Cover Story

Young gun

"Young gun" Continued...

Issue: "Schock factor," Jan. 31, 2009

At home in Peoria the next evening, Schock's pastor was thinking about him, having become a mentor to Schock when he became a Christian just over a year ago. Ritch Boerckel, senior pastor of Bethany Baptist Church, said Schock would often come to the church and leave quickly. Then one day in 2007 he asked to talk with Boerckel about committing his life to Jesus.

Schock's time in the Illinois State House showed him how politics could twist people, even before federal authorities indicted the state's now-impeached governor, Rod Blagojevich, on corruption charges including trying to sell Obama's vacated Senate seat. Schock knew he needed someone higher than himself to trust, he said, needed God's protection against his own foibles. Already he was driving an hour home to Peoria from the State House in Springfield every night, saying it was better to stay "out of that environment" in off hours.

"He sees a lot of the underbelly of the political personal lives. There's an awful lot that goes unseen," Boerckel said about Illinois politics. "God used that."

As Schock drew deeper into Christian faith, he joined Boerckel's discipleship group with four others-something he has had to give up with an office and full-time job in Washington. Schock says now that he struggles to find a peaceful moment to sit and read the Bible.

Schock grew up with parents who attended a conservative Apostolic Christian Church in Minnesota. He said becoming a Christian himself was always "next week, next month, next year," and that he began to question his religious roots in college especially after going on a trip with some friends to Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore that made him wonder whether Christianity would be a part of his life had he been raised in a different culture. But bit by bit Christians around him kept drawing him back to Jesus, he says. He began going to Bethany, and week after week the messages were "spot-on," he says, showing him "how simple salvation is-God does the work." And bit by bit, he says, "I turned my heart over."

Now 800 miles from Peoria and in his third day on the job, two repairmen arrive at his office with a door and proceed to hang it on its hinges. As a power screwdriver bores through wood, the congressman's newly hired staffers-all young men except for one young woman-take calls from constituents. The walls are bare and bookshelves are empty, but on Schock's desk sits a bust of Teddy Roosevelt, his favorite president.

Schock arrives from a lawmakers' morning prayer breakfast and a meeting with Cantor at the Capitol Hill Club, where Cantor offered him the leadership post of deputy whip, a rare snag for a freshman. Energy, Schock says, makes up for his fewer years of experience, and it radiates off his face as he sits down for a meeting with his deputy chief of staff. It also makes up for a life of "getting up early and staying up late," his pastor says, underscoring that already the young lawmaker has been in public office for eight years. "Aaron's rise so quickly really comes from a work ethic more than a hunger to appeal to people," Boerckel said.

The aggressive schedule Schock has set up for himself since he was in his teens has the downside of keeping him from some relationships in his personal life-he isn't married-and throughout his 20s he says he has felt like he has been in a fishbowl. But lawmakers have hundreds of opportunities each day to simply "appeal"-to their colleagues, lobbyists, and their egos-forgetting the reason they were elected, and in some cases forgetting the ethical standards that bind them. Schock compares the experience to the proverbial frog thrown into a pot of water that slowly boils.

Working under the Obama administration and a Democratic Congress with plans for aggressive spending isn't likely to reduce the workload or lessen the challenges. "If you don't want to upset anybody, don't do anything," he says with a laugh. "I've never been afraid to speak my mind."

Freshman class

Of 65 freshman in Congress, 41 are Democrats (nine Senate, 32 House, plus two non-voting delegates), and 22 are Republicans. A few in the House to watch:

Anh "Joseph" Cao, R-La. - The first Vietnamese-American elected to the House is also the first Republican elected in this Louisiana district in over a century, defeating incumbent William Jefferson who faces federal corruption charges.

Jared Polis, D-Colo. - The first openly gay candidate elected to the House (Rep. Barney Frank announced he was gay six years after he was elected).

Pete Olson, R-Texas - One of few Republicans to defeat an incumbent Democrat, Nick Lampson.

Pro-life Democratic freshmen are bucking the party line but in many cases replaced pro-life advocates, like Steve Chabot in Ohio; Kathy Dahlkemper, Pa.; John Boccieri, Ohio; Bobby Bright, Ala.; Parker Griffith, Ala.; Steve Driehaus, Ohio.

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emlybelz.

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