I have been a student of Congress since I was a young boy, when my dad, a Senate staffer, would bring me to his office. The year 1968, when as a 10-year-old I came to political consciousness, was tumultuous: the Tet Offensive, which was the beginning of the end of our involvement in Vietnam; the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy; the Prague Spring, a citizen revolt against the Soviet empire; the riots between police and demonstrators at the Democratic Convention in Chicago; and the first wave of airline hijackings by the Palestine Liberation Organization. I began reading The Washington Post, and four years later I read the opening chapters of the Watergate scandal in its pages. By the time Richard Nixon resigned two summers later – an event in which a newspaper had held all three branches of government accountable – I knew I wanted to be a reporter.
After writing for my high school and college papers, I got jobs covering politics in rural Virginia and then in New York City. Returning to Washington in 1986, I spent the next 28 years as a Capitol Hill beat reporter, House press secretary, lobbyist and legislative analyst, primarily of tax and budget policy. In 2014, tired of advising clients concerned about the fate of this or that proposal to go back to sleep, I concluded that the solution to congressional dysfunction lay not in Washington but with the people, both those still voting and those who had given up. Ten days before I left my job and career, I met a man who asked me what I did in Washington. I responded, “I’m part of the problem.” Rather than stay in a comfy job with a secure retirement plan, I chose the unknown, exploring how I might be a part of the solution.