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Hill Climbers: Carper’s Climbers

Two years before he became Bill Clinton’s vice president, and more than a decade before he was awarded the Nobel Prize, former Tennessee Sen. Al Gore (D) inspired a future Capitol Hill staffer with his talk on climate and the environment.

[IMGCAP(1)]“He visited my high school and gave his early climate presentation, and it got me thinking about how humans impact the environment,” said Laura Haynes, who was recently hired as an environmental legislative assistant to Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.).

Haynes’ interest in environmental issues turned to concern when she was a biology major in college, and after spending time working in a pediatrician’s office. There, she noticed that a number of young children were being treated for asthma or other respiratory disorders, and she soon learned that her hometown of Knoxville, Tenn., was listed as one of the 10 dirtiest cities in the country.

Haynes said she has tried to “change people back home” by educating them on these issues. She came to Washington, D.C., to do so on a larger scale.

“I felt like being part of a national movement or national policy that would have the biggest impact,” she said.

Haynes completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, and she attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

for her master’s in public health. She has worked as a legislative assistant to former Rep. Bob Clement and Rep. Jim Cooper, both Tennessee Democrats.

Her environmental interests show in previous positions, as she also worked for the Environmental Protection Agency and the State Department’s Office of Global Change.

Haynes, 32, is proud of Carper’s attention to environmental concerns.

“Sen. Carper is a leader in clean air and climate change issues,” she said. “He’s willing to work across party lines to get things done.”

As important as climate and energy matters are to her, Haynes said that given other questions facing the country, she could see why the environment might not be among the most pressing topics in the upcoming presidential election.

“It’s hard to talk about the issue when people don’t have jobs or we’re in a war, so I understand if it’s not at the forefront of people’s minds,” she said.

Another passion of Haynes’ is swimming, a sport in which she participated competitively for 10 years. She coached a high school team and a summer swimming league, but she had to give up coaching because of time constraints when she came to Washington.

When she does have free time, Haynes likes a good action flick, her favorite being “The Empire Strikes Back.” She’s already seen the new Indiana Jones movie and is looking forward to “The Incredible Hulk.”

[IMGCAP(2)]Haynes is joined by Velvet Johnson — another newcomer in Carper’s office. As a recently hired counsel, Johnson works with the Senator on issues before the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services and International Security, of which he is chairman.

Outside the office, though, Johnson heads to U Street Northwest for open mike poetry and jazz.

“I am a big fan of old school jazz,” she said. Her favorite artists include John Coltrane and Miles Davis.

Johnson got her first taste of politics and policy while she was a law school student interning in Rep. Bobby Scott’s (D-Va.) Washington office. At the time, Hurricane Katrina and the Iraq War were weighing heavily on the American public, inspiring Johnson to move permanently to Washington and become involved in policymaking after a stint at a large firm in Atlanta.

“My heart and mind remained on public policy, thus prompting me to relocate back to the District of Columbia,” she said.

Johnson had her chance to make a difference when she became involved in maintaining affordable rent rates for residents of Starrett City, a Brooklyn, N.Y., housing project. The experience was rewarding for Johnson, who found witnesses and prepared Congressmen for hearings, because they were ultimately able to keep the rents at an amount tenants could pay.

“These people knew someone was actually voicing their concerns,” she said.

A 2003 business graduate of the University of Richmond, Johnson earned her law degree from the University of Maryland in 2006.

Johnson, 26, has no plans to leave Capitol Hill anytime soon but said if she was not at her current job, she would likely be a public defender working on re-entry programs for ex-offenders or criminal justice reform.

Still, she likes D.C. for the quick access to information on many fronts.

“I enjoy living in D.C. because it’s at the top of the information food chain,” she said. “You have the apex of information in intelligence and current events.”

“The city is very cosmopolitan,” she added.

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