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This tattoo reminds Rep. Greg Landsman of his faith (and his first job in politics)

Inked congressman from Ohio says, ‘Be humble, and do it with God’ 

Rep. Greg Landsman, D-Ohio, seen here in the Library of Congress in January, says "there are two ways in politics to approach faith."
Rep. Greg Landsman, D-Ohio, seen here in the Library of Congress in January, says "there are two ways in politics to approach faith." (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Rep. Greg Landsman has a permanent link to his former boss inked on his shoulder, a quote from the Book of Micah: “Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God.” 

“That was on his wall, and now it’s one of my tattoos,” Landsman says.

Landsman, a Democrat from Ohio, started out as an intern for Ted Strickland, the Democratic congressman who later became governor of Ohio. Seeing that passage hanging in Strickland’s office was key, he says.

“I’m Jewish, he was a Methodist minister,” says Landsman. But working for him shaped his thoughts on the role of faith in politics. “You can talk about it because it is a huge part of who you are, and it’s important for people to know who you are. But don’t ever put it on other people.”

Landsman went on to get a master’s degree in theology and work for Strickland again, this time as the governor’s director of faith-based and community initiatives. First, he put in a short stint in Nancy Pelosi’s office on Capitol Hill, which he describes as “intense … and I don’t mean that in a bad way.”

“I wasn’t, like, a Pelosi lifer, but boy was it formative,” he said. “It doesn’t take long to realize how incredibly significant of a human being this is.”

Now a congressman himself, Landsman represents Cincinnati in Ohio’s 1st District, after unseating incumbent Republican Steve Chabot in the last election. “Faith, my commitment to children and families, my work ethic — a lot of that came from Strickland and Pelosi,” he says.

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

Q: How did you land your first job as a staffer?

A: I went to Ohio University in Athens for undergrad, and Ted Strickland was running for reelection — he had won in 1992, lost in that big Republican wave in 1994, and then was running again. I was interested in politics and public service and had been asked to help with a Students for Strickland group to organize students on campus. I really like organizing, because I like meeting people. 

He won, and I got a chance to intern for him. It was the summer of ’97, and I loved it. I mean, Ted was all about the district. I learned from Ted a level of hustle and commitment and care for the part of the country you represent. Every incoming phone call mattered, every piece of casework mattered. 

When he ran for reelection, I took some time out of school to go help and was a field organizer. And then I went back and hurried and got my degree. I had to double up and take 20 hours for a couple of semesters, including the summer. 

Q: How did you end up working for Pelosi?

A: He was in a faith in politics group with Pelosi, I think it was every Wednesday morning, and they would have bagels and they would sit. He’s a person of tremendous faith, Pelosi is a person of tremendous faith, I’m a person of tremendous faith — each of us in our own way. And when I was ready to graduate, Pelosi was hiring, and he said, “Hey, there’s this young guy who I think the world of.” 

I graduated at the end of that summer, and I literally took my last exam at 11 o’clock on a Wednesday and got in the car, which was already packed. I drove to D.C., didn’t even unpack the car and was at work for Pelosi that Thursday morning.

And that started one of the most intense and exciting and challenging experiences of my life. It was my first job after graduating, and I was all in. I didn’t do anything else but that work. 

Q: What was a typical day like for you on the Hill?

A: My first role was [legislative correspondent], and I also helped with some comms work. If I remember correctly, the press secretary was in San Francisco, and so I helped with press clippings in the mornings, which at that point was all done on the Xerox machine. I had to go through the papers and clip the stories — literally clip them.

Ultimately, I spent more and more of my time when she was in D.C. helping her get from one place to another and making sure she had the materials she needed. You know, she’s just always on, and it’s very intense. And I don’t mean that in a bad way. I just mean that it’s constant action.

From Pelosi, you learn that the organizing you do on the ground is critical, but you also have to do that on the Hill. If your goal is to get things passed, which it should be, you have to have really good relationships with people across most if not all the committees, and especially leadership on those committees. And she was just incredible at that.

Q: You worked in her office right before she became whip, and you saw the foundation being laid.

A: Some of that was obviously because she was going to run for whip, but what I saw was the intentionality around those relationships as it related to the issues she was working on. She spent a lot of time leading on HIV/AIDS and China-related issues — that was a time when the discussion around most-favored nation status was happening. 

I liked watching her work, and I liked staffing. I mean, even now as a member of Congress, I find myself on the floor helping the floor staff find members, and if somebody doesn’t vote, I like helping them out. It’s hard sometimes when I’m standing next to Pelosi. I immediately go into, “What do you need?” She’s like, “I’m just looking for the vote sheet.” And you know, she’s fun, she helps me out too.

And the same is true for Strickland. I still talk to him on a regular basis. During the speaker’s vote [earlier this year], he came up and sat with me the first day, which was pretty remarkable to have these two members that I had worked for, right there on the floor with me, in what was going to end up being a very complicated and strange few days.

Q: You worked on the Hill for just a short time. What made you want to leave?

A: I was 22 years old, and I was trying to figure out things. I wanted to learn Spanish, and so ultimately, I lived in Guatemala and learned Spanish. I wanted to be a classroom teacher, that was on the list. I wanted to go to divinity school, and I wanted to go to Harvard.  

Pelosi said to me, “Go find the things that make you happy. At some point, though, you may have to get back here.” And I remember her saying it like it was yesterday, and I remember thinking about it after Jan. 6 — watching this insurrection and them going after her and thinking to myself, “Maybe I’ve got to go back.”

Q: What other moments stand out from your staffer days?

A: On the campaign side in 1998, it was one of those super competitive races. We were at the grand opening of a grocery store, and Ted was going to cut the ribbon. It was packed, and this was going to be a big deal — front page of the local paper in a swing county. And this older woman said, “Can I talk to the congressman?” 

I just stepped back, because neither Pelosi or Strickland are the kinds of people who would ever need to be staffed in a situation like that. She started talking to him, and I found them off to the side. I thought, “He’s not going to be able to cut this ribbon, and I need to say something.” But she was in tears and he was holding her hands, listening. Her husband had just passed, and something had gotten messed up with her Social Security checks and she was having trouble paying her bills. 

When we got in the car, he spent the next hour calling the Social Security Administration and the gas company to help her resolve those issues. And he never cut the ribbon.

Q: How is faith shaping your work in Congress now?

A: There are two ways in politics to approach faith. You can have it be a way of helping you understand the world and having the world better understand you — but you shouldn’t have it be something that gets imposed on other people. That’s wrong.

When Ted was in Congress and when he was governor, in his office was one of my favorite passages in Torah — or scripture for him, because I’m Jewish, and he was a Methodist minister. It’s Micah 6:8, and I believe the only time somebody asks God this direct question: “What are we supposed to do?” And God says very clearly, “Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with me.” 

That was on his wall, and now it’s one of my tattoos. I have a lot of tattoos, and it’s in Hebrew on my left shoulder. You’re on this earth to do as much good as you possibly can, and bring as much justice and relief and good things to the people around you. Be humble, and do it with God. 

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