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POLITICS: PennAve

For most on Capitol Hill, leadership isn't worth the trouble

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Politics,Congress,Paul Ryan,David M. Drucker,Campaigns,PennAve,Eric Cantor,Speaker of the House,Magazine,Jeb Hensarling

For most lawmakers, a position in the leadership — whip, majority leader or even speaker — brings to mind the old country song: "Take this job and shove it."

And you can't really can blame them.

The top jobs take a tremendous toll on a lawmaker's personal and family life. The posts can also make it difficult to maintain strong connections with the voters they need to re-elect them every two years, as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's surprising defeat in Virginia showed.

“There are risks to your family, which are the most important, but as Eric is learning today, there are risks to your political career as well,” Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., said.

Serving as speaker, majority leader and whip — the No. 1, 2 and 3 positions in the leadership, respectively — requires a huge personal and political investment by the member, Democrat or Republican. It’s why so few lawmakers out of the hundreds on the Hill aspire to hold the positions.

Forget about watching your kids grow up or spending weekends with your spouse. Being in the leadership means spending nearly every weekend, and every congressional recess period, traveling the country to raise money for your colleagues and your caucus’ campaign committee, not to mention just showing up to headline campaign appearances.

This rigorous political schedule is among the reasons why House Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling of Texas has routinely spurned pleas to run for a senior leadership post and why House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin has done the same. Both have young kids at home and they put a premium on spending time with their families, especially because they're away most weekdays in Washington.

Of course, lawmakers do have the option of moving their families to D.C. so that they can enjoy a more regular family life, and many do.

But that runs the risk fostering the Image of a politician who has "gone Washington" and lost touch with voters back home. Or worse, that actually becomes the reality because the lawmaker is no longer flying home every weekend and interacting with neighbors.

Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., who is routinely mentioned as a possible candidate for the senior leadership, said those factors weigh heavily on members who take on that responsibility or consider running for a top post.

“Leadership anywhere is tough, but here it’s particularly difficult because you’re a leader for a conference that represents the whole country, and that’s a huge challenge, and the sacrifices that they make on both sides, are significant,” Price said.

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