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Before They Were Famous: The New Congress Before They Were Famous: The New Congress

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112th Congress

Before They Were Famous: The New Congress

National Journal and The Almanac of American Politics provide a sneak peek into the lives of Congress' newest members.

The new freshman class includes people who have roped cattle and sold cars for a living. They’ve written books, farmed the land and fought in wars. Here is a look at the varied and interesting lives of the members of Congress soon to be making their way around Capitol Hill, based on interviews with The Almanac of American Politics.

Meet the Freshman Members




But Can He Round Up Votes?

Newly elected Republican Rick Crawford of Arkansas started out competing in rodeos while in college. He quit after suffering serious injuries and large medical bills. He later worked as a rodeo announcer, sometimes doing 100 events a year. The rodeo gigs helped him develop a niche as a broadcaster, and he later founded his own farm news broadcasting network. More from Crawford’s risk-embracing past: He was a bomb disposal technician for the U.S. Army, a line of work portrayed in the award-winning 2008 film The Hurt Locker



Are Politicians and Car Salesmen All That Different?

Both jobs require great salesmanship, whether you are selling yourself or a new minivan. Rep.-elect Mike Kelly (R) from Pennsylvania is one of several new members who made a living running automobile dealerships. He sees a link between politics and car sales. “You have common goals, and everybody has clearly defined roles, and everybody has to perform at a big level in order to have success,” he said. … Another new GOP House member, Scott Rigell, runs Freedom Automotive in the Virginia Beach area, where he made a valuable political contact one day when he met future Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, also a Republican, on his showroom floor.



Down But Never Out

Democrats looking for a comeback strategy for 2012 might consult Hansen Clark, the newly elected Democrat from Detroit. He grew up poor in the inner city, but got a scholarship to attend Cornell University. Then his mother died, his life spun out of control, and Clark lost his scholarship, returned to the old neighborhood, and survived on public aid. A family friend set him straight, and Hansen talked a Cornell dean into giving him a second chance. He finished his undergraduate studies there and went on to get a law degree from Georgetown. In college, he once tried to talk Cornell officials out of changing needs-based scholarships, arguing that they were “how guys like me got a chance.”


Did You Hear the One About…

Republican Billy Long runs his own auction company, conducting as many as 200 auctions a year. He’s also been a morning-drive radio talk show host in southwest Missouri, and has participated in local political campaigns since he was 9 years old. One of Long's favorite campaign anecdotes involved his dog, Little Bear, who he taught this trick: He would ask, “Little Bear, would you rather be a Democrat or a dead dog?” The family pet responded by flopping over and sticking his feet in the air.


Self-Made Ranchers … with Help from Uncle Sam

The new class includes several farmers and ranchers, some of whom faced questions during their campaigns about government subsidies they took, which can be awfully inconvenient if you are running on a platform advocating less government. Indiana Republican Marlin Stutzman is a fourth-generation farmer who started raising his own livestock at age 14. He collected $100,000 from the federal government over the past several years, but now says he supports phasing out farm subsidies. Stephen Fincher, a Tennessee Republican, received some $2.5 million in ag subsidies from 1995 to 2006, but still got the support of the local tea party in his campaign for the seat of retiring Democratic Rep. John Tanner. Fincher made it onto our colorful freshmen list for other reasons: He grew up in a town called Frog Jump, and is part of a gospel-singing group that includes his father, a cousin and an uncle.  


'Mama Grizzlies' on Election Night Rampage

Two of Tuesday’s biggest upsets were pulled off by women. Republican Renee Ellmers, a 40-year-old trauma care nurse who has never held elected office, leads seven-term Democratic Rep. Bob Etheridge, 69, in a central North Carolina race that is likely headed for a recount. She started in politics the same way many tea party activists likely did. During news broadcasts about the new health care bill, she said, she would yell at her television. “So rather than sit at home yelling at the TV set, which I did, I decided I needed to get involved,” she told The Sanford Herald. … With the backing of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Republican Vicky Hartzler toppled House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, D-Mo, on Tuesday. Hartzler is a former high school home economics teacher who served three terms in the Missouri House. She runs a farm supply company with her husband, and in 2008, published a detailed politics guide for Christians called, “Running God’s Way: Step by Step to a Successful Political Campaign.”

Gregg Sangillo writes for The Almanac of American Politics, which contributed to this report. contributed to this article.

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