Before they were Congressmen

Imagine the start of a political career. The logical development might look something like this: law school, campaigning on the local level and then gradually working your way up in the system. The past careers of many members of Congress, however, are in fact much more diverse, and their motivations for pursuing politics vary.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), for example, is a former social worker. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) is an obstetrician and has personally delivered more than 4,000 babies, according to his website. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) has more than 30 years of experience as a nurse. Sen. Michael Enzi (R-Wyo.) is the Senate's only accountant by profession, as well as the former owner of a small shoe store.

Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.), Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor & Pensions (HELP), held his first job in high school, working as a janitor — a position he found as part a summer job-training program through the Department of Labor. After high school, he worked as a stringer at a local newspaper, where he was paid six dollars per article. After attending law school at Cornell University, he worked as an attorney, representing small businesses and families and taught at Rutgers University School of Law.
But Andrews’s motivation to work in politics was awakened much earlier. When he was 14, the shipyard where his father had worked for 40 years closed, leaving his father unemployed.

Andrews said he remembers this time "very vividly" as the turning point when he decided he wanted to pursue a career in politics. His father, at 61 years of age, struggled to find work. Andrews remembers thinking the government could solve problems, but "it wasn't doing anything do solve the problems my family was facing,” he said.

Andrews began his political career by volunteering on the campaign of his predecessor, former Rep. Jim Florio (D-N.J.).
Rep. Dale Kildee (D-Mich.), who serves on the House Education and Labor Committee, spent eight years studying in a Roman Catholic Seminary to become a priest. Following that, he worked as a high school Latin teacher for 10 years before working beginning his 25-year long career in public service.
While on the surface these three fields seem disparate, Kildee explained they are "…really quite similar. All three are producing a service and all three contain the element of the future,” he said.

Whether that element of the future means the next election, the next generation, or the next life, he said he has always been attracted to this kind of work, and transitioning from one career to the next has been a natural progression for him.
Even in the seminary, Kildee had been involved in politics, but it was the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963 that ultimately prompted him to run for office. While he loved teaching, he thought he would be able to "touch more people" by working in politics.
Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), ranking member of the House Education and Labor Committee, is an orthopedic surgeon who ran his own practice for many years. Price said the experience of opening his own office, hiring employees, getting a line of credit and not knowing whether or not the practice would be successful, was an invaluable experience.

“I have great familiarity with what it means to create jobs, to be responsible for employees and make certain that their livelihood is looked out for,” he said.
Price explained practicing medicine raised his political awareness. He said he is now more aware of “things government does to harm the ability of doctors to take care of patients,” saying those observations were “a strong impetus for my going into politics,” he said.
Price’s first job was as a paperboy. Then, in high school, he worked as an EKG technician in a local hospital, a position he maintained throughout college and medical school. Price said that even though his transition into politics was gradual, there were “big picture issues” that led to his decision to run for federal office.”

All three Congressmen said they felt their past careers have made them better at what they do now. Andrews said even though "politics is a noble profession," he believes having other life or career experience is key for anyone interested in working in politics. Price said he believes “it’s important to follow your passion, whatever it might be.” As he sees it, being an elected politician wasn’t the goal for most of the individuals in the House of Representatives, it just happened to be one of the things that began to present itself in their lives, he said.