5 House freshmen to watch: a nurse, an FBI agent, two policy wonks, and a political operative

Jon Ward Contributor
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When all 63 new Republican House members arrived in Washington last week, they brought with them varying degrees of expertise in policy and politics.

Some of the members cycling through a photo line with new House Speaker John Boehner after their swearing in Wednesday were accompanied by only their family members. Others came with a staffer. Only one who spoke to The Daily Caller – Rep. Lou Barletta of Pennsylvania – had a staffer with business cards: chief of staff Patrick Rothwell, who has worked on Capitol Hill for nearly a decade.

While that is a fairly superficial distinguishing mark, other new congressmen and congresswomen have already shown signs of promise in their first few days in Washington. These are members who did not draw the national media attention that was showered on the likes of Kristi Noem of South Dakota, Tim Scott of South Carolina, Sean Duffy of Wisconsin and Ben Quayle of Arizona.

Here are five freshman to watch: a nurse, an FBI agent, two policy wonks, and a political operative.

Diane Black, Tennessee – This 59-year old former state senator – who will turn 60 on Jan. 16 – tossed Democrat Bart Gordon from the seat he held for 26 years, representing Tennessee’s 6th District, which contains suburbs north, east and south of Nashville. It is the district former Vice President Al Gore represented for two years. Before she was a part of the GOP leadership in the Nashville state house, Black worked as an emergency room nurse for 40 years and is married to David L. Black, the CEO of Aegis Sciences Corportation, a multi-million dollar tech company in Nashville. She has been awarded a spot on the influential Ways and Means Committee, and has stood out already for her intellect, according to leadership aides.

Michael Grimm, New York – No incoming congressman’s bio can match this 40-year old ex-Marine and ex-FBI agent who was on the front lines in the first Gulf War in Iraq and then spent his eight years at the Bureau doing undercover work to take down corrupt Wall Street traders, Mafia mobsters and corrupt politicians in New Jersey. Seriously. Grimm now represents New York’s 13th district, which contains all of Staten Island as well as parts of Brooklyn. The district has been represented by a Republican for all but two of the last 30 years*. Democrats are already aiming for Grimm, singling him out for attacks over his intention to vote for repealing President Obama’s health law.

Cory Gardner, Colorado – He is a 36-year old policy wonk and lawyer who worked for several years last decade as a legislative aide to Sen. Wayne Allard of Colorado before running for the state legislature successfully in 2006 and quickly ascending to House Minority Whip in 2007. Now he represents Colorado’s 4th congressional district, which encompasses the rural eastern plains along the eastern border as well as Fort Collins. Gardner will seek to make his mark on climate and energy policy under Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, who on Friday placed Gardner on three subcommittees and said the freshman “brings with him a strong energy and environmental portfolio from his service in the Colorado state legislature.”

Rick Berg, North Dakota – This 51-year old is another former state lawmaker who unseated a long-serving Democrat, Earl Pomeroy. Pomeroy held the state’s only congressional seat for 18 years. But Berg is no fresh-faced legislator. He was in the North Dakota state house for 26 years, and was the majority leader from 2003 to 2007. He also was a principal at a commercial real estate firm in Fargo. Berg, like Black, has been placed on the Ways and Means Committee to deal with tax policy.

Tim Griffin, Arkansas – Griffin, 42, is connected, both politically and to past controversies. He served as an aide to Karl Rove in the Bush White House, and then went on to serve as U.S. Attorney in the eastern district of Arkansas, but only for eight months on an interim basis. The Justice Department’s botched handling of a large-scale dismissal of U.S. Attorneys ensnared Griffin, whose post in Arkansas had been the result of some wrangling by Rove and others in Washington. He left the job without seeking a presidential nomination and Senate confirmation. Griffin’s past activities as a researcher and political operative on the 2000 and 2004 Bush-Cheney campaigns have also come under some scrutiny. Nevertheless, the Army reservist and JAG officer who served in the Iraq war has hit the ground running on Capitol Hill, Republicans leadership aides said, and has been named to the whip team and placed on the Armed Service committee and on the House Judiciary Committee, the same committee that held hearings on the U.S. Attorney firings a few short years ago. He’s representing Arkansas’ 2nd district, which contains the capital of Little Rock and its surrounding suburbs.

*This article originally stated that New York’s 13th congressional district was represented by a Democrat from 1911 to 1993, but because of redistricting the 13th district has not always contained Staten Island, as it does now.

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