A Career in Politics
By Bret Hrbek, Former Councilman for the City of Front Royal, Virginia
As many political science majors imagined, I figured I’d be a member of Congress by the time I was in my 40s. Although that did not happen, I did start my career in politics and then found out about life outside of Washington, DC.
While in college I was a member of the College Republicans of Virginia Tech. During that time I served as chairman and I served as the treasurer of the College Republican Federation of Virginia. It was during this time that I began to network and open the future doors to my political career. During this time I was active in several congressional and House of Delegates campaigns. As college students you can imagine that we did some real grunt work. I don’t know how many doors I knocked on, college students I registered or envelopes I stuffed, but it was a lot. Lesson 1: Regardless of your age, get involved with the local party and volunteer on campaigns. You will meet the right people who can jump start your political career.
During my College Republican years I became introduced to the Leadership Institute. It is an invaluable resource to a political career. No matter if you are interested in think tanks, campaigns, media or to be the elected official yourself, the Leadership Institute will give you the tools you need to launch your career. Lesson 2: Enroll in a Leadership Institute class now.
During college I entered in Washington. My first internship was in a small start up lobbying office on K Street. It was an interesting introduction into the world of paid lobbying.
The next summer I was selected as a Lyndon B. Johnson Intern for Congressman Frank R. Wolf. During this six week stint I was an unpaid intern learning at the feet of some great staff and elected officials.
The summer before my senior year I was an intern at the Council for National Policy. After college I was hired to work at CNP full time. Each one of these internships led to the next which ultimately landed my first full time job in politics. Lesson 3: be prepared to intern for free.
After two and half years in Washington I realized that my true calling was outside the Beltway in the private sector. However my desire for public service did not end because I left official Washington. I served eight years as a member of my town council (two of those as vice mayor of Front Royal, VA). It was the lessons I learned in politics that formed my political philosophy and gave me the courage to run for office. I was able to spend eight years of my adult life making a real difference in the lives of my local community. And then I stepped away when I realized that I didn’t enjoy it any longer and I didn’t think I could bring new ideas or energy to the job. Lesson 3: Be prepared to walk away.
I do not know what the future holds. I do not believe that my public service days are over. However, I have learned there are many more ways to serve the public then I did as a political science undergraduate at Virginia Tech. There are a number of boards and commissions in your local community that are yearning for help. They are a great way to start your road to public service.