ongressman Eric Swalwell (D-Dublin) spent his first days on Capitol Hill as an unpaid summer intern for then Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher, where he answered phone calls, responded to constituents' mail and gave tours to visiting Tri-Valley tourists. He also realized early on the importance of learning the names and memorizing the faces of those serving in Congress, and he continues to do so today. As an intern, to pay his expenses, he worked from 5:30 to 8:30 a.m. at the Washington Sports Club, a small gym around the corner from the capitol that was frequented by many in Congress. His job was to check them in for workouts and to get them space on their favorite squash courts. At 8:30, he would put on a suit and tie and head to Tauscher's office and then, at 5:30 p.m., he left for his second job, waiting tables at a nearby Mexican restaurant. He also learned that members of Congress and their staffs have big egos, so the more he could greet by name, the bigger the tips.
That experience no doubt inspired a career in government service. So after earning his law degree from the University of Maryland, he returned to Dublin. He joined the Alameda County District Attorney's office where, as a prosecutor, he handled 34 jury trials before leaving last fall after being elected to Congress in the 15th District, which includes the Tri-Valley. As a soccer star at Dublin High, which earned him a college scholarship, he also learned the art of aggressive offense and good defense, skills that are boding well for him as a leader in bipartisan negotiations in Washington.
Part of learning the ropes in Congress, freshmen, like Swalwell in the current 113th Congress, take a four-week training course. It's much like freshmen orientation in college, though without the parties. Two weeks are spent in Washington, another week at Williamsburg and then the final week at Harvard University.
Speaking to the Rotary Club of Pleasanton last week, Swalwell, a member of the Hayward Rotary Club, said he remembers two things about his Harvard experience. First, the fact that he was attending a class at Harvard seemed to excite his parents, who live here, more than his election to Congress. Second, and more seriously, the congressional freshmen heard from political aficionados that if the 113th Congress was anything like the 111th or 112th, the country would continue to lose confidence, particularly in the financial markets overseas.
Here's where Swalwell's soccer skills came into play. He helped organize a small group of six fellow members of the freshmen class into weekly meetings to look at pending and hoped-for legislation. Some are Republicans, others Democrats. The group has gotten larger but still with an even mix of political parties. Swalwell said the bipartisan effort is working and for him and others in the group erasing any stereotype perceptions that both sides of the aisle can't work together.
In fact, Swalwell, in introducing his first bill in Congress, called the Main Street Revival Act, made sure it was co-sponsored by a Republican, Congressman Kirk Collins of New York. With Congress gridlocked over so many Democrat- and Republican-owned measures, a bill co-sponsored by both party representatives stands a good chance of passing. And it should pass. It would provide more capital to small, startup businesses where financing is difficult by waiving the need to collect federal employer and employee payroll taxes for up to a year, with another two years to pay back the debt.
As a member of the committees on Homeland Security and Science and Technology (which has jurisdiction for the Lawrence Livermore and Sandia national laboratories, two of the Tri-Valley's biggest employers), Swalwell is working to beef up domestic security while also reducing the country's dependence on fossil fuels. The Boston bombings showed three concerns, Swalwell said.
First, though the U.S. has been successful in defeating many areas where Al Queda operates, it's clear that potential attacks at home are still threats. Second, he believes the new threat comes from lone wolf rogue individuals, such as the two brothers in the Boston bombings, who now can gain inspiration and technical tips for radical acts from the Internet, Twitter, other online communications. Third, that we have to recognize that explosives such as those used in Boston, and before that in Oklahoma City, can be readily purchased at neighborhood stores.
Swalwell praised the Alameda County Urban Shield program, which he saw established while a prosecutor here. That group has now been in Boston to train law enforcement agencies there about its effectiveness. These threats along with cyber-security, which Swalwell called a "Cyber Pearl Harbor," are concerns that Congress and the committees that he is on are a major focus in Washington.