Where Are the Entrepreneurs on the House Small Biz Committee?

Last Updated Mar 17, 2011 3:02 PM EDT

In the new Congress, freshmen members are assigned to the myriad committees where the real work gets done. House leadership does its best to place members on committees where their previous experience will be most beneficial -- lawyers end up on the judiciary committee, farmers are assigned to the agriculture committee and so on. So wouldn't it make sense that the majority of new members assigned to the House Committee on Small Business be small business owners and entrepreneurs themselves?

This week the committee made the last of its appointments, so I've taken the opportunity to profile all of the newest members below. Many have some pretty impressive backgrounds -- too bad the majority of them lack the kind of business experience this committee really needs.

Republicans

  • Renee Ellmers (North Carolina) Formally a nurse, Ellmers was the Clinical Director of a care center that her husband owned in North Carolina before her election to the House. She has also served on several community development boards.
  • Chuck Fleischmann (Tennessee)
    Fleischmann has a law degree and started his own law practice with his wife after graduating from law school. He has held no prior political office.
  • Jaime Herrera Beutler (Washington)
    Herrera worked in temporary political aid positions in college and went onto to become a legislative aid for Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA). She was appointed to a State legislative position in 2007 after a vacancy and won the seat in 2008 later running for U.S. Congress in the same district.
  • Mick Mulvaney (South Carolina) A Georgetown School of Foreign Service undergraduate and lawyer, Mulvaney worked in commercial law first as part of a firm then later in his own firm until 1998. He then gave up law to raise his children and help run the family real estate and homebuilding business. Later he went into operating and owning a restaurant chain.
  • Scott Tipton (Colorado)
    Tipton founded Mesa Verde Indian Pottery with his brother and ran the business for 30 years. It currently employs 22 people. Tipton was elected to Colorado House in 2008.
  • Joe Walsh (Illinios) Walsh worked in inner-city Chicago in a program called Jobs for Youth that teaches job skills to high school dropouts. He has also worked with the Heartland Institute on policy issues and ran a privately funded school voucher program.
  • Allen West (Florida)
    West was a Field Artillary Officer in the U.S. Army and served in several combat zones, for which he received a Bronze Star among other honors, before eventually retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel in 2004.
  • Jeff Landry (Louisiana)
    Landry is an Army veteran who served in Operation Desert Storm, a former sheriff's deputy and police officer, but has no other political experience. His official congressional bio also states that he co-founded a business "that supported the oil and gas industry" but it doesn't get any more specific.
  • Lou Barletta (Pennsylvania)
    Barletta is the former mayor of Hazleton, PA, and before that he founded the Interstate Road Marking Corporation, a pavement marking company. He sold the company in 2000.
  • Richard Hanna (New York)
    in 1979 he started Hanna Construction company, which focuses on small residential projects in upstate New York. The company grew to employ over 450 people, and has also completed multi-million dollar commercial and municipal projects in the area.
Democrats
  • David Cicilline (Rhode Island) Cicilline received degrees from Brown and Georgetown law School. He served as a public defender in Washington, DC before opening his own practice in Rhode island. He was elected the Rhode Island House in 1995 and served as Mayor of Providence in 2002
  • Cedric Richmond (Louisiana)
    Richmond served the in Louisiana House from 2000-2010. He's never run his own business, though he points out that his parents owned a small business while he was growing up.
Only seven of the 12 freshman committee members are experienced business owners. Of those seven, only three members -- Mulvaney, Barletta, and Hanna -- have run businesses that scaled and created a substantial number of local jobs. (I'm leaving out Landry since the specific nature of his business and its growth are ambiguous from the sources I've seen.) And I would argue that none of these members has experience creating and running the kind of highly innovative, game-changing companies -- the real job creators -- that our economy needs.

So why aren't there more owners and entrepreneurs serving on this committee? Here are a few possible reasons.

First, as I've written about before, entrepreneurs don't run for office. Most people who start and grow their own businesses don't have time to think about going into politics. They are too busy making money and trying to figure out how to beat the competition to leave their business and serve the people. Since they don't run, they aren't elected, which means they can't serve on the Small Business Committee.

Second, there are only so many committee assignments to go around and this one is probably not at the top of most new members' lists. This committee really only has jurisdiction over the Small Business Administration (SBA) and is therefore not able to wield much power or influence.

Third, my sense among entrepreneurs is that they are generally wired to avoid the government. They want the government to leave them alone and let them grow their enterprises. Most are not looking for a government handout and are only looking for an equal chance to succeed.

The committee has already begun work on a number of key issues for innovative entrepreneurs: It's looking at the impact that the 1099 reporting requirement from the healtcare legislation will have on small businesses, and will work to reauthorize the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer grant programs. The committee plans to hold hearings on the impact of trade agreements on small business, budgeting for the SBA, and many other issues. Let's hope that they can, if nothing else, do no additional harm to the real job creators in our economy.

  • Cameron Cushman

    Cameron Cushman is a Senior Analyst at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation where he leads the Office of the President and works closely with the President and CEO, Carl Schramm. In this capacity, Cushman directs the Foundation's efforts to educate policymakers about the importance of entrepreneurs as job creators.

    Prior to joining Kauffman, Cushman served in the U.S. Department of Commerce's Market Access and Compliance division of the International Trade Administration. At Commerce, Cushman led the effort that launched the website www.entrepreneurship.gov. Prior to joining the Department of Commerce, Cushman served in the Domestic Policy Council and the Office of Presidential Correspondence at The White House.