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Hill Climbers: European Experience Inspires Aide

He trucked a big suitcase with him as he wandered the streets near the White House on New York Avenue Northwest. Paul Blocher was looking for his hotel, and when he finally asked a police officer for directions, he was told he wasn’t in the right place — at all. His hotel was on New York Avenue Northeast. 

“In Poland, I had used Google maps and figured that it had to be almost right next to [the] White House. I was patting myself on the back thinking that I had outsmarted all those suckers who were paying like $350 to stay at hotels in the vicinity,” Blocher said.

It was 2005, and this was Blocher’s first night in Washington, D.C. A cabbie drove him to the right hotel — it had barbed wire around the front; on the inside, the rooms were gutted. The room was $70 a night. 

“I usually tell this story to poke fun at myself,” Blocher said. But it also serves as a reminder about where he started.

Before coming to the Hill, Blocher was a student at the Uniwersytet Jagiellónski in Krakow, Poland, where he earned a master of arts degree in European studies. 

“It was like being in ‘An American in Paris,’” he said, except he was in school (and in Poland), but like most educational experiences abroad, it left an impression.

“There wasn’t the sort of blind, knee-jerk liberalism you see on American campuses,” Blocher said. “This was due to my professors’ experience living and teaching under Polish Communist Party rule, especially under Gen. [Wojciech] Jaruzelski and martial law in the ’80s.”

Some of Blocher’s professors were aligned with the Solidarity movement, a federation of trade unions that resisted the communist dictatorship. “They had to fight for their right to teach. Free speech was not a simple thing,” he said.

Although fascinated with European history, the Wisconsin native returned to the U.S. after finishing his thesis. “Politics was an interest of mine. I figured it was something you could do in life,” he said.

In Washington, he took a part-time job working the front desk at a Holiday Inn. It may not seem like prime preparation for a career in politics, but he said he learned a crucial lesson that got him where he is today.

“Don’t be afraid to do the little jobs that aren’t fun but need to be done,” Blocher said. “Try to be great at whatever task you are doing, whether it’s writing press releases or licking envelopes.”

After two months at the Holiday Inn, he landed an unpaid internship as a staff assistant with Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.).

By November 2007, Blocher was a legislative director. That was also the year he met his future wife, Sarah, while moonlighting as a policy analyst for the House Republican Policy Committee. “A mutual friend of ours introduced us,” he said.

Was it love at first sight? “Ah, I’m kind of private about that,” he said. “I’ll just say we’re a great pair.” 

With the help of a few connections back home in Wisconsin, Blocher was eventually hired as legislative director for Rep. Michele Bachmann, a Republican from neighboring Minnesota.

“It was a very fast-paced environment, and there was always something going on,” he said.

Bachmann has a reputation for high staff turnover, but Blocher had nothing but good things to say about her, sentiments that he echoed about his current boss, Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-Minn.), whom he started working for as legislative director when the former airline pilot came to Congress in January 2011. Blocher now serves as chief of staff.

“I respect Chip,” Blocher said. “He never ran for office [before]. He’s a role model … how a politician should act.” 

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