Dick Swett is setting records again.
First it was at Yale University in 1978 – the year he set the school's decathlon record, which he still holds.Then last November Swett became the first Democrat to be elected since 1912 to New Hampshire's 2nd Congressional District. He was only the third Democrat to be elected from that district in 200 years.
Swett, a high priest and Sunday School teacher in the Concord 2nd Ward of the Concord New Hampshire Stake, credits his success to voters who were ready for a change in leadership.
The 33-year-old Congressman – sworn into office Jan. 3. – literally beat out the campaign trail, running 350 miles around the district, holding "Swett" sessions last year.
In his campaign videotape, Swett was shown pole vaulting "just to put across to the voters that this was a different kind of guy who was energetic, willing to work hard and take risks," he said.
Running for office wasn't something Swett had planned to do. "I essentially was very dissatisfied with the way government was going. Being unable to persuade anyone around me to run [for officeT I decided to do it myself."
Swett is an architect by trade, graduating from Yale in 1979 with a bachelor's degree in architecture. But politics have always been a part of his life and his wife's life. Before running for Congress, Swett worked on numerous national and state campaigns, including Al Gore's presidential campaign.
His wife, Katrina, grew up in a politically active family as well, her father being Congressman Tom Lantos, a Democrat from California.
"Everyone has been absolutely overjoyed – both sets of parents have been extremely proud and excited," Swett said.
He had expected to beat the incumbent by a narrow margin, but managed to win the race 53 percent to 47 percent. Swett took his seat in the U.S. Congress Jan. 20 when the 102nd session began.
"Our priority here is to run on a balanced budget," he said. "There is a great deal that can be done on the volunteer side while trying to balance the budget."
The values of the Church, from paying tithing to serving others, have helped form Swett's philosophy about public service. A convert to the Church, Swett was introduced to the gospel by wife Katrina, his girlfriend at the time.
"The scripture, `When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God,' really is part of his philosophy," said Sister Swett, a counselor in the ward's Young Women presidency.
As parents of five children, ages 7 to 10 months, running for office became a family affair as everyone joined in to do such things as stuff envelopes and answer phones.
"Sometimes it was hard work, but it was really fun. It was exciting," said 7-year-old Chelsea. "I'm very proud of my dad."
Swett added, "We tried to make sure the experience was a very positive one for the children. We essentially came out of a long summer and hectic fall feeling that it was a good experience."
Being a member of the Church "has been a tremendous help" in running for office, he remarked. "I went through quite a fantastic soul-searching period prior to this. Going into the campaign, I felt I had the blessings of the Lord.
"I have been greatly strengthened by the support of the Church, especially the spiritual support. I've had a wonderful experience throughout the campaign talking about my beliefs with many people. I've been overjoyed to be an example to many people as I have traveled throughout the state."
As the first LDS participant in Congress from the Northeast area of the country, Swett said his religion is common knowledge and a curiosity to many non-members.
Many of his objectives, while in Congress, are linked to the values he upholds as a member of the Church. He believes in being a public servant instead of a self servant. He plans to pay attention to people in his district and use his position to uplift them and help them believe in good government again. "They are, in fact, the people I'm working for," he remarked.
Bishop Marcus Clay of the Concord 2nd Ward said Swett's new position in Congress has had an "impact on members because it has helped them realize that with hard work and the blessings of the Lord, you can accomplish almost anything in life."