Ted Cruz Moonlights as Legal Scholar, and Other Odd Political Hobbies

Extreme sports, bare-handed fishing, novel writing — these are the things that keep lawmakers busy since, well, they’re not making laws.

National Journal
Alex Seitz Wald
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Alex Seitz-Wald
Feb. 5, 2014, 4:49 p.m.

Per­us­ing the web­site of the Har­vard Law Re­view, one can find ex­egeses on the ar­cane leg­al ques­tions of the day from schol­ars who, though prom­in­ent in aca­deme, are usu­ally not well known out­side the Ivory Tower.

But if you happened to be read­ing the Re­view re­cently, you could also find the byline of one Ted Cruz, the sit­ting Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­or from Texas, who, between fight­ing for con­ser­vat­ive pur­ity in­side the GOP and try­ing to de­fund Obama­care, some­how found time to write a 10,000-word leg­al es­say on a fairly ob­scure re­cent Su­preme Court case, com­plete with 181 cita­tions that made it through the Re­view’s rig­or­ous edit­ing pro­cess.

Yes, he wrote it him­self, a Cruz spokes­per­son con­firmed, for those who think he may have farmed out the job to his staff. Be­cause for the sen­at­or — a former na­tion­al cham­pi­on de­bater, gradu­ate of Prin­ceton and Har­vard Law, and fam­ously proud smart per­son — what’s the point of pub­lish­ing something in the Har­vard Law Re­view if you’re not go­ing to write it your­self?

Some people use their free time to watch TV; oth­ers read. Ted Cruz may do both (this re­port­er spot­ted him alone at a Wash­ing­ton movie theat­er some months back), but he also writes Har­vard Law Re­view art­icles. It seems as if every mem­ber of Con­gress golfs or hunts, but Cruz is not the only politi­cian with a quirky hobby.

Rick San­tor­um bowls, and may have done bet­ter in 2012 if Wis­con­sin had heeded his sug­ges­tion to de­cide the state’s primary with a bowl­ing match; Paul Ry­an catches cat­fish with his bare hands in a prac­tice known as “nood­ling”; and Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ar­iz., takes his fam­ily on sur­viv­al­ist ex­ped­i­tions and calls them va­ca­tions.

Even mild-mannered Rob Port­man, the Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­or from Ohio who once dir­ec­ted the Of­fice of Man­age­ment and Budget, is an ex­treme-sports fan­at­ic, and he has the ti­tani­um shoulder plate from a moun­tain bik­ing ac­ci­dent to prove it. He’s kayaked all 1,900 miles of the Rio Grande River, still races ca­noes, and built his wife a chick­en coop for Christ­mas one year.

Not ex­treme enough? Rep. Mark­wayne Mul­lin, R-Okla., used to be a mixed-mar­tial arts fight­er. Not self-suf­fi­cient enough? Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., per­son­ally built his sol­ar-powered, off-the-grid house, and kept a blog to doc­u­ment its pro­gress. “No, someone hasn’t hacked my tim­ber frame blog. I am run­ning for United States Con­gress,” he wrote in his last blog post two years ago, ex­plain­ing why he hadn’t up­dated the site in a while.

Oth­er politi­cians, like Cruz, have de­cidedly less phys­ic­al hob­bies.

Sen. Bar­bara Box­er, D-Cal­if., a former re­port­er, writes nov­els. “It is what I love to do,” she told CBS’s Bob Schief­fer in 2009, the year her last nov­el was pub­lished. It’s a polit­ic­al thrill­er about a fe­male U.S. sen­at­or from Cali­for­nia (ahem) who finds her­self pit­ted against al­lies of the shad­owy and hawk­ish vice pres­id­ent (ahem). Pub­lish­er’s Weekly wrote that “the big re­veal is a little too out there, and the wrap-up is overly tidy,” but that Box­er and her co-au­thor still “man­age a fast-paced nar­rat­ive.”

“It is a hobby of mine,” she told Schief­fer. “And as I say, oth­er people play golf and ten­nis. I would love to, but I don’t. So this is my hobby, and on those long plane rides, I get five hours and I love to write.”

While it’s not ex­actly a hobby, Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., de­votes time to a skill that could rival Cruz’s in nerdi­ness: Mi­crosoft Ex­cel. In an­oth­er life, Merkley worked for the Con­gres­sion­al Budget Of­fice (his 1988 re­port on “The B-1B Bomber and Op­tions for En­hance­ments” is still on­line), and even as a sen­at­or, he can’t sup­press his in­ner wonk.

When his of­fice was work­ing on a bill to help people strug­gling with their mort­gages, he per­son­ally did some of the mort­gage risk ana­lys­is us­ing “very com­plex spread­sheets,” a spokes­per­son said. Last year, he put those skills to work again to man­age wa­ter-dis­tri­bu­tion pre­dic­tions while work­ing on an­oth­er bill. His staff could do the work — and some­times tries to turn his at­ten­tion to more sen­at­ori­al du­ties, a former aide said — but he ap­par­ently finds pleas­ure in the spread­sheets.

But he’s not all nerd. In 2012, he com­pleted an Iron­man-dis­tance triath­lon, run­ning a full 26-mile mara­thon, plus 2.4-mile swim and 112-mile bike ride, in just over 15 hours. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ar­iz., com­pleted her own Iron­man in Novem­ber, even though she could barely swim at the be­gin­ning of the year. (Olympic gold-medal­ist Misty Hy­man helped train her.)

Former Pres­id­ent George W. Bush fam­ously paints in his post-pres­id­en­tial life, a hobby Dwight Eis­en­hower also picked up, en­cour­aged by Win­ston Churchill. “I have a lot of fun since I took it up, in my some­what miser­able way, your hobby of paint­ing,” Eis­en­hower wrote to Churchill in 1950. “I have had no in­struc­tion, have no tal­ent, and cer­tainly no jus­ti­fic­a­tion for cov­er­ing nice, white can­vas with the kind of daubs that seem con­stantly to spring from my brushes.” 

Politi­cians are busy people, so it’s hard to ima­gine how they find the time. But they’re still people who have a life out­side of work, just like any­one else. Giv­en the kind of per­son­al­ity it takes to run for of­fice, they’ll prob­ably throw them­selves at a hobby harder than most. And con­sid­er­ing how little le­gis­lat­ing Con­gress does these days, there’s less com­pet­i­tion for their men­tal en­ergy.

“There’s a reas­on why these folks get in these po­s­i­tions,” a Sen­ate aide quipped. “And some­times they’d just rather do it them­selves.”

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