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Posts in "What Not To Do"
May 1, 2014
My colleague Nathan Gonzales has a must-read out today for any Capitol Hill or campaign flack looking to set up interviews for their boss/candidate: How to Ruin Your Interview With Stu Rothenberg.
Over the course of the past 25 years, Stu has garnered somewhat of a reputation of being a “hard” interview. And some party strategists and consultants probably have more colorful adjectives than that. Those are also probably the same folks who prepare their candidates for the alleged onslaught they will face when stepping into The Rothenberg Political Report offices.
But I’ll be honest with you, Stu is more bark than bite, and if candidates come in and act and talk like normal human beings, the vast majority come out on the other side unscathed. But there are a few ways that a candidate can virtually guarantee a less than ideal outcome.
Hill Navigator agrees on all of Gonzales’ points, but wants to add one more à la Barry Sanders: Act like you’ve been there before. Because to Stu, you (and your story) probably have. Stu has been in this business long enough to see it all: your fundraising numbers, your campaign team, your home-state newspaper endorsements — it’s not news to him. And he’s impervious to spin, so what can you do?
Play the role of the experienced candidate. The one who hired a credible, experienced campaign team and understands the nuances of poll numbers. It may be less interesting or gossip-worthy, but those are the candidates more likely to reap the rewards come Election Day.
And while you’re at it, take a few of Nathan’s lessons to heart. Particularly the one about the student council nostalgia.
April 23, 2014
Who said there was no drama in government work? How about when staffer health care benefits are coming under fire from lawmakers? Seems odd that the men and women trusted to run the government want to yank insurance coverage from their own staff, who largely make approximately 20 percent less than the competitive wages for their work. It may not be an episode of “Scandal,” but it’s frightening just the same.
Thirty-eight Republican members of Congress are backing Sen. Ron Johnson’s lawsuit against the Obama administration over employee contributions to staff health care.
The lawmakers, including Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and John McCain, R-Ariz., on Monday filed an amicus brief in Wisconsin federal court, supporting Johnson’s challenge to the Office of Personnel Management rule on the issue. In response to a March 17 Justice Department request to dismiss the lawsuit, the GOP members argue that Johnson’s case deserves to be heard.
“The unlawful executive action at issue in this case is not an isolated incident,” the 35-page brief states. “Rather, it is part of an ongoing campaign by the Executive Branch to rewrite the Affordable Care Act (‘ACA’) on a wholesale basis.”
Hill Navigator was a Hill staffer once and recognizes that there are sacrifices to be made on the job: long hours, less sleep, plenty of weekends (and vacations) dominated by vote schedules and press releases. But health insurance shouldn’t be one of them.
Staffers are there to ensure members of Congress can more effectively do their jobs: through constituent service, research, communication and the day-to-day tasks that come with being an elected representative. Staffers are there to help Congress function; they are the hardworking people who literally keep the lights on in the buildings. Members turning their ire on staffers seems undeserved and ill-advised. The emperor could soon be wearing no clothes.
Congress will certainly pull its share of political stunts; it’s a disappointment that threatening to take away benefits from staffers has now become one of them.
April 8, 2014
We all make mistakes.
And when staffers make mistakes — like being caught on camera necking with your boss — the fallout is particularly scintillating.
Rep. Vance McAllister, R-La., is weathering such a scandal (which broke after a video surfaced showing him kissing one of his employees) in predicable ways. He’s said he’s sorry. He’s skipped votes to avoid the inevitable press gaggle. And he’s dug in his heels and announced he has no plans to resign anytime soon.
“There’s no doubt I’ve fallen short and I’m asking for forgiveness,” McAllister said in the statement Monday. “I’m asking for forgiveness from God, my wife, my kids, my staff, and my constituents who elected me to serve. Trust is something I know has to be earned whether your a husband, a father, or a congressman. I promise to do everything I can to earn back the trust of everyone I’ve disappointed.”
But Hill Navigator is not here to handle crisis communications or run the latest poll numbers for Louisiana’s 5th District. This is a staffer advice column, after all. So, in honor of the latest staffer fail, here is a staffer fallout guide to help navigate the rough waters ahead.
1) Protect the boss. Whatever you do and whomever you do it with, remember that you are the staffer and your boss’s reputation is yours to protect. Hill Navigator doesn’t condone illegal activities, but barring that, your job is to foresee such situations and cleverly plan to avoid them. Affairs with the boss are generally a bad idea, but if you insist on having one, be savvy enough to pick a time and location without a security camera. Particularly if your boss has political opponents nipping at his heels.
2) Don’t take it out on your colleagues. Sure, they’re miffed that your year-end bonus was bigger (and now they know why) but don’t take your anguish out on them. If your co-workers are standing by you, then apologize for your role and tell them how much their support means to you. Because you will need it.
3) If they turn on you, run. Sometimes even the best of staffers have to fall on their swords. Scooter Libby was convicted of a felony and disbarred. Andrew Young falsely claimed paternity. Kurt Bardella was put on the cover of The New York Times Magazine and not by choice. If your team has decided you are taking the blame — or they’ve hung you out to dry — make a quick and graceful exit while the political maelstrom subsides. There will be some kindhearted (or opportunity-seeking) people who reach out to you. Once the time is right, they can help you with your next steps.
4) Cable news always moves on. There will be more mistakes, and more tearful apologies. The political pundits will find new fodder. Headlines change. And when they do, the staffer can rise again. Libby’s sentence was commuted. Young got a book deal. Even Bardella was hired back by Rep. Darrel Issa, R-Calif. You, too, can bounce back. Congress is nothing if not for its staffers. And a mistake learned keenly once is likely not to be repeated again.
January 29, 2014
Internships can lead to great things. But what if you’re interning with an organization that you’d rather not attach your name to? Just how damaging might a Google search be? Hill Navigator discusses.
Q: As a recent college graduate, I’m recently on the hunt for a full-time job, but in the meanwhile I plan on continuing to intern. I have an offer on the table to work for an unnamed advocacy group that works with privacy/censorship issues. Without getting too specific, they’re very much of the anti-NSA surveillance, pro-Snowden persuasion. This position would entail writing public pieces that my name would be attached to.
While I don’t disagree with most of their positions, I wonder if this job would be a poison pill, given that my primary interest is national security. If I try to get a position later on, say with the House Committee on Homeland Security, (or a governmental agency) would I get blackballed based on my association with this group?
A. Blackballed, no. But any prospective employer is likely to ask about your previous work, and if you’re attaching your name to something that any Google search can turn up, you want to make sure it’s representing you well.
Likely a future employer in the same field would have some understanding of this group’s policies and positions. Civil policy disagreements are part of the nature of working in Washington. But if it’s a fringe or extreme organization, you’re correct that a governmental agency might raise eyebrows at your association. If you want to take the temperature of such a group, ask people currently in the field how the group is regarded. They can give you an answer as to how your future employers might regard this line on your résumé.
Given the language of your question (“poison pill” and “blackballed”) I’m inclined to think this group might not be the best fit for you. But ultimately that is for you to decide. Part of the internship experience is finding out what suits you best. If it’s not the right fit for you, learn what you can and move on. One internship need not define the rest of your career.
January 13, 2014
My colleague Hannah Hess has the story in Tuesday’s Roll Call: According to the Congressional Management Foundation, the recent changes to the health care benefits are taking such a toll on senior staffers that many want to leave. “Anywhere but here” seems to be echoing through the halls of the Capitol. Nearly 4 in 10 of the chiefs of staff and district directors surveyed expect to look for a job outside the office in the next 12 months.
From the story:
“I found out in September that I have breast cancer,” one senior-level staffer responded. “I’m losing my health care coverage in the middle of my radiation treatment. Getting insured through the D.C. exchange is not helpful — my choices are very limited and costs are high. As a result, I’ve gone on my husband’s plan. My staff don’t necessarily have that option.”
Regardless of your views on Obamacare, the idea that staffers with the most experience are considering leaving the Hill should give anyone pause. Veteran staffers are the calm sailors in the political hand-wringing storms.
They’ve been through shutdowns, party overhauls and presidential changes and they know that the show must go on. They’ve sat through State of the Union speeches, constituent meetings and late-night votes. These are the experienced hands you want guiding your ship. As much as Hill Navigator encourages young people to get a job on Capitol Hill, it’s the seasoned staffers that can teach you the most.
The silver lining? More Capitol Hill job openings …
Read the full story here.
June 13, 2013
Q. I work in a close-knit House office. So close that when one person gets sick, everyone does. And when they do, they come to work and spread their germs everywhere! Why is that staffers won’t call in sick? Do they think it makes them look better to the boss? It’s annoying and I am hoping you will say that it is in fact, ok to be sick!
A. This answer speaks to more than just Capitol Hill — in any office environment, if you’re sick, stay home. No one wants to hear the hacking, sniffling, or the loud, uncomfortable throat clearing that comes with it.
But Capitol Hill staffers want to show their commitment. They will stop at nothing to make their boss shine. Even walking pneumonia won’t delay a floor vote. Such fervent enthusiasm and dedication are some of the best parts of Capitol Hill, which attract talented, ambitious people. But it also means that people sometimes don’t know when to draw a line and use their Neti Pots at home.
If the issue persists, talk to your chief of staff about it. Express this as concern for your fellow workers’ well-being. Anyone who went to elementary school knows how a contagious illness works. Leadership comes from the top, so if your chief and boss can let others know that it’s preferred to stay home when they’re wheezing, perhaps it will be a healthier office environment for everyone.
Got a question, concern or complaint about navigating life on Capitol Hill? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or submit online at roll.cl/12tvZqI. All submissions are treated anonymously.
Not even personal email accounts are safe when your expletive-laden missive makes its way to K Street.
As my Heard on the Hill colleague Warren Rojas reported Wednesday, a House legislative assistant is out of a job after his excoriation of his roommate and Small Business Committee staffer became afternoon email entertainment.
From the story:
As is often the case between feuding bros, the source of the intrahousehold friction appears to be a woman: a newly minted fiancee, to be exact.
Per Urteaga’s NSFW complaint, Leieritz had become a “backstabbing little b—-” since slipping his lady a ring, a situation that has escalated into a “War of the Roses”-style battle for control of their homestead.
“Most recently, he went behind my back and told my landlord that I was planning on moving out, which is not true. We both are on the lease, hes [sic] the one decided to get married and start a new future; therefore, he should take it upon himself to find a new place for them to start their lives together. Common sense…right?” Urteaga preached from a personal email account.
The backbiting only intensified from there, with Urteaga attacking Leieritz’s and his betrothed’s character (“They sure are the religious and godly couple they want you to perceive of them, aren’t they?”) before insulting the very people he is presumably attempting to win over (“No need to respond to this. To be honest, I could care less what you have to say.”).
One of the perks of being a Hill staffer is that your words get an audience. However, this cuts both ways, and anything that reflects badly on the boss or the committee — even things sent from Gmail — are fair game for dismissal.
Hill Navigator rules of thumb for having a meltdown:
- Don’t do it over office email.
- Don’t do it via mass email.
- Remember your words are your own, even off the record can’t protect you all the time.
Best-case scenario: Keep your meltdowns confined to loved ones at home, not colleagues in the office next door.
Correction: 1:35 p.m.
An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that both staffers worked for the Small Business Committee. Only Leiritz does.
May 29, 2013
Per my colleague Warren Rojas’ post in today’s Heard on the Hill, here’s an example of what not to do from your official email account:
Who says bipartisanship is dead?
A House Republican staffer recently gave helping a left-leaning pal the old college try, blasting out the following SOS on a congressional email group:
To: Tour Coordinators
Subject: Hot D Intern Prospect
One of my friends from college, just graduated and is trying to intern on the Hill this summer. She is a smoke show from FSU, but she happens to be a Dem so I’m having trouble finding her a spot. She’s a smart girl and has worked for FEMA. She’s real cool and gets along with everyone. If one your interns falls through or you can squeeze another in, give her a shot.
Florida ties, from Tampa.
For those not conversant in millennial speak, “smoke show” is shorthand for a very attractive young woman.
If you want to take creative license to help your colleague find a job, do it from your personal email account. Or let the résumé speak for itself. #rookiemistake.
Bonus points for including the local/hometown connection though.