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Hill Climbers: An Energy Boost

High gas prices and questions about alternative energy have been on the minds of most Americans in recent weeks, but for David Marks, they are especially relevant. Marks recently became press secretary for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

[IMGCAP(1)]“Almost as soon as I came to Washington, we hit a tipping point on the issue of energy, and since I have been living here, the price of a gallon of gasoline has gone from $2 to over $4,” Marks said. “Energy is one of our nation’s biggest challenges, but the prospect of promoting alternative energy resources and helping to solve our energy dilemma piqued my interest, and what better place to work than the committee that is dedicated to solving these problems?”

Marks’ job includes fielding policy and media inquiries for Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), chairman of the committee, and writing and editing press releases, floor remarks, opinion pieces, opening statements and speeches.

Marks has lived in Washington, D.C., for four years and was a staff assistant and press assistant for the committee before becoming press secretary.

He joked that he left his native Austin, Texas, for Washington because of the desirable climate. “I love the humidity!” he said.

On a more serious note, Marks said that despite his father having worked for several Texas governors, he shied away from politics when he was younger. Recent presidential elections changed all that.

[IMGCAP(2)]“With the 2000 and 2004 elections, I think a new generation of Americans began to pay close attention to who was being elected to lead this country,” Marks said. “Personally, the combination of politics and policy came fairly natural as a career. It felt like doing my hobby for a living.”

Marks, 28, received his bachelor’s degree in political science from Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, in 2004 and earned a master’s in public policy from Georgetown University in 2007.

He has made Georgetown his home, and praises its architecture, history, shopping and restaurants. He can now share that with his wife, Christine, who works in health care finance. The two were married on June 7.

“It’s been over three weeks and I’m still smiling,” he said.

Marks isn’t the only one with a new role on the committee. Amber Passmore is now the committee’s calendar clerk. She was a staff assistant for the panel and has also worked as an intern for Rep. Tom Udall (D–N.M.).

Politicians are often considered the celebrities of Washington, but Passmore’s most memorable moment on the Hill involved an encounter with a star of the Hollywood variety. She met Drew Barrymore last year when the actress was in town to discuss her work with the World Food Programme.

“I have always been a fan of hers and was very impressed with her dedication to the organization,” Passmore said. “She shared her personal experience and it made me appreciate her that much more for not only trying to help the world food bank herself, but reaching out to others to do the same.”

Passmore, 26, is originally from Ruidoso, N.M. She studied business administration at the University of New Mexico as an undergraduate and received a master’s degree in international law from the University of Edinburgh in the U.K. in 2006.

“Getting to go to an international school did help me prepare for the Hill because I got to experience many differences of opinion and many ideas from all over the world, just like the Hill, where you are dealing with many different ideas and opinions on a daily basis,” Passmore said. “It was great to learn about the different technologies and ideas that other countries have about energy and environmental policy.”

That should serve her well in her career, as she plans to continue working in the energy field. She considered going to law school for a time but said she decided she was more interested in policy.

“I came to Washington to pursue policy and think it is a very interesting time to be here, as energy becomes such a pressing issue,” she said.

Passmore and Marks are joined by Anna-Kristina Fox, who recently became the committee’s receptionist. It didn’t take Fox long to realize that she wanted to relocate from San Diego to the East Coast. After spending her first year out of college at a law firm, the 23-year-old decided to make a career change that led her to Washington, D.C.

“While I met some great people [at the firm], I felt that I wanted to further pursue my interest in international and U.S. public policy,” she said. She decided to apply for an internship with Vital Voices Global Partnership, a nonprofit organization for women that is based in D.C.

“When I got the internship, I quit my job, packed my bags and two weeks later I moved in with a family friend in D.C.,” she recalled.

That ended up leading to the Hill job.

She said that being in Washington has allowed her to explore different areas of interest through work and study.

“I would like to explore implications of oil and mineral extraction, as well as wilderness protection on democratic institutional strength and civil conflict,” she said.

Now that Fox, a 2006 graduate of the University of California at San Diego, is here, she said her favorite thing about Washington is the variety of bookstores. Her favorites are Kramerbooks in Dupont Circle and Politics and Prose in Tenleytown.

As for her future, she said, “I would love to find a career that combines my interests in politics and academia.”

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