5 Staffers to Watch Among House Freshmen

Amy Harder
National Journal


Running an office of a freshman member of Congress is never easy, but certain lawmakers and their top aides have especially unique challenges. Meet the chiefs of staffs of five House members whose election to Congress is somehow notable or newsworthy.

Kat Cammack, chief of staff to Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla. Hardly anyone had heard of Yoho until his surprise primary upset of 12-term Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., in August 2012. The 30-year veterinarian of large animals went on to win the general election.

Now, Yoho and his 25-year-old chief of staff, Cammack, are transitioning from campaign to legislative mode. “It can be a very slow and tedious process,” Cammack said. “A lot of the members are chomping at the bit, and you feel the pressure from your constituents. They want to see change.”

Between Yoho and Cammack, the two don’t have much Washington experience. “We went after an experienced Hill staff that knew the ropes that could both guide Ted and me while respecting what we’re trying to accomplish,” Cammack said. Cammack is from Colorado and earned degrees in international issues from Metro State University in Denver. Her studies abroad, which included visits to about 18 countries, have helped her learn a lot about international affairs, which in turn helps her advise Yoho from his perch on the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Kaitlin Fahey, chief of staff to Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill. Fahey has worked for Duckworth since her first (unsuccessful) campaign in 2006 and while she was assistant secretary at the Veterans Affairs Department.

Duckworth, an Asian-American, double-amputee veteran of the Iraq war, is one of the more high-profile House Democrats and has given major speeches at the last two Democratic conventions. Because of Duckworth’s diverse background and interesting story, Fahey said Duckworth appeals to all types of people.

“She represents so much to so many different constituent groups—disability community, Asian-American, veterans,” Fahey said. “One of the challenges we’ve been having is figuring out how to balance and how to be a leader to all of these different communities because she wants to be.”

Duckworth has another community that may seek her help now: The amputee victims of the Boston Marathon bombings. “She has not officially met with anyone, but she’s certainly in communication with folks there and hopes to be helpful in any way she can,” Fahey said.

Greg Mecher, chief of staff to Rep. Joe Kennedy, D-Mass. Mecher is part of the Kennedy family tradition, even if he doesn’t share the last name. Mecher was the political director for former Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., whose retirement in 2010 broke a 63-year tradition of having a Kennedy in public office. “[Joe Kennedy] has watched his family serve in the past, but he hasn’t served himself,” said the 36-year-old Mecher about his 32-year-old boss. “It’s a whole new experience when you actually get your name on the door.”

Mecher said the new congressman wants to find new issues he can pursue. “He’s really taking this opportunity on the committees he’s serving on to identify what he’s most passionate about,” Mecher said.

The family name has been in helpful in some key ways. “We have had a wonderful outpouring from folks that have in the past worked for some other member of his family,” Mecher said. “They all want to see Joe do well. There is certainly no lack of folks to bounce ideas off of, which I think is an advantage.”

Jennifer Cox, chief of staff to Rep. Ron Barber, D-Ariz. Cox and Barber are both former aides to former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., who resigned in January 2012, a year after she was shot in the head during a constituent event in Tucson, Ariz.

Barber, who was Giffords’s district director, is now representing the seat she left, and Cox has risen to be his chief of staff. Cox notes Barber’s commitment to reducing gun violence, including his vice chairmanship of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force.

Cox said that, like Giffords, Barber also seeks to put his constituents’ concerns atop his legislative agenda, including committee assignments important to southeastern Arizona, such as Armed Services. Cox, who worked for Giffords since her first congressional campaign in 2006, continues to keep in touch with the former congresswoman and her family.

Christian Morgan, chief of staff to Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Mo. Wagner, a former cochair of the Republican National Committee, and Morgan, a political consultant who has a decade of directing political campaigns at all levels, are key assets to the National Republican Congressional Committee as it seeks to recruit GOP candidates.

“With my background in politics and the congresswoman’s background in politics, the NRCC is utilizing us in messaging and candidate recruiting,” Morgan said. It could be a little ironic that the seat she’s filling was vacated by Todd Akin, the beleaguered Senate candidate who lost to Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., in 2012, largely because of his comments about rape.

But Akin’s shadow doesn’t hang too heavily on Wagner’s representation, in part because redistricting changed the makeup of Missouri’s 2nd District, Morgan said. “We haven’t had many complaints or concerns at all,” Morgan said.

Morgan and Wagner are focusing much of the congresswoman’s time on issues she handles as part of her membership on the Financial Services Committee.

Hot Seats is a weekly series highlighting significant staff positions in the 113th Congress. To suggest a position or staffer for the list, please tweet to @NJLeadership or e-mail Managing Editor Kristin Roberts atkroberts@nationaljournal.com.