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November 26, 2018
From Rock Climbers to Rappers the 116th Congress Includes Plenty of Unusual Backgrounds

By Tim Nerozzi

Lawyers maybe losing their grip on Congress as the last election saw a wide variety of candidates including military officers, skilled rock climbers and lottery winners winning seats in congress for the first time.

Among the newest congressmen, elected in November 2018, are a Mega Millions lottery winner, a U.S. Navy SEAL and a former Clinton administration appointee.

The incoming Congress freshman class is among the most diverse in history – not only in terms of women, Muslims and immigrants, which the press has widely covered, but also in terms of the life experiences of its newest lawmakers.

Gil Cisneros (D-CA), was a shipping manager for food manufacturer Frito-Lay until 2010 when he was laid off. Weeks later, he was the winner of the Mega Millions lottery jackpot, raking in over $266 million. Since then, Cisneros and his wife have become philanthropists donating to scientific causes and educational opportunities. Gil is also a U.S. Navy veteran and the Gilbert & Jack Cisneros Foundation has also given funds to various veterans groups.

Antonio Delgado (D-NY), previously wrote and performed socially-conscious rap music under the stage name AD the Voice. He was also the co-CEO of Statik Entertainment. His time as a rapper and lyrics from his songs were a point of controversy throughout his election.  Delgao’s lyrics like“gotcha sweatin’ this like ya having sex to a porno flick.” And “God Bless Iraq” were used against him by his Republican opponent.

Katie Hill (D-CA) is a rock-climbing enthusiast turned politician in California’s 25th district. Her most successful campaign ad made headlines nationwide after depicting her skillfully scrambling up a hundred foot sandstone formation located in the Angeles National Forest of California.

“This can be hard,” Hill said in a campaign ad. “Not as hard as running for Congress when corporations are backing the other guy. But here, where we’re from, we’re not afraid of hard work.”

Analysis of the 115th Congress conducted by the Congressional Research Service found that the Congressional class of that year was dominated by career politicians(194), business leaders(179) or came from the legal profession (168).

The reason for the diverse class are unclear but, many candidates may have been inspired by President Trump who won the U.S. presidency in 2016 despite never hold a political office.

Not every member of the new congress is new to Washington.

In Florida’s 27th congressional district Donna Shalala proved victorious in a closely watched race. The former Secretary of Health in the Clinton administration is the first Democrat to represent the district since 1988. More recently she was appointed President of the University of Miami and worked with Clinton Foundation.

The district which includes Miami’s Little Havana is majority Hispanic. However, Shalala does not speak Spanish and had to use an ear piece for translation in two debates with her Republican challenger on a Spanish language television. There were no calls for English language debates from local television stations during the race.

“Shalala is the farthest to the left and most controversial of all President-elect Clinton’s Cabinet appointments,” wrote Robert Novak and Rowland Evans in a 1993 column for the Washington Post.

As Secretary of Health, Shalala held sway over Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, who was dubbed the “Condom Queen” by Rush Limbaugh for advocating the distribution of condoms in public schools.

The Republican class is not without its colorful characters either.

Daniel Crenshaw (R-TX),  is a former Navy SEAL who earned a Purple Heart, two Bronze Star Medals, and a Navy Commendation Medal during his career. Crenshaw’s right eye was lost in Afghanistan when an improvised explosive device planted by the Taliban detonated in his vicinity.

His injuries attracted national headlines after he was lampooned by the sketch comedy television program Saturday Night Live.

“You may be surprised to hear he’s a congressional candidate from Texas and not a hit man in a porno movie. I’m sorry, I know he lost his eye in war or whatever…” said SNL Comedian Pete Davidson during a November 3rd episode of the show which cause national outrage.

Davidson took the high road and declined to attack Davidson in return. Instead he suggested that comedy and sports should be separate from politics.

The following weekend Crenshaw was invited to appear on an episode of the show in New York where he accepted Davidson’s apology. An eye patch Crenshaw wore during the appearance prevented the audience from seeing that right eye he lost in Afghanistan has been replaced with a blue orb bearing a Navy insignia emblazoned in gold.

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