House Call: Alumni make run for Congress

September 25, 2008
by Matt Kohut

Originally published in the summer 2008 Kennedy School Bulletin

Deciding to run for Congress is never easy. Hard work and personal sacrifice are the only certainties, but it’s a choice that many Kennedy School alumni make. Thirteen alumni currently serve in the House, nine of whom attended Executive Education programs. This year at least two more Executive Education alumni pursued seats and while their candidacies were ultimately not successful, making the effort is what the Kennedy School emphasizes.

When Michael Brennan retired as Maine’s state senate majority leader in December 2006, he had no intention of running for Congress. With two sons in college, he thought it was the right time to return to the private sector. He got a surprise, however, when Representative Tom Allen (D-ME) announced he was resigning his seat in the House to run for the U.S. Senate.

“I felt that it was a good time to run for Congress and to have a platform to discuss several urgent issues, not only how they affect the state of Maine, but also nationally.” Brennan, one of six Democratic candidates, didn’t win.

Brennan credits the Senior Executives in State and Local Government program, which he attended in the summer of 2004, with shaping his decision to run for state senate majority leader later that fall.

“What the program really did was force me to examine what I wanted to do in my current position and what kind of leadership roles I wanted to take in the future.”

Retired Air Force Major General Bentley Rayburn is very clear about the sacrifice involved in running for Congress.

In 2006, he ended a 31-year Air Force career to run for the seat vacated by a retirement in his home district of Colorado Springs. Starting dead last in a heat of seven challengers for the Republican nomination, he proved a quick learner, finishing third.

By late spring 2007, members of the district’s business community encouraged Rayburn to stage a primary challenge in 2008. He discussed it with many local leaders over the summer, and by September he and his wife decided to move ahead.

“To keep serving was why we left (the Air Force) in the first place, and the need was still there.”

A 2005 alumnus of the Senior Executives in National and International Security Program, Rayburn firmly believes that his military service is a critical qualification.

“Just as you need some health professionals and some business people (in Congress), you have to have some folks with military experience. We are in the middle of a very, very difficult war.”

Rayburn was defeated in Colorado’s Republican primary held August 12.

Retired Air Force Major General Bentley Rayburn

Bentley Rayburn on the trail earlier this year

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