The Newcomers: Spiritual Bonding

Posted May 20, 2009 at 2:36pm

Michael Cravens didn’t want to get involved in Republican Rep. Gregg Harper’s Congressional race. Content with the work he had done on Mississippi state Sen. Giles Ward’s campaign, Cravens was set to return to work at Eagle Communications, the communications and marketing firm he had opened about 10 years earlier.

But in 2007, a good pal insisted that Cravens meet with Harper, who was running for Mississippi’s 3rd district seat. He eventually relented, if for no other reason than to get his friend to stop nagging him.

Until he worked for Ward, Cravens had only volunteered on political campaigns. He had decided long ago that a professional political career was not for him and was happy running his business. All that changed when he finally sat down with Harper.

The two men bonded over their strong Christian beliefs.

Harper “got big tears in his eyes, and told me, I had prayed God would send me someone who was not a political hack, but who really cared and would run a campaign that would give glory to God,’— Cravens recalled. “I knew this was somebody I could get really excited about.—

After that initial meeting, Harper and Cravens discovered that they shared more than their religious beliefs. Cravens said he realized that he and Harper held similar philosophies on government and that many of their conservative views were in agreement.

Cravens worked with Harper through the Mississippi runoff in 2008, in which the underdog candidate defeated six others for the nomination. Even as they headed into the general election, Cravens was planning to go back to Eagle Communications to resume his work there. But Harper had other ideas. If he won the election, he wanted Cravens to come to Washington to be his chief of staff.

After about a month of deliberation, Cravens accepted. Although it meant continuing to suspend his business operations in compliance with ethics laws, he wanted to be a part of Harper’s work in Congress.

Cravens said there is “an incredible learning curve for any new office.— His initial duties included assembling the Congressman’s staff, overseeing the budget and managing general administrative tasks. It took some time, he said, but he and his colleagues are finally learning to balance Harper’s schedule and divide his time effectively among legislative assignments, constituent issues and other various appointments. Now that he has had a few months to settle in, however, his responsibilities have increased considerably.

In addition to his chief duties, Cravens staffs Harper on the House Administration Committee and is managing the Congressman’s re-election campaign. He makes it very clear, however, that he conducts campaign duties off Capitol grounds and even uses separate cell phones for Congressional and political calls.

That kind of schedule inevitably leads to some long hours, but Cravens never forgets to be grateful.

“If I’m working late nights, I’ll purposely drive by the Capitol and say, Yeah, but you get to work here,’— he said.

Cravens may not have expected to find himself a chief of staff to a U.S. Representative, but he calls the job “the highest honor I’ve ever had.—

And whether it’s spotting established politicians like one-time presidential candidate and former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) at a lunch, or seeing his own boss being greeted as a Congressman for the first time, Cravens appreciates the opportunities this turn in his life has presented.