Politics

A former senator-turned staffer takes reins for Minnesota freshman congressman

Jonathan Strong Contributor
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Talk about bringing in a veteran political hand.

Freshman Rep. Chip Cravaack, Minnesota Republican, hired a former United States senator as his chief of staff, at least for a few months while he settles into office.

His new top aide, former Sen. Rod Grams, also served a term in the House representing Minnesota’s sixth district. Then, he benefited from high name recognition from his prior career as a TV anchorman.

The Daily Caller asked Grams what it’s like to serve as the staffer to a freshman congressman after his own career in Congress, whether he misses the halls of power in Washington, D.C., and what convinced him to work for Cravaak, anyway.

TheDC: How did you begin working for Rep. Cravaak?

I was a supporter of his during the campaign. When he got elected…he just asked me, because I’ve “been there, done that,” sort-of. I was in the House, I was in the Senate. So I’m familiar with the process of opening offices, and trying to get on certain committees, and stuff like that. So I just thought I had a little expertise and experience and also some connections. I know a lot of people out there.

I said I’d come on board for a couple of months. And when we get all done I’m just going to kind of fade back into my private life again.

TheDC: What’s it like being a staffer after being a senator?

Well, it’s a little different because I know all the work that the member does. And I see him running from meeting to meeting – not that staffers don’t have an awful lot of work and a lot of things that we have to have done – but it was just kind of a relief that it was him that was having to go attend these caucus meetings and these hearings and things like that.

I know how much pressure is on him. And that’s why I thought I could help him out as well. There’s so much on their shoulders especially when you’re a freshman and you’re coming out trying to learn the ropes. And to not have to worry about other things because you got so much on your plate.

But it doesn’t take long to become a veteran. And he’s become a pretty good veteran already. And so that’s why I say I would only do this for a couple months, because nobody wants me looking over their shoulder after a while. They’re gonna do their own thing.

TheDC: Does your pride ever get in the way?

I’ve been asked this a couple of times, you know, “why I would do this?” And some people say, “well, doesn’t your pride get in the way?” Well I don’t look at this as pride. I’ve got no ego in this. I’ve got no turf that I want to stake out. This isn’t long-term. What I’ve tried to do here is offer a little experience, a little expertise that I’ve gained over the years. And to put that to use to help Chip get off his feet a little bit better.

I have no doubt he’s going to do a great job. And it’s not going to be because of me. But I’m just hoping that somehow, I can just help him a little bit to get just a little bit better start in the race. Maybe out of the blocks just a little bit quicker than he would have. I don’t claim any credit for any success he’s going to have, but I hope I can help him a little bit.

TheDC: When you come back to Washington for meetings and the like, do you miss the process?

Oh, I do. Yes. You know, and I miss a lot of the people that are there. So it’s great for me to get back out there and see a lot of people.

You always wish you had a part of it. The drive is thinking that you can contribute. But I’m there now in a different role, so I really don’t try to think about that very much. What I’m trying to think about is to get Chip in the best position he can be in for him to do the work that he has to do.

TheDC: When you think back to your time as senator, what was the best part?

Oh! It was just such an honor, you know, to represent the people of Minnesota.

One thing I always said when people came out, you know, they always feel a lot of respect for the senator, but I think it’s more they show respect for the office, for the chair. And while you have the opportunity to sit in that chair, you try to do the best job you can. You try to live up to your campaign promises. You try to do exactly what you said you would do.

Paul Wellstone and I were kind of bookends. But I always thought that at least people knew where we stood on the issues. As you know, Paul Wellstone, one of the most liberal. But you knew where he was going to vote. Same with me. You knew where my positions were. I figured that’s why I was elected. And so I tried to live up to that.

But just being able to represent the people of Minnesota and to represent the country, was probably one of the biggest honors I’ve had.

TheDC: Why do you see potential in Rep. Cravaack?

He was kind of head and shoulders above [the other Republican candidates in the primary]. He knew the issues.

He’s a great conservative, that’s why I like him. You know, he’s got very conservative beliefs.

He was able to explain and articulate the issues, he’s a good spokesman.

He looks good, he looks congressional. He has all the things you need to do a good job.

On the campaign, he worked very hard. Kept his cool and did so many of the things that you need to do right. So it just showed that he had a lot of class. I think he’s gonna make a good Congressman.

TheDC: What were you doing in private life before this job?

Before I came to Congress…my main thing for 25 years was I was in radio and television. And the last 22 years I was a TV anchorman. So I was working in journalism and broadcasting.

So when I left the Senate, when I came back, I went back to that. My wife and I bought three radio stations here in Minnesota that we own and operate.

Right now while I’m doing this with Chip, all that kind of work falls on my wife’s shoulders. She’s managing the stations now and doing all the work that we share. She’s always worked there with me, or should I say, I worked with her.

When I get done here working with Chip, I’ll just go back and continue doing that.

TheDC: What are the tangible ways Rep. Cravaak has gotten off to a good start?

Well, you know, he’s a Navy veteran. He’s a pilot. He flew for the Navy. He flew for Northwest Airlines. So a lot of that, to get out of the blocks, he’s got on good committees. He’s worked very well. He’s got some good committee assignments. He’s going to be on the aviation subcommittee of the Transportation Committee.

He’s met with a number of groups like the Corps of Engineers, Forestry officials, and so on, outside of the committee structure because of some of the important issues in Minnesota dealing with mining and forestry and things like that.

So he’s been very proactive already trying to get out, and we’ve encouraged him to do this. So he’s done a good job at that.

When I was in office, I know that goes a long way. Because you have to work with these agencies. You don’t always agree with the direction they might be going in. But they have a lot of respect for you, and you need to show the respect for them.

He’s done that. He’s reached out. So I think he’s going to create a good working relationship on some of these issues that are important to Minnesota.

Ed. note: this transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.