By Judy Kurtz
The creator and co-executive producer of a fictional show about life on Capitol Hill is throwing his hat in the real-life political ring himself, announcing exclusively to ITK that he’s running for Congress in California’s 33rd congressional district.
Brent Roske is the man behind “Chasing the Hill,” the buzz-producing Web series that stars “West Wing” alums Richard Schiff, Melissa Fitzgerald, Robin Weigert and Matthew Del Negro.
While the show, which premiered online last year, follows a California Democrat’s House reelection campaign, Roske is running in the 2014 election as an Independent for Rep. Henry Waxman’s (D-Calif.) seat.
“I’ve actually thought about running for office for a long time … Making ‘Chasing the Hill’ was pretty much my way of trying to get this out of my system,” Roske told ITK in a phone interview.
It’s often said folks go to Los Angeles and catch the acting bug, but a rigorous filming schedule in Washington had the opposite effect on Roske: He caught the campaigning bug.
“In fact it’s been just the reverse … I just decided that throughout [filming] this last year-and-a-half, it excites me and interests me even more. It’s been a long time coming, but when I started the show it wasn’t exactly the outcome I had in mind.”
Like many Americans, Roske, 39, says he’s simply fed up with the gridlock in the nation’s capital: “Truly the reason I’m doing this is to take away the adversarial nature of what it means to be in Congress.”
Roske realizes running on an Independent ticket against Waxman, a 20-term lawmaker, won’t be as easy as making some Hollywood magic happen: “The fact is this is my first real race in politics, and I may be wearing my idealistic flag a little bit too much, but I really want this to be — since it’s my first campaign — something I can look back and be proud of that I stood up for something I really believed in.”
The Minnesota native, who’s lived in Southern California for the last 15 years, contends while 73-year-old Waxman has done “a lot of good things with his time in government,” it’s time for a change. And the filmmaker, a campaign worker on Obama’s first presidential run, takes issue with critics who may view his campaign as a “joke,” telling ITK, “I think it’s supposed to be a representative government, and the fact is, I represent this district better than Henry Waxman does. I live here and work here. I’m a director in the most famous industry in this district, and if the title of the job is representative, then the fact is I’m a better representative than he is.”
Roske says the cast and crew of “Chasing the Hill” have been largely supportive of his move from behind the camera to the campaign trail.
Richard Schiff, who played a White House communications director in “West Wing,” said in an email, “Brent Roske for Congress? Why not?”
Said fellow “West Wing” and “Chasing the Hill” star Melissa Fitzgerald, “Brent is an unstoppable force, and his willingness to use his time and his considerable talents to get in the game and serve, is inspiring. If Brent Roske’s campaign for U.S. Congress can shed light on the need for both parties to come together and get to work on behalf of the American people, we all win!"
Although “Chasing the Hill” features cameo appearances from real-life politicians — including former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D), former Sen. Mike Gravel (D-Alaska), and former California Gov. Gray Davis (D), among others — Roske says he has no plans to become part of a future storyline, calling his House run and the series “separate entities.”
After finishing up the season finale of “Chasing the Hill,” in the coming weeks, Roske is going into full-on campaign mode. He says of making the switch from creating a show about Congress to an actual House run: “I think the show has maybe made some people start thinking about it in more realistic terms, about that there is a real gridlock problem. But as far as what I can do, I think trying to actually get in the building would be even more valid and something I think I can do some good work on.”
Photos: (right) Brent Roske (left) Roske poses with actor David Hasselhoff, former Gov. Gray Davis, and the "Chasing the Hill" cast. / Photos provided by Roske for Congress.