressman [Dan] Benishek, had decided to retire,” Bergman said.

“We had been talking at that point about what we might do in our next role in serving the country. His retirement really caused us to just look at each other and say, ‘Let’s throw this option into the mix because service is service, whether it’s in a uniform or a suit,’” he added.

Bergman is a retired three-star general in the Marine Corps Forces Reserve. He began his service in 1969 at 22.

“I’ve pretty much lead the life of service at all levels,” he said. “Really, [politics] was not something that was on my radar. I didn’t say, ‘Boy, I really want to do this.’ I respect all of the people who run for office and put themselves out there on a campaign.”

The Michigan Republican is not entirely new to the political system — he testified before Congress in the mid-2000s when he headed the Marine Corps Reserve. He has also been a pilot for Northwest Airlines and owned a medical equipment company.

“People tend to think of life as linear but I think of my life as concurrent,” Bergman said. “For 20 years almost, I had three concurrent careers going on.”

He said his whole career has been juggling a lot of balls.

“All I’ve done now is changed the balls. Now it’s congressman,” he said. “I just need to adjust my schedule and my planning so that it accommodates, first and foremost, the constituents of the 1st District. They are the major ball in this juggling act.”

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