The Youngest Congressman
Can Illinois's Aaron Schock help revitalize the GOP?
4:00 PM, Jan 28, 2009 • By KEVIN VANCE
Republicans looking for a fresh, young face to help guide the party out of the political wilderness don't need to look any further than new Representative Aaron Schock of Illinois. At age 27, Schock is the youngest face of all in the House of Representatives, where the Constitution requires members to be at least 25.
Schock started his own business right out of college, and won a seat on the Peoria school board as a write-in candidate when he was only 19. In 2004, at age 23, the Republican Schock won a Democratic-leaning Peoria-based seat in the Illinois House of Representatives.
He was elected to the U.S. House in November as the representative of Illinois's 18th District, which includes Peoria and Springfield, with 59 percent of the vote. He replaced fellow Republican Ray Lahood, who now serves as President Obama's secretary of transportation.
Schock says his first few weeks on Capitol Hill have been "action packed" and "non-stop fun." He says his new post is "a little bit like being a state legislator on steroids." Despite his age, Schock reports that his colleagues have been respectful and encouraging. "Many of them understand the importance of having a diverse representation in government, and obviously age is a part of that diversity," he says.
One sign that Republican leaders see Schock as a future leader of the party is that Schock was assigned to the transportation and infrastructure committee, his first choice. It's not exactly a given that freshmen lawmakers in the minority party receive their first-choice committee assignment.
While Schock shies away from the "conservative" label, he says he is both fiscally and socially conservative. He thinks the best strategy for long-term economic growth is "to continue to incentivize entrepreneurialism, risk-taking, and investment, and the best way to do that is through tax incentives that promote those things." He is also pro-life and opposed to gay marriage.
The congressman promises that some of his early legislative initiatives will be geared toward government transparency, especially with TARP funds. Schock has a good chance of success if he prioritizes transparency initiatives, since they line up with some of President Obama's promised support for more government transparency.
Schock says Republicans can win majority status in Congress if they focus on communicating their message to the American people. "We cannot legislate our way into a majority, and I think if you look at our party's revival through the history of time, you'll see that with Ronald Reagan, who was termed 'the Great Communicator,' or whether it was in '94, the first time we took over Congress in 40 years, with the Contract with America. Each time it was when our party thought through a compelling message and then boldly and clearly communicated it to common, everyday, ordinary citizens."
He also pointed out that the Republican party must learn how to attract a broader demographic. Regarding Hispanic and young voters, Schock said "it's no secret that we got our tail handed to us in the last election. Some might suggest that's because they agreed more with him. I would suggest he did a better job of communicating with them."
In order to bring more ethnic minorities into the Republican camp, party elders would do well to learn from the Shock's example. In his reelection campaign in 2006, he received 39 percent of the African American vote, a tremendous increase from the single-digit percentage he received in 2004. This, despite running for reelection in a Democratic-leaning state house district in a Democratic year.
The increase in his support from African Americans wasn't magical; it was a result of hard work. He frequently attended events in Peoria's black community--including functions at black churches. His office focused on constituent services, making sure that all of his constituents received the help they needed from his office. His campaign advertised the support he received from many of the leaders of Peoria's black community, and Schock directly courted their votes, explaining why his conservative principles were in their best interest. He spoke in community meetings and went door-to-door.
Peoria city councilman Eric Turner, who is himself a black Republican, notes that many Republicans talk about getting the African American vote. "Most Republicans haven't tried," he said. "Aaron Schock did." But when Schock went after the black vote, Turner says Schock didn't violate any of his Republican principles. "He's a very unique entity," says Turner. "He's a hard worker, not afraid to do things that will bring attention."