He defeated one of the most outspoken conservatives in Congress in one of the hottest Republican primaries of last year.
He’s a physician who wants to transform health care.
He represents a sprawling Kansas district where, as the saying goes, more cows reside than people, and will serve those constituents on the House Agriculture Committee.
Yet Roger Marshall’s first big claim to fame as a new member of Congress came not from any of those things, but because his 17-year-old son, Cal, made good on a dare from his football teammates, prompting a perplexed reaction from House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
Ryan posed for pictures with new members and their families, including Marshall, to re-enact the ceremonial swearing-in on the first day of Congress, Jan. 3. As the cameras flashed, Cal Marshall lifted his elbow to his face, mimicking a dance move called the “dab,” popularized by Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.
Ryan and Roger Marshall thought the teen was sneezing.
“I had no idea what dabbing even was,” Marshall said in an interview at his office. “Obviously, Speaker Ryan didn’t either. So both of us learned something.”
Cal Marshall, a straight-A student and an all-state running back on what his dad proudly describes as “one of the top football teams Great Bend has seen in the past 40 years,” was grounded for the weekend and given the task of shoveling snow.
“He’s served his time,” Roger Marshall said. “He was hoping to get a presidential pardon for the weekend, but that didn’t happen.”
Marshall said Ryan had been a good sport about the whole thing.
“He and I have shared several laughs about it,” he said. “There’s even rumors he was going around showing people how to dab on the (House) floor.”
Marshall, 56, grew up in El Dorado, about 30 miles northeast of Wichita, and earned his undergraduate and medical degrees, respectively, at Kansas State University and the University of Kansas.
Marshall and his wife, Laina, have been married 32 years and have four children. Cal is the youngest. Their eldest, Lauren, has a young son named Roger, like his grandfather.
Marshall has been practicing medicine in Great Bend since 1991 and has delivered thousands of babies.
He was elected in November to represent the “Big First” District of Kansas, a seat once held by Bob Dole, Keith Sebelius, Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran.
Coming to Congress has forced Marshall to shift from health care practice to policy, and he’s learning as much about the latter as he can.
“I feel like I should know everything about health care,” he said. “I understand it from a practical standpoint as a physician, running a hospital, overseeing health departments.”
He’s also settled into a routine: Getting up early without an alarm clock, meeting with colleagues and constituents, and finding time to go to the members-only gym.
“There’s always members there,” he said. “The unwritten rule is we don’t talk policy.”
He shares a house only a block away from his office with other lawmakers, some of them freshmen, some of them House of Representatives, some of them Senate.
One of his housemates is now-Sen. Moran of Kansas. Others include Reps. Ken Buck of Colorado and John Moolenaar of Michigan and Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma. All are Republicans.
The house functions as sort of a friendship and fellowship group. They gathered on Monday night to watch the championship college football game between Alabama and Clemson (Clemson won, 35-31).
One person who was not invited: former Rep. Tim Huelskamp, the bomb-throwing tea party conservative Marshall defeated in the August primary.
Huelskamp won many fans but also turned off constituents and colleagues during his tumultuous six years in Congress. House leaders removed him from the Agriculture Committee in 2012, prompting Kansas farm groups to line up behind Marshall last year.
Huelskamp has hardly stayed quiet since leaving Congress last month, even tweeting that Cal Marshall had embarrassed Kansas by dabbing in the photo with Ryan.
“A little more class, please,” Huelskamp tweeted. “This is Congress — not senior skip day.”
Marshall thinks his former rival should seek “spiritual counsel.”
“Attacking any child just seems a little bit below the belt,” he said. “I just hope Tim has some friends around him.”
What few items Marshall has moved into his office in the Cannon House Office Building across Independence Avenue from the Capitol, spacious for a first-term lawmaker, indicate how central his children are to his life.
On the leather sofa, there’s a throw pillow embroidered with the outline of Kansas. One of Marshall’s daughters picked it out. She’s also painting some Kansas portraits to decorate the room’s austere blue walls.
In a wooden cabinet in the corner with glass doors, Marshall keeps some reminders of Cal’s football achievements, including a large poster of the star running back in action.
“This is the dabber right here,” Marshall said, wearing the grin of a dad proud of his son.