Called to Congress

Eschewing the traditional trajectory of interning on Capitol Hill and working their way up through the hierarchy, these members of Congress had illustrious careers in a wide array of fields before entering public office. Despite their different career paths, they have always felt a duty to serve.

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“It was the same thing that attracted me to the Marine Corps and the FBI that attracted me to run for Congress: I really enjoy serving the country. I think it’s noble, I think it’s important, I think it’s necessary,” Grimm said.

“Cardiothoracic surgery was always very fulfilling because it had such a sizable impact on people’s lives,” Bucshon said. “I can hardly explain what’s it like to see a former patient with their family and friends, and clearly experiencing a higher quality of life as a result of the surgery I performed.”

They all cited a calling to represent their communities, a feeling that they could not watch the events unfolding on Capitol Hill from the sidelines.

“When the issue of healthcare reform emerged in the summer of 2009, I thought that people from the private sector, like myself, should run for office. I thought that we should have those types of folks adding to political discussions,” Bucshon explained. “If you’ve never been in an emergency room, you just don’t have the same perspective.”

For Runyan, a knee injury that brought his 13-year football career to a halt did not stop him from hitting the ground running — for Congress. “It’s definitely a challenge, but serving in Congress was something I wanted to get involved in. I really wanted to put my foot down and change the direction of the country,” he said.

All of the members said they felt the training they received in their previous careers was invaluable to their careers in Congress. Their experiences, they said, gave them a unique perspective on their roles as legislators.

A former therapist, Johnson said there has never been a time her skills were not applicable to her duties in the House. “I think it’s made me a more effective negotiator,” she said. “I have learned to accept that people are different. I think that without my background training, I would be more inclined to get overly angry and partisan during debates.”

Grimm, the first FBI agent to successfully infiltrate Wall Street, convincingly played the role of a hedge-fund manager to uncover corruption. For two years, he wore a recording device on his body and compiled more than 2,000 hours of audio tape and video of 50 individuals involved in stock manipulation, currency scams and money laundering.

“These people were literally scamming a lot of retired people out of their money. And they would brag about it. They would laugh about stealing their customers’ money,” Grimm said.

“It was an extremely stressful case, because I had to play along and be very careful about my every word and move,” he added. “One wrong move would have blown my cover as a hedge-fund manager. I had to be able to walk that walk and do so while wearing a wire.”

Grimm said the skills he developed as an undercover agent easily transferred to his life in Congress. “Working well under pressure, and being quick on your feet — that’s something I had to do as an undercover,” he said. “And, of course, working with the burden of knowing that my country’s relying on me.”

Though their career trajectories may seem unexpected, there was no turning back once they were inspired to serve in Congress. They felt an imperative to stand for their communities during what they saw as a turning point for the country.

“I was always looking forward to the day I was done playing ball and I could kick back and relax,” Runyan said. “I always told myself I was going to do absolutely nothing for a year.

“But now, I’m here doing this,” he laughed.