Illinois Republican Rep. Aaron Schock is Alex P. Keaton all grown up. Intensely focused on economics, finance, and achievement from a very young age, Schock, 29, has been on the fast track to success since the fifth grade.
As the youngest and one of the better-looking congressmen on the Hill — in February 2009 Huffington Post readers voted him the “hottest congressional freshman” — Schock has garnered more attention than most of his fellow newbies. And since TMZ published a photo of him shirtless, the congressman’s abs have received about as much buzz as his legislative agenda.
While the superficial may dominate much of what the average American knows about Schock, his path to Congress and his hopes for the country’s future ought not fall by the wayside.
Schock’s dream was never to become a legislator, he said, rather his goal was always to graduate from the University of Illinois and make money. When the school board refused to allow him to go to college early, however, he realized he could get on the board and affect change. “After being told I couldn’t graduate early, I went to the voting booth to vote as a senior in high school and saw that nobody was running against the school board and I thought, ‘This is ridiculous,’ and that’s when I inquired about what it took to be a school board member. They said, ‘You’ve got to be 18 and a registered voter.’ Well I was 19, I got that. So one thing led to the next, I ran and get elected to the school board.”
This step onto the Peoria school board was his entry into politics and from there he grasped opportunity after opportunity, moving on to being elected to Illinois state legislature and ultimately to Congress.
Despite growing up in rural Illinois, Schock’s passion for finance dominates his life’s timeline. In fifth grade he started his first business, doing contracted database management for a book store chain in Peoria. In middle school he worked as an agent for a licensed ticket brokerage firm. Schock explained he had to buy the tickets quickly when they hit the market to meet the demands of the brokers. “So I went up to four phone lines in my house and AT&T — true story because their lobbyist has been here and I asked him, ‘Why can you only let four lines into a phone?’ and they explained that it is because when they build a neighborhood they use a certain type of piping that can only fit four lines into a house … But my neighbor had two lines and so I’d use their portable phones. So when I was in sixth and seventh grade I had six phone lines and 13 credit cards and I’d buy these tickets every weekend, usually a couple hundred tickets for everything.” He jokes that he has probably bought literally thousands of Garth Brooks tickets but has never seen the singer live.
With his ticket earnings, Schock started an online brokerage account and began investing in stocks. “My dad wondered what was wrong with his son. I was asking him, you know what are PE ratios, I’d look them up and try to figure it out.”
His eighth grade year he began a five year stint managing the scale house operations of a gravel pit. “Sand and gravel goes into everything, roads, bridges, skyscrapers, houses, you name it,” Schock said. “At the same time I was learning accounting — and this company had no computers — and so I learned old school ledger accounting and became very interested in accounting through that experience.”
Schock left the gravel pit after high school and spent his college years buying up real estate. After graduating from college in two years, Schock co-founded and ran Garage Tek, a garage closet construction business, until he ran for state representative. After his first re-election, Schock accepted a job as the director of development with Peterson Companies of Peoria.
He views himself as a Ronald Reagan/Jack Kemp hybrid, with Reagan’s conservatism and Kemp’s chutzpah. “When I was in the state Capitol I had a very Democratic district, had the most Democratic district in Illinois, outside of Chicago. It had never been held by a Republican until I won it and beat an eight-year incumbent to get there. In my district there were 40,000 voters, 20,000 on food stamps, a huge union presence and my effort was, ‘Look, you don’t have to agree with me, I just want a forum. I just want to tell you why I’m running and see if we cant agree on some issues.’ And what I found was I could vote against things like the raising minimum wage … and go back and explain to them why it didn’t make sense to raise the cost of labor, what it meant to the jobs and the economic activity in the area and they understood it.”
Indeed, Schock’s two biggest issues are taxes and trade. “With a background in finance and entrepreneurship, to me, there are few things more important than tax policy. I think the economic situation we are in speaks to that … Reviving the economy is job number one.” He continued, “As much as the president talks about doubling exports the reality is America’s competitiveness is under assault by his bad tax policies, economic policies and unwillingness to allow us to compete with our global competitors.”
Schock rarely stops working and has annoyingly few vices. His one guilty pleasure? Magazines. With all his travel back and forth between Illinois and D.C., “I will read upwards of 30 magazines a month. Everything from Architectural Digest, U.S. News, Time magazine, GQ, Details, Conde Nast. I have them all sent up to an address in Peoria and put them in a bag — I don’t get to watch TV much, so it is a way for me to stay up on the culture.”
What will the future bring for Rep. Schock? “I think you work hard, you apply yourself, and deliver for the people you work for, they are going to give you other opportunities. So being in Congress is an awesome opportunity, it was one I jumped at when it presented itself, but whether I am going to be here for the next 10 to 20 years is up to the voters and partly up to what other opportunities might come along. So I’m going to stay focused on the job at hand.”