He said he always enjoyed problem solving and mathematics, often keeping to himself, although he did socialize. But when he ran for Congress last year, he had to find a way to get his message to the masses.
"It was an enormous challenge," he said.
He shared his experiences being a congressman with the San Ramon Valley Exchange Club's Leadership Program at Faz restaurant Wednesday last week after the club's regular luncheon. About six people stayed to ask McNerney questions.
He said one has to be well-prepared and honest about one's ignorance when engaging a hostile crowd. Also, enjoying the verbal sparring, communicating in a friendly way, and humor are keys to reach people who have different point of views.
McNerney said being a freshman in Congress is challenging because there is little time in his two-year term to achieve everything on his agenda for his constituents.
"I'm on a very short lease," he said.
McNerney said he has to develop personal relationships with his colleagues, such as U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D., 8th District), who is Speaker of the House, and committee chairmen.
"My first year was just a learning curve," he said. "I got to find out who the gatekeepers were."
He said politicians in Washington have three paths they can take. They seek leadership, which means focusing on advancing their political party, finding donors and getting elected. They go for the gusto by holding press conferences frequently, publicizing their agendas in a grand fashion. Or they can focus on a specialty, such as finance.
McNerney, an engineer and energy specialist, wanted to specialize on energy. However, he found there wasn't much of a chance for him to address the topic in Congress, and he was assigned to the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs.
"As a freshman, it's a struggle to get recognition," he said.
He noted if one is excited about an issue, and has a vision to improve it, this enthusiasm can spread to others.
"There is a terrific future for us if we work together," he said.
The leadership program will take place each month after the Exchange Club luncheon for members to stay afterward to interview the guest speaker, focusing on the qualities of leaders.
-Jordan M. Doronila