Fresh Eyes from Both Sides of the Aisle: Freshman In Congress
You have a passion and you want to make change in the world. But how? Political office! So you run, raise money, hire a staff, hit a grueling campaign trail, and win the election. There’s a big party, tons of press, and your team enjoys a celebratory high. Then what? What’s the first year like for a newbie in Congress? Is it motivating and inspiring, or do the realities of the job, from bureaucracy to political polarization, tarnish a once hopeful agenda? Hear from a Democrat and Republican about their first year on the hill – is it everything they envisioned it would be?
Even though they sit on opposite sides of the aisle, democrat Elissa Slotkin and republican Anthony Gonzalez have something in common: they’re frustrated with national politics. That’s what drove them to run … and win seats in the House of Representatives.
Slotkin was a political newcomer. As a former CIA officer, she had worked for republicans and democrats but didn’t attend political events. But rising division in the country didn’t sit right with her. "I just felt the tenor and tone of politics in 2016 was fundamentally unbecoming of the country I served, and the country we all love. It just felt different."
Former NFL player and Stanford graduate Anthony Gonzalez says his concern for Ohio steelworkers prompted his leap into politics. A steel plant in his hometown that once employed 15,000 now employs just 1,500, he says. "I looked at my community and the country at-large and said, 'Where’s this discussion happening in Washington, DC?'" A lack of attention around the pace of change and the direction of the economy was his tipping point.
Running a tech startup and playing professional football helped Anthony Gonzalez’s political campaign. "I had no idea what I was doing," he says. But after a heart-to-heart with his family and the hiring of a chief of staff, the campaign became a full-on sprint. "My NFL career actually prepared me pretty well for this component because it’s so competitive." In the end, he says he loved being on the campaign trail.
Big IdeaI came out of this more optimistic than I’ve ever been in my life.Anthony Gonzalez
His idealism grew as he spoke with voters who, contrary to popular opinion, valued unity, not division. "They do not endorse the rhetoric they’re seeing on cable news and Twitter," Gonzalez says. "They want us to work together, and they want us to solve problems for the country."
Elissa Slotkin, a democrat from Michigan, was part of the wave of women candidates that claimed victory in races across the country in 2018. A record 117 women were sent to Congress. The candidates weren’t the only women involved in the historic year — female field organizers and volunteers of all ages supported Slotkin’s campaign. "For every woman sitting in Congress, there is a huge organization that mobilized around her with a lot of women involved," she says.
Elissa Slotkin represents the 8th Congressional district in Michigan — a district previously held by republicans whose voters supported Trump in 2016. She thinks the focus from democrats in the House on impeaching the president is misguided. "It’s a conversation in the media and among elites but not in the center of the country." Her constituents care about the problems, sometimes life-altering, that impact their daily lives.
Big IdeaI get stopped in the grocery store by someone, clutching me, saying they can’t afford their child’s insulin, or they couldn’t send their daughter to camp because they couldn’t afford the inhalers she needed — People want you to hear their pain and do something about it.Elissa Slotkin