We continue our "Bubbles of Politics
" interview series
with another interview from a Hill staffer. This time, we get some great advice from C.R. Wooters, the Director of Member Services in the Office of the Assistant to the Speaker.
1. 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.
My first job in politics was working in New Hampshire for Al Gore’s Presidential campaign. I started interning for the campaign while I was still in college and after I graduated they needed folks for the early states. I stayed with the campaign through its historic ending in Florida. I have spent most of my time in politics on the campaign side. I have done a couple tours at the DNC and the DCCC working on races all over the country. I have worked at a DC non-profit and on the Hill. My first job on the Hill was to be Chief of Staff to Congresswoman Louise Slaughter. I left Mrs. Slaughter’s office and went back to the DCCC to run the Incumbent Retention operation for the 2008 cycle. After a successful cycle my boss Rep. Chris Van Hollen asked me to come back to the official side. I am currently the Director of Member Service in the Office of the Assistant to the Speaker working with the vulnerable Members for Mr. Van Hollen. I am leaving out a lot of details here but suffice it to say I have worked in dozens of states and DC over the past 10 or so years and like most political folks my resume looks like I can’t keep a job.
2. Did you begin your career thinking that Capitol Hill was where you wanted to end up?
Well I did to some extent. I grew up in the DC area so my family is here. I figured at some point I wanted to work on the Hill so that I could settle down and live here in the city. When I started out I knew I enjoyed politics and had no real idea how to make it a career so I jumped on a campaign and began the ride. I did, however, always keep my eye out for opportunities on the Hill.
3. What do you like most and hate most about it?
The Hill is fascinating to me. These days I work with Democrats, both staff and Members, who are working like crazy to do what's best for the people they represent and the country. The people I work with are from very tough districts (most carried by McCain) so how they do things and how they talk about what they are doing is critical. I really love learning from these offices and racking my brain for new ideas to help them. It's crazy to think that the things we work on everyday can change people's lives. People talk about helping folks when they run for office but the legislative process is where it actually happens.
I don't really hate anything but I do wish there could be more bi-partisanship in Washington. It’s a little annoying that Democrats and Republicans cannot find more ways to work together but I guess we've got to keep plugging away. (I, of course, only blame the Republicans!!)
4. In general, do you recommend starting a successful Hill career on a political campaign or rather beginning a career on the Hill at the entry-level?
People ask me this all the time and it really depends on what you want to do. Most folks on the Hill work their way up the food chain. That is what I recommend for folks who want to work directly with legislation. You need to understand how the LC job works before you can be an LA and you need to be and LA for a while before you can be the Legislative Director.
I took a different route. My first job on the hill was as a Chief of Staff so I am not typical.
That said, I do think the campaign experience is great for almost anyone who wants to go into senior management or press. I also think that you cannot duplicate the pressure and speed of a campaign.
5. Should one have a different approach to looking on the Senate vs. the House? What are the major differences between the two bodies when it comes to working there?
The Senate offices are bigger and tend to be more senior. Interaction with the Senators can sometimes be limited to a few staffers. Since there are fewer of them each Senator has a role in most pieces of legislation.
In the House there is a lot more turnover in offices. Staff tends to be smaller and younger. There is usually more interaction with the Members. Members tend to have a couple of issues that they spend a ton of time on with other issues only percolating when they are relevant. In the House re-election is always on folks mind.
6. Has there been a difference between how you expected the Hill to be and how it is in reality?
Not really. Folks up here work long hours for not a ton of money. Members travel back and forth from the district almost every week. We joke that this is the biggest collection of "type A” personalities on earth. You throw the politics on top and it’s really exciting.
7. What is the one thing you know now that you wish you had known when you were first starting out in your career?
Personal relationships are the most important. You need to focus on your job but get to know the folks around you. Washington is a small town. Folks you meet interning and early in your career you will more than likely run into down the road.
8. Do you have any parting thoughts that haven’t been covered?
Politics is a very hard but very fun business. It provides the ability to learn a ton and actually help regular people. It’s a cliché but elected officials want to change the world and it’s our job to help them do that. Washington and the Hill specifically, is the center of the political world so it’s a great place to learn.