The Snow Doctrine: How cold-state pols prove their mettle in winter-wimpy Washington

Meredith Shiner
Political correspondent
A light snow blankets the east front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington January 6, 2015. John Boehner is expected to be re-elected as House of Representatives Speaker on Tuesday, but a vocal and growing pocket of conservative opposition could hamper his ability to pass difficult legislation this year. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ENVIRONMENT)

In Washington, snow days are not for everyone — and they’re certainly not for people who work for politicians from cold-weather states. Because if your boss is from the Northeast or the upper Plains or Alaska, you’re getting to work no matter what, even if it’s on sled or snowshoe.

Never before have politicians been able to make so much out of so little as in Twitter-fueled, hyperactive Washington when it snows an inch. So woe be it to the congressman or staffer who heeds the jittery calls of the federal government, which has been known to shutter — or operate on a two-hour delay, like today — when there’s barely a dusting. 

If cold-weather politicians didn’t show up to work, clearly they would be cast as completely out of touch with constituents at home, for whom snow boots are the norm and loafers would be scoffed at.

But social media have helped lawmakers to prove their snow mettle by allowing them to post pictures of snowy sidewalks and stout declarations that while the rest of This Town is pajama-clad and couch-bound, they and their staff members are in the Capitol hard at work. 

Just ask freshman Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, one of the most prolific snow-day workday tweeters around. In her two years in Congress, she and her staff have worked every winter day the rest of the government has not.

“We do [love] bragging about it!” Heitkamp joked in the Capitol Monday night, as the Northeast prepared for a blizzard that missed D.C. “If the people of North Dakota saw a foot of snow on the ground and didn't think you'd gone to work that day, they'd be extraordinarily disappointed.

Heitkamp warned that if she or her staff didn’t show for work they could be accused of the phenomenon of going "Beltway,” or becoming too D.C. for your constituents.

And Heitkamp is not alone in wanting to avoid going “Beltway” come hell or ankle-high snow — it’s an impulse that knows no party affiliation.

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska also has been known to tweet, Instagram and Vine while her colleagues stay hunkered down in their Capitol Hill pieds-a-terre.

Her communications director, Matthew Felling, who covered Alaska politics as a reporter before moving to the Hill, said that working through the snow is deeply entrenched for Alaskans. And from the looks of Murkowski’s social media feeds, like her former Alaskan colleagues before her, that work-in-snow ethos is about as long and firmly held as Republicans opposing new taxes or Democrats wanting an increase in the minimum wage.

“It's not as if we're putting these lower 48 Floridians in their places,” Felling said of Murkowski’s staff working when others do not. “We all see snow as Alaskans. We don't put anybody at risk, but if you're nearby and on the Hill and can come in, hell yeah come on in and get to work for the people of Alaska.”

Last year, Washington was closed for a half dozen snow days, giving politicians ample opportunity to chronicle the wintry capital on social media. They posted a wide range of pictures, from congressional office buildings covered in snow to posed photographs on their office balconies. One senator posted an Instagram of a snowshoe his legislative director wore to get to the office.

So without further ado, a sampling of the oh-so-many ways politicians have demonstrated that when it comes to snow, they’re tougher than the average D.C. Joe — and typical of the weather-hardened people they represent back home.

A screen shot of Sen. Chuck Schumer's Instagram post. (via Instagram)

— Sen. Patrick Leahy (@SenatorLeahy) March 3, 2014

— Sen. Patrick Leahy (@SenatorLeahy) March 3, 2014