Photo: via Tulsi Gabbard
The House of Representatives will have several fresh faces among the ranks in the upcoming term. The 2012 election was a particularly strong year for challengers — a whopping 66 new members will head to Washington when the 113th Congress kicks off in January.
With close to 15 per cent of the new House comprised of fresh faces, there are a lot of new people to meet.
We’ve checked them out, and compiled a list of the 12 members who, because of their strange back-stories or all-star potential, are bound to make life on Capitol Hill more interesting next year.
Sinema, the first openly bisexual person elected to Congress, is one of the most fascinating up-and-comers in the Democratic Party.
A Tucson native, Sinema spent several years of her childhood living with her family in an abandoned gas station without running water or electricity. Despite her poor background, she graduated as valedictorian of her high-school class, and went on to graduate from Brigham Young University and earn three advanced degrees, in law, social work, and justice studies.
Sinema entered politics in 2005 as a member of the Arizona state legislature. She has earned a reputation for her fierce liberal politics, even taking on Arizona's controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio. In 2010, TIME magazine named her to its 40 Under 40 list.
Yoho, a large animal veterinarian from Gainesville, scored one of the most shocking upsets of the 2012 primaries, defeating 12-term Republican Congressman Cliff Stearns by fewer than 1,000 votes.
During the primary, Yoho made a national media splash for his unconventional campaign, which included a fundraiser with a George W. Bush impersonator and a Herman Cain-style ad featuring 'career politicians' rolling around in a pig trough.
Yoho will carry the Tea Party torch in the 113th Congress, filling the role vacated by departing representatives like Florida's Allen West. Last week, he made it clear he won't march in lockstep with the Republican Establishment when he told NPR that he doesn't plan on signing Grover Norquist's anti-tax pledge.
Despite being just 31 years old, Gabbard is already considered a rising star in the Democratic Party. She will be the first Hindu member, and, along with Democratic Representative-elect Tammy Duckworth, one of the first female combat veterans to serve in Congress.
Gabbard got her start in politics, when she was elected to the Hawaii state legislature at age 21, making her the youngest female state representative ever elected in the U.S.
While serving as a state lawmaker, Gabbard joined the Hawaii National Guard. In 2004, she opted out of a second term to voluntarily deploy to Iraq with a field medical unit. She went on to attend Officer Candidate School in Alabama, where she was the first woman to ever graduate at the top of her class, and voluntarily deployed again in 2008, serving as a military police platoon leader training counterterrorism units in Kuwait.
After returning from her deployment in 2009, Gabbard co-founded the environmental educational nonprofit Healthy Hawaii Coalition, started her own film production company, and served on the Honolulu City Council.
Source: Tulsi Gabbard 2012
A Santa Claus impersonator and part-time reindeer farmer, Bentivolio emerged from the political shadows this year to win the election to replace Republican Rep. Thad McCotter, the one-time presidential candidate who resigned earlier this year amid a campaign signature scandal.
The campaign to replace McCotter was one of the most bizarre races of the 2012 cycle. Reports from the Detroit Free Press revealed that Bentivolio has a history of legal and financial troubles, and resigned from his job teaching high school amid accusations that he had threatened students.
Bentivolio also came under fire for his acting role in a 2011 film that appeared to blame former President George W. Bush for the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. And in the final weeks of the general election, Bentivolio's own brother told reporters that the candidate is 'mentally unbalanced' and would 'eventually serve time in prison.' (Bentivolio responded by saying that his brother has 'serious mental issues.')
Despite these issues, Bentivolio ultimately prevailed, aided by outside spending groups including Liberty For All, a super PAC founded by young Ron Paul supporters.
Politically, Bentivolio remains something of a mystery, so we'll leave you with this quote, uncovered by the Free Press from a lawsuit against Bentivolio's company Old Fashioned Santa:
'I have a problem figuring out which one I really am, Santa Claus or Kerry Bentivolio,' he said in his deposition. 'All my life I have been told I'm Kerry Bentivolio, and now, I am a Santa Claus, so now I prefer to be Santa Claus.'
A double amputee veteran, Duckworth was one of the first Army women to fly combat missions in Iraq, and, along with Gabbard, will be one of the first female combat veterans to serve in Congress.
Duckworth joined the ROTC in 1990 while enrolled as a graduate student at George Washington University. She was deployed to Iraq in 2004, and lost both of her legs when she was hit with a rocket-propelled grenade while co-piloting a Blackhawk helicopter.
Although Duckworth has never before held public office, she has long been a favourite of top Democrats, including Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) who urged her to run for Congress in 2006. She narrowly lost that race, but rose to prominence in the party, earning major speaking roles at the 2008 and 2012 national conventions.
In November, she further delighted Democrats by defeating vulnerable Republican incumbent Rep. Joe Walsh to win the seat representing Illinois' 8th district.
Source: The Almanac Of American Politics
Those who were disappointed by the Tea Party losses in 2012 will be comforted by the election of Stewart, an End Times novelist who counts Glenn Beck as a fan.
Stewart's first claim to fame came during his 14-year stint as a pilot for the Air Force, when he set the world record for fastest uninterrupted flight around the world (36 hours and 13 minutes). Since then, he has penned 14 novels, including the six-part End Times series the 'Great And Terrible,' which envisions the United States in the aftermath of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack. He has also written two New York Times bestsellers, both of which were endorsed by Beck, whom Stewart counts as a friend. Beck and Stewart are now working on a 10-part EBook adaptation of the 'Great And Terrible' series.
Like Beck, a fellow member of the Church of Latter-Day Saints, Stewart is a staunch believer in American Exceptionalism who believes that Americans' core freedoms are under threat. He advocates far-right conservative social and fiscal policies, including dramatically slashing the size of the federal government and a ban on gay soldiers serving in the military.
Source: Mother Jones
Although he has never before held public office, Maloney heads to Washington with a stacked political Rolodex.
The New York Democrat first got his start in politics working on both of Bill Clinton's presidential campaigns. After Clinton's re-election bid, Maloney nabbed a coveted White House job as the No. 3 to White House Chief of Staff John Podesta, and was later promoted to staff secretary, coordinating the flow of communication to the President.
After Clinton left office, Maloney did a stint in the private sector, but returned to politics in 2006, when he mounted a failed primary challenge against Andrew Cuomo in the New York Attorney General's race. In 2007, he joined Eliot Spitzer's administration as first deputy secretary.
After winning a hotly-contested Democratic primary this year, Maloney went on to eke out a narrow victory over Republican incumbent Nan Hayworth in New York's newly-redrawn 18th district, boosted by strong support from the Democratic Party and liberal Super PACs. He will be the first gay representative to serve in New York's congressional delegation.
Source: The Almanac of American Politics
Like Maloney, Wagner will already be a power player in party politics when she arrives in Washington this January, despite never having held public office.
A former chair of the Missouri Republican Party, Wagner is credited with shepherding the state's shift from blue state to red state. She went on to serve as co-chair of the Republican National Committee during President George W. Bush's re-election campaign, where she gained a reputation for being a powerhouse fundraiser by bringing in more than $100,000 for Bush's second bid. The achievement earned her a cushy job as the U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg,
In the 113th Congress, Wagner's profile is also likely to be boosted by the notoriety of her predecessor, Missouri Rep. Todd Akin, who is best known for his infamous 'legitimate rape' remarks. As the GOP attempts to repair its image with female voters in the wake of the 2012 election, Wagner will likely take a visible role in the makeover.
Source: The Almanac of American Politics
After a two-year hiatus, the Kennedy family will once again see a member of its clan in Congress, when Joseph Kennedy III, the 32-year-old grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, is sworn in this January.
Expectations are high for Kennedy, who will replace retiring Congressman Barney Frank to represent Massachusetts' 4th district. Given our national obsession with the Kennedy dynasty, the incoming congressman's every move will likely be under a media microscope.
Unlike some of his relatives, however, Kennedy seems relatively drama-free. He graduated with a degree in industrial engineering from Stanford University -- where he was also captain of the lacrosse team -- and went on to serve in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic before earning a law degree from Harvard University. Since 2009, he has worked as an assistant district attorney in Massachusetts.
This public service background -- combined with his political pedigree and boyish looks -- put Kennedy in a strong position to take on a visible role in the Democratic Party. And if his rousing tribute to great-uncle Ted Kennedy at this year's DNC is any indication, the young Kennedy is ready to play the part.
Source: Joe Kennedy 2012
As a U.S. Attorney in North Carolina, Holding established a reputation in the state for prosecuting high-profile political corruption cases, mostly against Democrats.
He is best known for spearheading the criminal prosecution of John Edwards, who was indicted on campaign finance charges related to the nearly $1 million his political supporters gave to help hide his mistress, Rielle Hunter, during the 2008 presidential campaign.
Although Holding won the indictment, he did not argue the case because he had stepped down from the U.S. attorney job in order to run for Congress. The Edwards case was a focal point of Holding's 2012 campaign, prompting accusations that he had initiated the indictment to serve his own political ambitions.
Holding has already proven himself as a GOP, particularly as the party seeks to move North Carolina firmly into its column for 2014. In addition to being an effective attack dog, Holding is a millionaire (his family owns First Citizens Bank) and a power fundraiser. His name is already being floated as a possible GOP candidate to run against Democratic incumbent Kay Hagen in North Carolina's 2014 Senate race.
A Democratic state lawmaker from Texas, Joaquin Castro is the identical twin brother of San Antonio Mayor Juliàn Castro, who stepped into the national spotlight as the keynote speaker at this year's DNC.
The Castro brothers, both of whom graduated from Stanford and Harvard Law School, emerged as rising stars in the national Democratic Party during the 2012 campaign, hitting the trail to stump for President Barack Obama and other candidates. Joaquin, who was running a relatively easy campaign in Texas' 20th district, also stepped up to raise money for his fellow congressional candidates, earning the esteem of the DCCC by raking in more than $100,000.
Thanks to his convention speech, Juliàn is the more well-known Castro twin, at least for now. But that could change when Joaquin heads to Washington, where he will be thrust into the national debate and media spotlight. Interestingly, Joaquin is also the unmarried twin -- a fact that, while politically irrelevant, makes him more likely to surface in the Beltway gossip scene.
Massie is a beneficiary of both the Tea Party movement and the Ron Paul Revolution, whose combined support propelled him to victory over the Establishment-backed candidate in the Republican primary in Kentucky's 4th district.
A political newcomer, Massie is an accomplished scientist and engineer, with two degrees from MIT. In 1993, He and his wife, a fellow MIT graduate, started the successful firm SensAble Technologies to market his invention, 'The Phantom,' which allowed users to have tactile interaction with objects in cyberspace, according to a 1996 essay in Fortune magazine.
Massie sold the company in 2003 and returned to Kentucky to run a farm, where he built an off-the-grid timber-frame house that runs on solar energy. He made his first foray into politics in 2010, when he ran for office as a county judge and won. He credits his involvement to his growing concern about government overreach and spending.
This academic background sets Massie apart from his House colleagues, particularly those who rose up on the support of the Tea Party. Although it is too soon to tell what he will do in Congress, we'll be watching to see whether Massie takes the lead for the GOP on emerging issues like Internet freedom and copyright reform.
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