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Hill Climbers: Aide Sees a Future in Congress

Michael Shank is driven by his commitment to progressive values.

The returning communications director and senior policy adviser in Rep. Mike Honda’s (D-Calif.) office was raised in an Amish-Mennonite community in Kidron, Ohio, where the ideas of helping the downtrodden, sustainable development and nonviolence were instilled in him, all values Shank says he shares with Honda.

“It makes for easy work on my part, and I think for Honda, it creates real trust because he knows I’ll be able to carry that message forward,” Shank said of communicating his boss’s policy goals and political values. 

This is not Shank’s first stint on the Hill, or even in Honda’s office. He began working as the communications director for Honda in 2009 and left in 2011 to take on a role as the U.S. vice president for the Institute for Economics and Peace, an organization that seeks to shed light on the economic benefits of peace through quantitative measures. 

But after less than a year away, Shank said he missed the Hill atmosphere and the advocacy role he had held there. When he learned Honda was again in the market for a communications director, he decided to head back to the halls of Congress.

He said that in his brief hiatus from Capitol Hill, he witnessed as an outsider what he called a change in tone from Republicans in Congress.

“I saw Republicans becoming more extreme in their messaging, and I wanted to come back and help the Democratic Party, particularly progressives, counter that,” Shank said. 

Now that he’s back on the Hill, Shank added that he wants to help the Amish and Mennonite communities gain a voice in Congress, particularly because he said their beliefs in assisting the poor and maintaining a peaceful world align with progressive Members on the Hill. 

“I was at a reunion recently and saw my relatives do watch Fox News, and they are starting to buy into conservative thinking, despite how it might contradict, in my mind, with our social justice principles, our economic justice principles, our environmental justice principles,” Shank said. “So I gave the graduation address at Christopher Dock High [Mennonite] School in Pennsylvania . and part of my message was that we have to be involved in the world around us working for justice and serving people, and that includes government.”

Shank added that he’s always entertained the idea of running for Congress and is currently mulling which state and Congressional district he thinks would be best in which to seek a seat. He has lived in Ohio, Virginia and Maine, and he works for a Californian.

“I’ve had friends say to me, ‘All right Michael, stop talking. When are we going to see this run happen?’ because I’ve simmered on it for a while,” Shank said. “I think it’s really a matter now of where.”

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