Roll Call: Obama Vet Joins Push for Public Servants in Congress

David Heifetz cleaned out his desk at the White House Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs in January and joined the effort to get public servants elected to office.

Heifetz, 28, who had written speeches for former President Barack Obama’s senior adviser Valerie Jarrett since August 2015, is now the chief communications officer of New Politics, a nonprofit that recruits and consults with candidates from public service backgrounds to run for public office.

“I’ve always been a believer in the mission, so when my service at the White House ended, I think I just felt like there’s never been a more important time to focus on people with the right values and the right leadership experience,” he said.

Heifetz wants people with public service backgrounds to not be afraid to enter the otherwise “self-selecting” system.

“These folks would be really great servant leaders, who would be the kind of people we would want in public office, [but] it requires a certain type of network, certain type of expertise and knowledge set that a lot of folks don’t have, even though they’d be great at it,” he said.

Heifetz knew New Politics’ founder Emily Cherniack from working on Massachusetts Democrat Alan Khazei’s short-lived 2012 Senate campaign. Khazei is a co-founder of City Year, an AmeriCorps program.

“One of the things I think we saw in that campaign was that there was this huge community of people that served in AmeriCorps or had done Peace Corps or were working on service nonprofits who weren’t engaged in the political system,” Heifetz said. “If you look at our politics, you need people who can bring folks together, build consensus, have a real sense for what these challenges actually mean.”

Cherniack had worked in the nonprofit world for eight years before working on Khazei’s campaigns. (Besides 2012, he also ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 2010.)

“I just realized how broken the system is and it’s such a closed ecosystem and it’s really hard for someone to figure out how to run for office,” she said.

Once she got the idea for New Politics, she used Massachusetts Democrat Seth Moulton as her beta test.

Cherniack knew Moulton, who was in the Marine Corps for six years, and asked him to run for office.

“We highlighted that whole model with Seth,” she added. “We recruit and prepare servant leaders to get ready to run for office and then we help incubate the campaign.”

New Politics consults for free, fundraises like a nonprofit, and looks for candidates with experience from the military to AmeriCorps to the Peace Corps.

And, the group is bipartisan.

Another Marine vet, Wisconsin Republican Mike Gallagher got connected with New Politics after he’d already decided to run. But, the group supported him as much as it could.

“We’ve never had fewer veterans in Congress,” Heifetz said. “I think the experiences that you have when you serve the country, having to work with people from different backgrounds, the fact that everybody serves under the same flag, wears the same uniform, makes it so when veterans serve in Congress, there’s a real bond.”

Last election cycle, the organization supported 23 candidates with public service backgrounds in local, states and federal races across the country. Next cycle, it is working toward helping 50 candidates, and hopes to get 20 congressional candidates elected by 2020.

On getting Heifetz on board, “Our philosophy for New Politics and for all of our campaigns is we only hire A-team talent,” Cherniack said.