Two Freshmen to Watch in the Class of 2012

by Stuart Rothenberg July 25, 2012 · 12:32 PM EDT

In a political world increasingly populated by candidates who seem angry at the political opposition and promise to toe their party’s ideological line, two open-seat candidates I met recently cut interesting profiles.

While most members of the class of 2012 still have to prove their mettle in November, Joyce Beatty (D) in Ohio and Chris Stewart (R) in Utah, who come from rock-solid safe districts, can already be planning their first few weeks in Congress.

By most measures, Beatty, 62, and Stewart, 53, have nothing in common. But both became de facto Members of the next Congress by winning their party’s nominations, and both seem to have the potential to be a little different from the rest of their colleagues. Still, we will see how they perform when they get to Capitol Hill.

Beatty served a little more than four full terms in the Ohio House, including a time as Minority Leader. She initially was appointed to the Legislature to replace her husband when he resigned his seat in 1999 after serving for almost two decades.

Beatty had never served in office before her appointment to the Ohio House, though she was in the process of running for a seat on the Columbus City Council when she was appointed.
After her service in the Legislature, Beatty became senior vice president of outreach and engagement at Ohio State University. Her $320,000 salary raised eyebrows because that figure was greater than that earned by the state’s chancellor for higher education and the president of Cleveland State University.

The future Congresswoman announced in January of this year that she was leaving her job at OSU to run full time for Ohio’s new 3rd district, a Democratic seat created by the GOP-controlled Legislature to solidify surrounding Republican-held districts.

With the strong backing of popular Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman (D) and solid support in the African-American community, she beat former Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy, Columbus City Councilmember Priscilla Tyson and former state Rep. Ted Celeste, whose brother, Richard, is a former Ohio governor.

Beatty has not been without her critics over the years. When she voted against payday lending legislation in the Ohio Legislature years ago, some noted that her husband was lobbying against similar legislation in Virginia.

Beatty, who served as executive director of Montgomery County’s (Ohio) Human Services Department before she entered politics, owns a small retail boutique, and she owned a management training company for well over a decade.

While I have no reason to believe that she will stray from her party’s line on matters great or small, Beatty certainly has the temperament and personal style to reach across the aisle. She is personable and articulate, and she noted that during campaign debates she promised that she would not demonize business.

When I pointed out that a 63-year-old freshman from the minority party isn’t likely to have any effect in the House,

Beatty responded firmly, “I don’t have to do this. I’ve never been irrelevant. I’m creative, and I can think out of the box.”

Stewart, meanwhile, is a conservative Republican who surprised political observers by winning Utah’s 2nd district nominating convention with more than 60 percent of the vote, thereby avoiding a primary.

He drew criticism during the convention from some of his opponents, who accused him of embellishing his résumé, raising questions about a Jewish candidate in the race and creating phony reports of a conspiracy against him. An investigation into the convention, conducted by the state party, found no wrongdoing.

After college, Stewart spent 14 years in the Air Force, first flying rescue helicopters and then the B-1 bomber. While in the USAF, he started writing, and his list of books includes a Latter Day Saints-like version of Tim LaHaye’s and Jerry B. Jenkins’ apocalyptic Christian fiction series “Left Behind,” as well as historical novels.

Stewart’s website notes that his latest book, “The Miracle of Freedom: Seven Tipping Points that Saved the World,” was a New York Times bestseller. Conservative media personality Glenn Beck praised the book, which might explain its popularity.

Stewart is president and CEO of the Utah-based Shipley Group, which describes itself on its website as offering “training, consulting, coaching, writing and communication services” in a variety of areas “from environmental, engineering and project management to training in leadership and interpersonal communication.”

So far, Stewart, who is Mormon, sounds like a run-of-the-mill conservative from Utah. But unlike many conservatives, the GOP nominee and virtually certain winner in November has refused to sign the anti-tax pledge circulated by Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform.

In fact, while Stewart, who supported Sen. Orrin Hatch’s bid for renomination this year, isn’t enthusiastic about raising taxes or taking on more federal debt — he is a social and fiscal conservative, after all — he acknowledges that the debt ceiling must be raised.

“The question is,” he asks, “do we honor the good faith and credit of the United States?”

Unlike the Republican presidential hopefuls who during an August 2011 debate unanimously said they would refuse a deal that involved $10 in spending cuts for $1 in additional taxes, Stewart, like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R), clearly thinks that isn’t a bad deal.

Will Stewart forcefully advocate for a compromise when he gets to Capitol Hill? I have no idea. But at least he sounds like a reasonable legislator who understands that there is a difference between what he wants and what can be achieved.