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On Capitol Hill

Where Do These
People Come From?

As featured in the 
Labor Party Press

Capitol Hill Shop Steward

If you have ever visited Capitol Hill, you'll know what I mean when I say, "They all look like bosses." It's true. Take a walk through the House of Representatives or Senate office buildings here in Washington, D.C., and you'll find that it's nearly impossible to tell the elected lawmakers from the thousands of corporate lobbyists who are chasing them around. Turn on C-SPAN and see if you can tell them apart.

If you want to give it a try, you can buy one of the congressional directories that lists the basic information about our lawmakers. Some of the $5 versions come with photographs that can help you identify who they are as you're cruising around Capitol Hill. These directories list all kinds of background information, such as their party, home state and congressional district, what colleges they claim to have graduated from, religion, marriage status, and occupation. Oh yes, occupation. The most most overlooked aspect of who is serving in Congress.


What did these folks do before they figured out a way to get elected to Congress? What kinds of jobs and careers did they come from? Are they all lawyers? Or bosses? Or what?

Well, take a look at the table below, which shows the Senate and House of Representatives by political party and by occupation.

Perhaps you are now convinced, like I am, that only a handful of ordinary people are serving in Congress. You are correct. It's not just the way they dress. It's a fact: The vast majority of our federal elected leaders come from careers and backgrounds that are remote from the average working person. I guarantee you, none of these people live in my apartment complex. As my wife (and Labor Party member) Nancy McFadden commented after helping me compile this information, Ugh! No wonder they act the way they do!


It's also not surprising that such a high percentage of these folks are lawyers and bosses of various types. After all, it almost always takes a lot of money to win an election. The Center for Responsive Politics did an analysis of the 1996 elections that showed that money is pretty much how you get there: Nine out of every 10 candidates for U.S. House of Representatives who spent more than their opponents did in 1996 ended up winning the election. No candidate who was outspent by more than 5-1 managed to win.


You may have noticed the single Labor Union Official listed at the bottom of the Democrat column. When you saw that one, you probably said to yourself, At least we have one in Congress! That's none other than California Democrat Esteban E. Torres, who has represented his East Los Angeles district since 1982. A former auto worker and United Auto Workers official, Torres is most recently remembered for his decision to vote for the job-killing North American Free Trade Agreement, after President Clinton promised him that he would set up a federally financed development bank. Four years later, the bank is barely off the ground, and Torres has announced his retirement.

There's a lesson here. Even when we elect one of our own, it's no guarantee that they'll remember where they came from. Without a real political party structure with a big and organized base to hold people to account, this is the result. So take another look at these lists. Think about what it would take to start filling up Congress with large numbers of regular working people and trade unionists.
Then make a list of your co-workers that you will ask to join the Labor Party. Maybe make a motion at your next union meeting that your local affiliate with the Labor Party. We have a long way to go, brothers and sisters. Let's get going.

Note on source: The information below was compiled from several publications produced by Congressional Quarterly in early 1997. Numbers reflect the incoming 105th Congress. Any member of Congress who claimed to be a lawyer was counted as a lawyer, regardless of other occupations listed. Many members of Congress list several occupations, but in each case we tried to determine their primary field of employment prior to getting elected.


Lots of suits ... not many blue collars!What Did U.S.
Legislators Do
For a Living Before
They Were Elected?
U.S. House of Representatives U.S. Senate
227 Republicans 205 Democrats 55 Republicans 45 Democrats
Lawyer - 76 Lawyer - 83 Lawyer - 26 Lawyer - 27
boss - 44
professor - 34
boss - 5
politician - 5
politician - 19
politician - 21
Banker - 4 Teacher/
professor - 4
professor - 19
boss - 18
Farmer - 4 Industrialist/
boss - 3
Real estate - 15 News media/
P.R. - 8
News media - 4 Real estate - 2
Insurance - 11 Farmer - 6 Professional
politician - 3
Astronaut - 1
News media/
P.R. - 8
Real estate/
insurance - 5
Real estate - 2 Insurance - 1
dentist - 8
enforcement - 5
Accountant - 1 Personnel
director 1
Farmer - 6 Accountant - 4 Physician - 1 Social
worker - 1
Engineer - 4 Banker - 3 Teacher/
professor - 1
Banker - 3 Government
employee - 3
Military - 1  
entertainer - 3
Social worker - 2 Veterinarian - 1  
CIA/FBI agent - 3 Law clerk - 2 Accountant - 1  
director - 2
activist - 2
Clergy - 1  
Lobbyist - 2 Salesperson - 1


Social worker - 1 Nurse 1
employee - 1
Clergy - 1
Economist - 1 Librarian - 1
casino manager - 1
Stockbroker - 1
  Architect - 1
Physician - 1
Labor union
official - 1
1 Independent
Educator/filmmaker - 1

Chris Townsend is Political Action Director of the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America (UE).

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