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House Freshmen to Watch

In a closely divided House, particularly one in which about half the membership has turned over in the past three election cycles, leadership is more important than ever. The influx of new members has created opportunity for advancement, whether within House leadership ranks or in other political offices. Here are 10 House freshmen (in alphabetical order) worth watching as the 113th Congress gets under way.

1. Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio

Beatty was the first woman to serve as Democratic leader in the Ohio state House. Perhaps it’s not a surprise that she counts Minority Leader and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi as a political inspiration, then, as both women are leadership trailblazers. Beatty’s résumé, though, is wide and varied, and she brings to the table experience as a college administrator, professor, mental health counselor, local government health services official and even a small-business owner as the proprietor of a clothing boutique in Columbus. As the representative of the swing state’s biggest city and capital, she can bring an urban focus to her work in Congress and as a new member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

2. Rep. Susan W. Brooks, R-Ind.

It likely won’t be long before House GOP leaders see the sunny, articulate Brooks as a natural spokeswoman for the conference. Her service in government — she was a deputy mayor of Indianapolis and a U.S. attorney — dovetails with time spent as a community college administrator and has given her insight into workforce and education issues. Brooks has preached civility as a means of conducting the public’s business, something she says has been instrumental in her ability to work with diverse constituencies.

3. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas

Castro and his twin brother, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, are rock stars back home and have been celebrated as the new face of the Democratic Party since they burst onto the national scene at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., last summer. The Stanford and Harvard-educated Joaquin spent 10 years in the rough-and-tumble Texas state House before winning his congressional seat. The twins give San Antonio a local-national one-two punch that could elevate the sleepy-yet-populous city as well as their respective careers.

4. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.

Cotton was sworn in to his first term Jan. 3, but Republican strategists didn’t even wait that long to start salivating at the prospect of having the Harvard-educated Army veteran (he served in Iraq and Afghanistan) with the leading-man name and looks running against Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor. Cotton credits President Bill Clinton with sparking his interest in politics, and Cotton’s deep conservative views hew closely to his district’s red tint.

5. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii

The youngest person ever elected to the Hawaii Legislature had not been sworn into her U.S. House seat when she expressed interest in being appointed to fill the vacant Senate seat of the Aloha State’s recently departed political godfather, Democrat Daniel K. Inouye. She didn’t get the nod, but she’s still one to keep watch on. The Hawaii National Guard combat veteran also served on the Honolulu City Council and blazed another path on her way to her House election last year: being the first Hindu elected to Congress.

6. Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C.

Hudson brings extensive Capitol Hill experience, having served as chief of staff to three Republican lawmakers, an experience that gives him a head start on issues that sometimes take years to be familiar with for other members.

7. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III, D-Mass.

Some people loathe political legacies. But Kennedy’s name and connections give him a platform available to few members, and how he uses it will be closely watched.

8. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M.

Lujan Grisham, who was elected by her peers to be freshman class president in the second term of the 113th Congress, hails from a diverse, Albuquerque-based district that could be viewed as a microcosm of the Democratic coalition: urban and suburban, with a growing minority base that values progressive politics as well as regional traditions. Her service in New Mexico’s Aging and Health departments also gives her experience into premier political issues Congress will grapple with.

9. Rep. Luke Messer, R-Ind.

The GOP freshman class president brings a wealth of experience to the job as a former Capitol Hill staffer, Indiana legislator and state GOP official. His close association to the popular former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and his ability to stay on message and be a team player put him high on the list of freshmen to watch.

10. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Mo.

Wagner has experience in everything from the glitzy diplomatic post of ambassador to Luxembourg, to the more nuts-and-bolts state Republican Party chairwoman, to the blue-collar sheen of being on the Lafayette Township Committee. She also held management positions at all-American brands Hallmark Cards and Ralston Purina, and she complements a strong leadership profile for women in the freshman class.

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