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Florida Rep. Bean, who moonlighted as perfume salesman, returns to Hill as member

'I knew I would eventually run for Congress,' he says

Then-Sen. Connie Mack III, R-Fla., left, and Rep. Aaron Bean, R-Fla., from Bean's time as a staffer.
Then-Sen. Connie Mack III, R-Fla., left, and Rep. Aaron Bean, R-Fla., from Bean's time as a staffer. (Photo courtesy of Rep. Aaron Bean's office)

Aaron Bean came to the Hill more than two decades ago to be formally trained as a staffer through a yearlong program operated by the now-closed Legislative Studies Institute, starting out in the office of Florida Republican Sen. Connie Mack III, the grandson of the legendary baseball manager of the Philadelphia Athletics.

As Bean describes it, the program was meant to provide a “pipeline of trained staff” who were knowledgeable, courteous, and prepared to help.

He had originally planned to attend law school, but he pushed that goal aside to participate in LSI, an experience that he described as “well worth the effort.” Bean received a scholarship through the institute, but still had to work extra hours on the weekends to make ends meet, and those living expenses eventually pushed him to leave.

“If you didn’t have a support system, it was tough,” he says of his first stint in D.C.

After his program ended, Bean went back home to his hometown of Fernandina Beach, but he knew that his time in the U.S. Capitol wasn’t quite over: “I always figured I could come back,” the Florida Republican says.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Q: How did you first start working for Sen. Mack?

A: I was selected, one of 12 in the country to be a part of [the Legislative Studies Institute’s] very first class that came in in the fall of 1989. You are placed in an office as a fellow and [since] I was from Florida, I thought it’d be great to work for a Florida guy, who at the time was Connie Mack. And so that’s how it started. 

I was a jack of all trades. Getting his lunch. I would take a whole bunch of faxes and letters and then we had templates of how to respond to those letters.

Q: Can you tell me about some of those experiences?

I was there for the big things. There was a big reform to the Hatch Act. It was like a real-life term paper to brief him on all sides: Here’s the history of the Hatch Act, here’s who’s for it, who’s against it, here’s the proposed change, here are the effects of those changes. I mean, it sounds easy, but that was almost 10 days of research. And back then there was no internet. You actually had to pull out manuals and books and to go to the Library of Congress to do other research.

Q: You weren’t getting paid?

A: I got a scholarship to attend. I lived in a boarder house. I remember I lived behind the zoo. And I would walk, then get on a bus, get on the Metro and then walk to Capitol Hill. We would all bring a change of clothes. I remember putting sweatpants on at six o’clock and just hanging out, you know, till 9 or 10, until whatever project we were working on was done.

It was just very expensive to live as an intern. I had to work an extra job. I’m going to give you the inside scoop of what I did. Not many people know this, but I, on the weekends, would go to the mall and sell perfume. Pentagon City — I did that mall. I did the White Flint Mall. It just depends on where they wanted me. But I sold Tiffany’s perfume. And that’s what paid the bills at the time. That was $12 an hour. And back then it’s probably the equivalent of $50 today. I mean, it was so much money. I would work all day Saturday. That would be enough money that I could pay bills.

Q: You were offered a continuing job with Sen. Mack, and Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat. How did the offer happen with Sen. Leahy?

A: It was a nonpartisan institute, and so there were both sides of the aisle represented. I didn’t realize how partisan life was later, but at the time, it really was just getting the work done. I think it’s helped me. I’ve had a career not only full time working in the private sector, but my whole life I’ve been either running or involved or volunteering for campaigns. I’ve served on my city council. I was mayor of the town. I’ve served in the state legislature, and then got the opportunity of a lifetime to come to Congress. So I always think that time in D.C. early on gave me a better perspective.

Q: So the institute gave you a taste for all of it?

A: That was the beauty of it. Several members of Congress said there needs to be a pipeline of staff, trained staff that can come in, bringing in knowledgeable, courteous, prepared staff.

Q: What made you turn down the full-time offers at the end of your fellowship?

A: I think I got homesick. It was very tough to live. I was working double jobs. I had a chance to go work for the Chamber of Commerce back in my hometown of Fernandina Beach. I know exactly how much it paid: $17,500. And that was so much money to me.

Q: At what point did you know you wanted to come back as a member?

A: I knew I would eventually run for Congress. Sometimes you just don’t control the timing of running. If you want to win, you have to look for a time you can win. So I’ve had a great run in the Florida Legislature and I got to spend time with my kids. My kids are now grown, and that helps running for Congress.

Q: So how do you think working as a fellow with Sen. Mack shaped the way you approach your job now?

A: I know there’s a team involved. It’s not just me. We call it the Bean team. I like to make sure that everybody’s involved in the process, make sure that everybody on my team knows that they’re involved, that I value their input. The opinions of me are in the reflections of what they do. If they’re short with somebody on the phone, I’m short with them on the phone. Or if they do something really good, it’s me that does something really good. If I don’t execute a plan of taking care of the customer, the voters are going to find somebody else to do my job.

Q: Did you ever get to talk baseball with Sen. Mack?

A: I wish I could say I did. He was just always on the go. He was always a busy guy. I’ve seen him a couple times since, and he goes, “Oh yeah, you were that guy.” I then served in the class of 2000 in the Florida House. I came in with his son [Connie Mack IV], who went on to serve in Congress as well.

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