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The Illustrated Congressmen

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Tattoo artist Matt Knopp, owner of Tattoo Paradise in Adams Morgan, says there is much less stigma attached to tattoos these days. At least a handful of Members of Congress admit to being inked, although none were willing to show off their body art for photographs.

“If they’re coming in here, they’re sure as hell not telling me who they are!” Knopp joked, though he said he gets the occasional Capitol Hill staffer in for ink.

But the stigma, regardless of how unwarranted it may be, is likely to keep most Members or their staffers either out of an artist’s chair or at the very least on the down low. 

“They’re the kid in eighth grade who was already trying to figure out what college they were getting into,” Knopp quips. 

‘The Key Is to Plan It’

The list of Members without tattoos — even those with demographic proclivities toward them — is also notable. Republican Reps. Ben Quayle (Ariz.), Martha Roby (Ala.) and Cory Gardner (Colo.) — leaders of the GOP’s youth movement who all came of age at the start of the latest tattoo renaissance — have never been inked.

“Oh no, I valued my hide too much because my parents would have kicked me out,” Gardner said in explaining his lack of ink. 

Likewise, former NFL players Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) and Jon Runyan (R-N.J.) have yet to be tattooed.

Even the House’s first Member to rock a mic, Rep. André Carson (D-Ind.), has never been tattooed despite the prevalence of body art in the hip-hop community. As a teenager, Carson performed under the name Juggernaut.

And stereotypes notwithstanding, a number of Members who have served in the Marine Corps or Navy aren’t inked either. 

“No, I definitely don’t have a tattoo,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who was a Marine Corps reservist.

And neither does Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who served in the Navy and thus far has resisted the urge to get a tasteful set of golf clubs or bottle of merlot tattooed on his person.

So what should a lawmaker looking to get his first tattoo look for in an artist?

“The key is to plan it. You don’t want to look like a smorgasbord of thought,” Jackson counsels.

“You want to look at their portfolios, see a nice, clean solid tattoo,” Knopp said, warning against going for a cheaper option when getting work done.

“Tattoos aren’t cheap. If you’ve been told a price for a tattoo and a guy is offering to do it for half, you’ve got to ask why,” he added.

And for any fence-sitting Members out there worried about the potential stigma of getting a tattoo, Knopp says that’s largely gone the way of bipartisanship.

“They’re not just for bikers or street thugs anymore,” he explained. “Your kid’s second-grade teacher has ’em, the soccer mom has ’em, the guy who owns the oil company has ’em and the punk rocker has ’em. And the funny thing is, they could all have the same tattoo.”

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