Animal House

Ted Yoho and his fellow freshmen promise to make John Boehner’s life even more hellish.
John Cuneo

On a foggy Florida morning shortly before his first-ever general election, soon-to-be Congressman Ted Yoho was grinding down the teeth of a quarter horse named Little Man. First, Yoho injected the 1,000-pound animal with a tranquilizer. Then he yanked Little Man’s tongue out of the way and, with a full-body motion that evoked both dentist and lumberjack, took a 15‑inch filing tool to his back teeth.

Yoho was glad for the break from campaigning. Before deciding to challenge the 12-term Republican Congressman Cliff Stearns in last August’s primary, Yoho had spent three decades working as a large-animal veterinarian. With his 6-foot-2 frame, strong arms, and growing belly, he still looks more at home in a barn than he does at a lectern—a quality that helped propel him to one of the biggest primary upsets of 2012 and, this January, to Washington.

Once, you’d have needed to look to the first Congresses in American history to find lawmakers skilled in animal husbandry. This year, Yoho isn’t even the only one—Kerry Bentivolio, a reindeer farmer, is representing Michigan’s 11th district. The renaissance of the citizen legislator began with the Tea Party surge of 2010, which brought a mortician, an auctioneer, a gospel singer, and a former NFL lineman to Capitol Hill. Though the 112th Congress became famous for melodramatic standoffs that forced its job-approval rating to a 40‑year low of 10 percent, voters this fall selected a team that looks remarkably similar.

Republicans maintained a strong majority in the House, losing only eight seats total and hanging on to most of their 2010 additions—including the mortician and company—who will now play wizened sophomore mentors to a new class of freshmen. One of the most striking aspects of the 113th Congress is its inexperience: a full 38 percent of House members have served for fewer than three years. That’s the largest percentage of rookies since the Gingrich Revolution of 1994—which, of course, resulted in a catastrophic government shutdown.

When Yoho defeated Stearns in the Republican primary for the third district, a recently redrawn, deep-red slice of northern Florida, it was not for a lack of conservatism on Stearns’s part; the then-incumbent led investigations into Solyndra and Planned Parenthood and packed endorsements from the National Rifle Association, Representatives Paul Ryan and Michele Bachmann, and everyone else on the conservative checklist. But Yoho successfully argued that Stearns had overstayed his welcome, bona fides be damned.

“Career politicians created this mess, or at least they didn’t do anything to prevent it,” Yoho likes to say, when he is not calling for the abolishment of the Department of Energy or the full repeal of Obamacare. The day before his rendezvous with Little Man, Yoho repeated this refrain during a roundtable with workers at a lumber mill; in a speech to retired federal employees; over glazed ham at the Newberry Lions Club; and finally at a barbecue hosted by the local Republican Party at a historic train depot. It’s also the message of the first and only television ad his campaign ran, which showed three men in suits on their hands and knees in a pigsty. The “career politicians” tussled with each other and ate from a trough while Yoho said, in voice-over, “All they do is throw mud at each other.”

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Ben Terris is a staff writer for National Journal.

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