Rep. Marc Veasey got his start in politics as a campaign volunteer-turned-district staffer for another North Texas Democrat, Martin Frost.
They had something in common — both started out as journalists. While Frost once worked as a CQ Weekly Report staff writer, Veasey covered high school sports.
Volleyball stats might seem a world away from Congress, but Veasey found himself using his training on the job. “No, that’s not how you say that,” the young staffer would say as he pitched in on press releases.
Now a fifth-term congressman himself, Veasey recently recalled some of the highlights of working for Frost. This conversation has been edited and condensed.
Q: How did you first get connected to Frost?
A: I was volunteering on his campaign [in 1998]. I went to Navarro County and helped out. I was in Corsicana at a parade called Derrick Days, which was awesome because I actually had relatives in Corsicana. My grandparents are from the Corsicana area. I just started volunteering. There was an opening on his staff, and I started working on his staff. It was really that simple.
Q: What drew you to his campaign, and then his staff?
A: I always wanted to work in politics. When I was a kid growing up, I used to love watching White House press conferences. I wanted to be a political reporter. I had an uncle who was a television reporter, and he ended up working for Jim Wright, who was majority leader for 10 years and then speaker of the House. My uncle was the person who gave me the idea that you could be a journalist who covers politics and get the knowledge and know-how to one day be a press secretary. He majored in mass communications, and so that’s what I did. … I never ended up working in journalism as a political reporter, but I did do high school football and girls’ volleyball. [Laughs.] And I also worked for an advertising agency, where I worked scripts.
Q: You and Frost both came from journalism backgrounds. Did you ever find yourself using that training on the job?
A: I did. Our comms director was a guy named Greg Speed, and I used to help Greg a lot on things in the district, even though that wasn’t my job description. I enjoyed writing and editing some, and looking for local mistakes and local vernacular. Like, for instance, someone may say the “Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan region.” And I might see that in a sentence, and I’m like, no, that’s not how you say that. People would think the congressman had forgotten where he came from. So don’t say that. Say, “Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.” We don’t say “metropolitan area.” We say “metroplex.”
Q: What was one of your most memorable days on the job?
A: It had to be when we went to Love Field to meet Al Gore when he was vice president. Martin couldn’t make it to the event, and so I went on [his] behalf. It was a political event. I stayed afterward until it was almost over, and Al and Tipper Gore stayed and talked to people. I was just shocked at how down to earth they both were because they always seemed so serious to me on television.
He had to be one of the nicest, most humble people I’ve ever met. And when I was working for Congressman Frost — particularly because of his role at the DCCC, and then as Democratic Caucus chair, and then as ranking member of the Rules Committee — I got to meet a lot of different people. He had to be one of the nicest. Just crazy humble. Him and Tipper. And I’ll never forget that.
Q: You mentioned Frost was chair of the DCCC when you joined his staff. What did you learn from him about recruiting candidates and leadership?
A: Like anything else, you have to stick with it. You have to be tenacious, and you have to stick with it. Martin is probably the most tenacious person that you’re ever going to meet. If you told him “no,” you’d probably have to tell him “no” three or four times. He was that tenacious and aggressive about everything. That’s definitely something I learned from watching him. I’m more introverted than I am extroverted, so I learn a lot by observation of people. It was a great tutorial for me to be able to work in his office for as long as I did, and then use some of that as I went into the state legislature and then on to the Congress.
Q: Now you’re very involved in voting rights. You founded the Congressional Voting Rights Caucus. Did that grow out of your time as a staffer?
A: I actually staffed Martin at the Civil Rights Pilgrimage in Birmingham, Alabama, the one that takes place every year. I had the opportunity to meet John Lewis and talk with many of the civil rights marchers, people who were in the “Eyes on the Prize” documentary. That made a huge impression on me. It’s sad to see the retrogression now. It’s sad to think about how people are blatantly stereotyping Black people as vote cheats and doing it with such ease and such casualness. That’s very eerily similar to a lot of the rhetoric that you would hear in the 1950s on why we shouldn’t integrate. They’re using the same kind of language and casualness to talk about restricting the right to vote for Black people today. It’s sad for our country. But it fuels me to fight back, especially when I think of those memories of going to that pilgrimage, which now, of course, I’ve been on again, since I’ve been a member of Congress. It’s important. It’s something they say in the documentary — we got to keep our eyes on the prize.