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Hill Climbers: Clemson Fans Step Into New Roles

Giving Tom DeLay a high-five after he resigned from the House of Representatives would be a memorable experience for any new Capitol Hill staffer. But just in case Melissa Chandler begins to forget it, she has the front page of the New York Times to help her remember.

Chandler and a colleague were among a crowd that had gathered to

show support for DeLay after his resignation, and they didn’t realize a photo of them cheering and high-fiving the former House Majority Leader was being snapped by an Associated Press photographer. [IMGCAP(1)]

“After it happened, we’re like, ‘Well, that was cool,’ and the next day we’re on the cover of the New York Times, the Dallas Morning News and [several other papers],” she recalled. Chandler’s boss, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), even made sure she had a keepsake of the event — he asked DeLay to sign a copy of the Times for her.

Chandler framed the page, which she said reads, “Melissa, Keep the faith. Tom DeLay.”

That’s not a bad start for a new staffer, and Chandler’s career on the Hill has gotten better from there. After starting as legislative correspondent in Wilson’s office in 2006, she was promoted to legislative assistant in January 2007. In June, she took on the position of legislative director.

Chandler, 26, said that although her new job is more demanding, she is happy because she continues to work on issues close to her heart, particularly labor.

Her father is in the construction business in her home state of South Carolina, so she can relate to labor issues. These include anything from work force protections to the Family and Medical Leave

Chandler graduated from Wofford College in 2004 after majoring in government, and in 2005 she earned a master’s degree in public administration from the University of South Carolina. She is originally from Greenwood, but her parents, Joe and Vickie, recently moved to the uniquely named town of Ninety Six, S.C. Although she has been in Washington for two years, Chandler stays true to her roots, cheering for the Clemson Tigers and testing her cooking skills by trying out new Southern recipes.

She’s also an original member of a book club in Washington that is made up mostly of friends who are from South Carolina. Right now they’re keeping things light with what they thought would be a good beach read, Lauren Weisberger’s “Chasing Harry Winston.”

Chandler is enthusiastic about her job and her state, an attitude that spills over into her other passions as well.

“Working for Congressman Wilson is as close as I can get to South Carolina without being there,” she said. “He is very proud of his state and his constituents.”

In addition to her book club selections, the self-proclaimed history buff enjoys reading about World War II and the Tudor dynasty. She is fascinated by strong historical women such as Marie Antoinette, who she believes is largely misunderstood. Other favorites are Queen Elizabeth and Anne Boleyn, and she said she enjoyed Philippa Gregory’s fictional “The Other Boleyn Girl,” although the movie version did not quite measure up, in her opinion.

Speaking of Wilson Staffers … Chandler has quite a bit in common with former Wilson staffer Leslie Shedd, although the two never worked together. Shedd interned for Wilson before Chandler joined the team, but the two met through mutual colleagues anyway. That was probably inevitable, considering that both are from South Carolina, are Clemson fans and interned for Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) before working with Wilson.

Shedd recently left her job as deputy press secretary for Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.) to become press secretary for another Republican, Rep. Frank Lucas (Okla.).

She double majored in French and political science at Clemson and received her law degree from the University of the District of Columbia in 2007. Although her academic background is in government and law, her internship with Wilson opened her eyes to what she could do within the press office.

“To me, you kind of get everything all at once” by working on the press team, Shedd said. She said she enjoys being able to break down legislation in a way that constituents can understand. Her biggest project so far, however, has been revamping Lucas’ Web site, a task she says she has enjoyed during her first month in the office.

Shedd hails from Greenville and is the daughter of Pat and Madelyn Shedd. Although she said she loves living in D.C., she has remained loyal to her Southern upbringing. Her favorite sports teams are the Clemson Tigers and the Dallas Cowboys — “which makes me pretty unpopular in this town,” she said.

While Shedd has some clear favorites elsewhere, she was hard-pressed to choose a top aspect of Washington.

“I can’t pick a favorite. I love everything about this city,” she said. “Well, everything except the traffic.”

When she’s not busy upgrading Lucas’ Web site or writing press releases, Shedd doubles as a bartender one to two nights a week at Union Pub.

Shedd experienced a Kodak moment of her own while working with Wilson, although hers did not end up on the front page of the New York Times.

After Wilson helped find seats for Shedd and two other interns at a House Armed Services Committee hearing, she got to meet former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Gen. Richard Myers, Gen. John Abizaid and Gen. George Casey.

“After the hearing, we stuck around to try to get a picture with the secretary and the generals,” she said. “Secretary Rumsfeld saw us waiting and asked if we wanted a picture with him. He then organized all the generals and got pictures with all of them and us. It was great.”

Recent college graduate Tyler Laughlin also joined Lucas’ staff in June. He is a field representative in the Congressman’s district office in Oklahoma and is “his eyes and ears for six counties.”

Laughlin, 22, graduated this year from the University of Oklahoma with a finance degree. The dedicated Sooners fan grew up in Woodward, Okla., and is the son of Owen (a state Senator) and Charlotte Laughlin. He has been married to his wife, Amanda, who he calls his “No. 1 interest,” for a little more than a year.

Laughlin’s previous political experience included working on his father’s campaign, James Inhofe’s (R-Okla.) successful run for Senate, and two other state campaigns.

Laughlin’s interests outside of work are many and varied — he was involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters, March of Dimes, Student Business Association and College Republicans when he was in school. He now spends his down time reading or engaging in outdoor activities including hunting, fishing and hiking, as well as spending time with his family.

Laughlin has been at his new job less than a month, but things seem to be going well.

“My boss could not be better,” he said. “He is very personable and relates well to Oklahomans, including his employees.”

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