In our continuing effort to bring you words of wisdom directly from the people you'd like to be when you grow up, please meet Lisa Bianco, Political Director for Majority Leader Steny Hoyer!
Q: Please give us a quick biography. Touch on how you got your first job in politics and why you decided to stick with politics as a profession.
A: My first job in politics was as an intern at the DNC for a summer during college. I absolutely loved it - I was exposed to so many incredibly talented people and got to see how the people "behind the scenes" made campaigns work. I immediately signed up to work on the Gore/Lieberman campaign in New Mexico and have been working campaigns pretty much ever since.
Q: Did you begin your career thinking campaigning was where you wanted to end up?
A: I did not initially think about campaigns as a career path, in fact before my internship I didn't even really know that was a field someone could choose to go into. I always loved politics but I had only really thought about it from the legislative side. I feel incredibly lucky that my internship opened my eyes to an entirely new side of the field.
Q: What do you like most and hate most about it?
A: What I like most is that one on one connection with voters and allowing them to see how they really do have a voice in their government. They can hear two candidates out and decide who they think should govern them. What an incredibly powerful tool a vote actually is! Campaigns have to build individual relationships with people and it cannot be surface level or their campaign will not be persuasive. It really connects both the candidate and the staff to the people who elect them.
The thing I like the least is the fact that sometimes good candidates get drowned out by bad campaigns. There are extremely dedicated people who think they need to rely on "spin" to communicate their message, rather than really talking to voters about what they care about and how they would like to govern. I believe that voters look for the candidate who is straightforward and honest and can sniff out spin from a thousand miles away. I believe President Obama was so successful in part because he was genuine and upfront with voters.
Q: What is the thing you are most proud of in your career? OR What is your funniest campaign story?
A: I am most proud of all of the candidates I have ever worked for - I feel so grateful that I have chosen amazingly committed, talented, and creative people and that they have hired me! Though not all of them won, I can honestly say that I was proud of the campaigns we ran and would have been proud of the elected officials they would have become. My current boss is the epitome of the kind of classy, intelligent and dedicated public servant for whom I have been privileged to work.
As for funniest campaign story - anyone who has worked as a field staffer on campaigns knows, some things are best left out of print!
Q: What advice do you have for someone who would like to begin their career in campaigns?
A: My first piece of advice would be to get involved on the ground floor as a field organizer or staff assistant. Knocking doors, recruiting volunteers and making phone calls is the hardest work there is on any campaign but it is also essential for the success of the campaign and as a learning experience to know how a campaign really works. People often try to come in at a "higher level" because they want to be in the back room making strategy or plotting message - you can't do those things until you understand the ground game! Voter contact and volunteers are the most basic ingredients of any victory.
My second piece of advice is do not work for less than you're worth. Campaigns often do not have a lot of money, so it is not a field to go into for the salary. However, you are a valuable asset and you should be paid appropriately. Find out what the going rate for your position is and make sure you get as close to that as possible. Sometimes campaigns can work out other options if they can't afford to pay a lot, such as housing with volunteers. Find a way to make it work.
Q: What type of person generally does well with this career choice? What types of people generally don’t excel in campaigns?
A: I think there is room for everyone in campaigns - it is a big tent. However, I'd say that you better like people, like long hours, and be committed to working with a team. There are almost no singular decisions in a campaign so if you don't like coming to the table and hashing it out, campaigns are probably not the best fit. But, campaigns are also a great place to flex your creativity, get to know a lot of people and eat a lot of pizza.
Q: What is the one thing you know now that you wish you had known when you were first starting out in your political career?
A: That winning felt so amazingly good - I would have found even more hours in the day!
Q: Do you have any parting thoughts that haven’t been covered?
A: My parting shots at wisdom are to never be afraid to ask questions - campaigning is a lot about on the ground learning and you can't do that if you don't ask people to explain things - and always maintain your networks! You never know who will be giving you your next job.