Before they were congressmen

Many on Capitol Hill are at the beginning of their careers, working as staffers in a fast-paced, exciting environment. Some have no idea where the next chapter of their life will lead them and others have distinct plans and dreams to achieve their political goals.

These four congressmen started out small in local or school politics, but dreamed big. They were eager to speak about their journeys that ultimately led them to life in Congress.

Rep. Gary Peters (D-Mich.)

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Rep. Peters had a very interesting professional background before he became a member of Congress. Peters served in the Navy Reserve from 1993-2005 as a lieutenant commander and was also a member of a city council and the Michigan state Senate. His professional career includes having been assistant vice president of Merrill Lynch, vice president of UBS/Paine Webber, a lottery commissioner for the state of Michigan and a Griffin Endowed Chair in American Government. He also interned on Capitol Hill for former Rep. Donald Albosta (D-Mich.). He remembers his days very fondly as an intern. Rep. Peters talked about his political aspirations growing up and how his professional experience shaped who he is today.

Can you talk about your professional experiences? How do you think they ultimately shaped your political aspirations?

I’ve always been interested in public service and giving back to the community. Most of my career has been in the private sector, mostly in the investment business, which I spent 22 years in. I was a businessman first, then involved in the business community. I continue to follow the markets and the only committee I wanted to serve on was financial services. It’s best to be active in the community and the congressional chapter of my life is to give back to the community through decades of experience in the military and academia.

What makes D.C. unique as a city for professional development?


It’s a great balance for a student. You can work on the Hill and pursue an education and you really get the best of both worlds, having a strong academic background and seeing how public policy is made

What’s one career-related move in your life that you found very beneficial to who you are today?

I spent many years in the private sector and was a state senator for eight years. I’d say my first run for state senate confirmed my thoughts that I was meant to give back to my community.


Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.)

Rep. Goodlatte began serving the people of Virginia in 1977 when he became district director for former Rep. Caldwell Butler. He served for two years and in 1979, he founded his own private law practice. He was a partner in the law firm of Bird, Kinder and Huffman and worked there from 1981 until he took his position in Congress. Rep. Goodlatte talked about his road to Congress and the people he drew inspiration from.

Can you talk about your professional experiences, particularly in law? How do you think they ultimately shaped your political aspirations?

After graduation from college, I moved to Virginia and attended law school. While I was in law school I had lots of odd jobs, including one painting school buses. After law school I went to work for the congressman who represented the district I represent now, M. Caldwell Butler. He was a big inspiration to me and still is. All of my early jobs, including working for Rep. Butler, helped me realize the importance of helping people. As district director, I got calls for anything you could imagine.

What makes D.C. unique as a city for professional development?

Anyone who comes to Capitol Hill can see the great experiences here, getting to witness decisions that shape our country. Being deeply involved in corresponding and helping to fashion legislation that has as far-lasting impact is unlike any other profession. After working in Congress for two years and then practicing law, my interest in coming to Congress was certainly enhanced.

What’s one career-related move in your life that you found very beneficial to who you are today?

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Definitely working for Congressman Butler. It was something that convinced me the importance of public service, that elected officials are truly public servants. I mean, getting calls like this one I got from a lady who had a dead dog in the road, it was requests like that that taught me that people really do need and expect help with all sectors of the government. I take credit for the phone book listing for dead animal removal to this day.


Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.)

Rep. Thompson is new to Congress. Before joining Capitol Hill, Thompson spent 28 years in healthcare. He is also a 30-year veteran of the Juniata Valley Boy Scout Council. He was also a volunteer firefighter and active in rural economic and business development.

Can you talk about your professional experiences, particularly in healthcare? How do you think they ultimately shaped your political aspirations?


They absolutely helped me. I take the Constitution very seriously. Every piece of legislation impacts the people I serve, and there are consequences to every piece of legislation. It really comes full circle to being able to serve others.

What makes D.C. unique as a city for professional development?

There’s just so much on the Hill alone. There are so many things being discussed and debated among people from all over the country and world. What better forum for professional preparation and continuing education as well as lifelong learning? The things that occur in D.C., I’ve come to the conclusion are the most wonderful aspect of my job. I always say, if you don’t like what’s being talked about, wait 15 minutes and it will change.

What’s one career-related move in your life that you found very beneficial to who you are today?

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For me, the most important career decision I made was 28 years ago, when I first decided to return to Williamsport hospital, where I previously interned. I took a risk accepting a position as an assistant therapist but I did it because I believed in their philosophy of serving the patient with care and compassion. I wasn’t making a whole lot of money and was working every other weekend and holidays, but I took a risk because of the quality of how patients were served there. I was promoted shortly after that from assistant therapist to assistant chief therapist and then spent most of the 28 years as rehab manager. Sometimes it’s picking the job that may not get you the biggest paycheck or the best hours, but you look for opportunities to grow out of that.


Rep. Solomon Ortiz (D-Texas)

Rep. Ortiz comes from a migrant family who followed the crops around the U.S. He joined the Army at 16 and it was there he got his GED. After his time in the Army he was reassigned to the 61st Military Police Company and then ran for county constable back home in Texas. He began rising through the ranks and then ran for Congress, which is where he is today.

Can you talk about your professional experiences, particularly in law enforcement? How do you think they ultimately shaped your political aspirations?

No question, I had always wanted to be in law enforcement since I was a little boy. Back then, there were walking policemen and I befriended one who began looking after me when I was out walking as a little boy. It was then I decided to be a policeman. After coming back from the military and being assigned a military policeman, I then spent four years as constable. My friends said why not run as county commissioner, we never had a Hispanic county commissioner. I spent eight years there, then was sheriff, and now here I am in my 27th year in Congress. My friends and family back home have been very kind and forgiving. They support me and I am so grateful that they love and trust in me.

What makes D.C. unique as a city for professional development?

What’s unique is the people from all walks of life. I didn’t come to D.C. until I was a county commissioner, but for young kids there’s so many opportunities in all the embassies of the world here. You have to have patience and don’t rush too fast or too hard with life, or you’ll make mistakes here and there. Be smart and take advantage of all the city has to offer. Opportunity knocks only once; see it and go after it.

What’s one career-related move in your life that you found very beneficial to who you are today?

I had never served [in a] legislature before. When I came to Congress and worked with other members I realized I could do a lot more here than anywhere else. Networking and compromising are the biggest, most important things you can do. If you’re not able to compromise, there’s nothing you can do. Whatever we pass affects people from all over the world. I can’t do everything on a local level, but coming to D.C. there’s responsibilities we have as congressmen to help a lot of people. I am one of the longest-serving congressmen in the district. I owe a lot to the people who had the confidence and trust in me and I reciprocate by being nice to them, never lying and being fair.

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