Setting up new Congress teams is like small business

Business man taking portfolio to job interview

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: Just about a third of the people elected to Congress this month are small business owners in civilian life. And it looks like they're going to have a leg up on the lawyers, doctors and politicians who're also part of the incoming freshman class in Washington, because setting up a political shop on Capitol Hill is a whole lot like starting a small business.

Marketplace's Nancy Marshall Genzer explains.


Nancy Marshall Genzer: The freshman class of 2010 is getting briefed this week on everything from hiring a staff to serving constituents. The office lottery is tomorrow. When your number is called, you have five minutes to choose your office from a rapidly dwindling list.

Jeff Denham: It's like the NFL draft.

That's freshman congressman Jeff Denham of California. He owns Denham Plastics. He has 10 employees. He'll be hiring dozens of people to staff his Capitol Hill and district offices. Hiring staff in Washington is also like the NFL draft. There's competition for the best players. Denham is a Republican, but he says he wouldn't hesitate to hire someone who used to work for a Democrat.

Denham: You want the best person for the job.

David Schweikert is another freshman entrepreneur. The Arizona Republican co-owns a real estate company. He would also hire a Democrat. In fact, he's only looking at resumes stripped of things like age and party affiliation. He learned that from hiring people for his business. Schweikert says the budgeting experience he and his wife have is also coming in handy.

David Schweikert: And so my wife is actually already working on an Excel spreadsheet, saying how much money can we spend on travel? How much can we spend on staff?

Schweirkert also knows how to market himself. Good thing, says New York University public service professor Paul Light. He says voter perceptions are important. Especially for Tea Party voters, who don't like the trappings of power.

Paul Light: You're going to see stories come out about Republicans who really gussied up their offices. People will say, 'Oh hasn't he gotten so high and mighty?'

Light says, businessperson or not, that's the kind of thing that can get you kicked off Capitol Hill.

In Washington, I'm Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.

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