The shooting of House Majority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise, a staffer and Capitol Police officers has reverberated across the country. In Evansville, it has hit especially hard for some city leaders including Deputy Mayor Steve Schaefer and Justin Groenert, the director of public policy and government relations for the Southwest Indiana Chamber. Both men have strong ties to Capitol Hill after working as congressional staffers.
Schaefer spent multiple summers in the nation's capitol, first working as an intern and then as a congressional staffer. One of the first questions he was asked had to do with whether he played baseball or softball, Schaefer said.
"[The congressional baseball game] was always something to look forward to. Members of Congress are their offices are always looking for good softball players to compete," Schaefer said. "It's an outlet for staffs and legislators to get outside and to mingle with people and other offices. Whether it's republican or democrat, it's just a good bipartisan activity."
Groenert worked on Capitol Hill for a number of years before working for the chamber. From 2004 to 2008, he worked on the congressional staff for former Rep. Ron Lewis of Kentucky's second district. Most recently, Groenert worked for with the district director for republican Rep. Larry Bucshon (IN-8th District) from 2011 to 2013. While he never played in the summertime tradition on the Hill, Groenert said he always attended the games.
Wednesday morning's shooting left both men shocked and sickened.
"I was sick to my stomach. I was a district director when Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot. It just brings up a lot of not-so-fun memories of that," Groenert said. "I've yet to find people that are on the Hill for the wrong reasons. While we might fight about how we get from Point A to Point B, everyone is trying to get to Point B. Days like this are tough."
Upon learning the news of the shooting, Schaefer said he immediately sent text messages to or called local legislative leaders, including Rep. Bucshon, who was not at the baseball field when the shooting happened. Sen. Joe Donnelly also was not at the field when the shooting happened because the democratic congressional baseball team was practicing at a separate field.
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky was at the field when the shooting happened, saying he was in the batting cages when dozens of gunshots began to ring out.
"It's extremely disappointing but these are strange times that we live in," Schaefer said. "Like everything, we have to be more careful with what we're doing and more aware of our surroundings."
Schaefer and Groenert both lauded the actions of Capitol Police, repeating the sentiments of many who said the police officers likely prevented a massacre. Both men are also glad to hear that the congressional baseball game will continue.
"What you hear is the partisan divide is pretty wide right now," Groenert said. "You hate that it takes something like this to bring it back closer to center but if anything good comes out of it, I hope it's that."
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