WASHINGTON, D.C. — From sleeping on a cot in his office to yanking teeth on the floor of Congress, freshman First Congressional District Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Flagstaff) has put in a frantic year dominated by economic crisis and partisan bitterness.
On the national level, he has cast votes for the radical restructuring of Medicare and cutting popular domestic programs to reduce the soaring deficit while juggling local projects, like supporting the 4-Forest Restoration Initiative (4-FRI) and the Blue Ridge pipeline.
The Flagstaff dentist unseated Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick with the strong support of the Tea Party and arrived in Washington without any previous experience in an elected office.
Gosar is tall, his blue eyes ringed with fatigue. His enthusiasm harkens to Jimmy Stewart’s character in the movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” yet he could find himself taken advantage of because of his political naiveté.
One can imagine the genial workaholic filibustering on the floor, but he has to work hard just to catch up with his peers. Most other representatives arrive in Washington with a Rolodex full of contacts, because in politics it’s who you know, not what you know.
Still, he says his background in dentistry and business has helped him in Washington. He has mastered the art of connecting one on one and giving his full attention to a person when they meet with him, but he still needs practice giving speeches to a crowd.
One story he and his staff like to tell about his background as a dentist helping him to win friends in the House of Representatives, happened during the debt ceiling debate.
During a marathon session, Rep. Martha Roby from Alabama brought her daughter to work with her since children under the age of 16 may accompany their parents onto the House floor. Her daughter had a sore tooth and her face was bound in a cloth.
When Gosar saw the young lady in the cloakroom in obvious pain, he asked her what he could do to help. She told him she needed a tooth pulled. He took a Snickers bar and froze it. She bit into it and got the tooth loosened up, but it didn’t come out.
“Now, dentists have a vice grip. As I held onto her tooth, I said to her, ‘Look at the speaker!’ She did, I held on as she turned her head and the tooth came out,” said Gosar.
When the woman who was speaking heard how he had helped, she gave Roby’s daughter a dollar and said, “Put this under your pillow because I don’t believe the tooth fairy comes to D.C.”
Gosar often has people contact him looking for help when they can’t find it anywhere else.
“Take the homeowner issue. The government really can’t help them out. The rules are stacked against you,” said Gosar.
Gosar believes the government is the problem, not the solution. He came into office knowing the government is dysfunctional.
“I’m a worker, I want to get government out of the way. I want to see personal responsibility,” said Gosar.
Still, he finds making alliances with other lawmakers possible when he has worthy legislation to pass. He found making contacts and inroads with Congress and the Senate helped him to pass legislation such as the Blue Ridge pipeline. “I like to look at what I can do today to change tomorrow,” said Gosar.
Despite Gosar’s approachable demeanor, many constituents get the jitters when they think about contacting a congressman. What happens when a constituent contacts his office? How can he help? What kind of people work for him? Where are his offices? What is the best way to contact an office? Which office is better to contact, the Arizona offices or the D.C. office?
Hannah Loy, from Mississippi, sits at the front desk of the D.C. office. She is Gosar’s staff and press assistant. Full of information, she speaks with a Southern drawl and has the blond good looks of a southern belle.
“Most people call the D.C. office to have flags flown over the Capitol to celebrate an anniversary or a birthday or commemorate an event,” said Loy.
She also explained that since 9/11 and the mailing of anthrax-tainted letters to representatives, it can take up to three weeks for a letter to make it through congressional security. Security guards test letters for harmful powders or explosives, she said.
“It’s more effective to send an e-mail or make a phone call,” said Loy. Staffers log all phone calls and try to respond to every contact.
If a constituent calls the D.C. office, one of two interns answers the phone.
Mark Valenti comes from North Carolina. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Greensborough with a degree in political science. Wearing a crisp white shirt, tie and navy suit, Mark hopes to move into a job working on policy. The other intern is Jeb Harmon.
If a constituent comes to Washington and wishes to see the sights, a call to Gosar’s office at least a month ahead of time can yield a personal tour of the Capitol — including a walk from the offices to the Capitol through the underground tunnels and tickets to the House and Senate galleries to see government in action. The only way to see the galleries is to contact a representative or senator.
Besides the Washington office, Gosar has three offices in Arizona: one in Flagstaff, one in Casa Grande and another in Prescott.
Gosar regularly flies back to Arizona, since he has a daughter still in high school. His other daughter attends a university.
Since being sworn in, Gosar has participated in 18 town halls across the district. He has also hosted four tele-town halls from his Washington office.
Congressman Gosar hopes to encourage all constituents to share their concerns and thoughts to hopefully find solutions.