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Hill Climbers: Political Beginnings

Although Tina Gray has been a sort of political junkie for the past eight years, she might have missed her calling entirely if it hadn’t been for a high school government class she took in the fall leading up to the 2000 presidential election.

[IMGCAP(1)]“I was lucky enough to have a passionate government teacher in high school, and I give her most of the credit for my interest in politics,” Gray said. Lively discussions about that year’s presidential debates, along with “the nail-biter of an election and 24-hour cable coverage of it,” fanned the flames of Gray’s newfound passion.

Eight years later, Gray, 25, is the press secretary for Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a position she stepped into in mid-July. She had been working as his deputy press secretary prior to her promotion, and was a research analyst for the Republican National Committee before that. She got her start in public relations first as an intern for Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) during the summer of 2004, and then in the White House as a press intern in first lady Laura Bush’s office the following summer.

Gray is a 2005 graduate of the University of Kansas, where she double-majored in political science and journalism.

Politics may be her passion but Gray’s other interests are many and varied, even if many of them seem to have a political flavor. Her favorite pastimes include watching “West Wing” reruns, having

brunch in Eastern Market and going to book signings. And of course there’s her fantasy football team. She won last year as the only woman in her league.

[IMGCAP(2)]“After an abysmal performance my first year in 2006,” she said, “I stepped it up in 2007, starting with my team name, ‘Second Year Surge.’”

Gray’s colleague Lauren Bean has taken over deputy press secretary duties, including updating the news section of Cornyn’s Web site and editing videos of his floor speeches.

“Sen. Cornyn is very professional and hardworking but down to earth and extremely nice — a true Texan,” Bean said.

She knows something about what that means, as she is originally from Menard, Texas. While a student at the University of Texas, Bean decided that as much as she loved her home state, she wanted to spend a few years on the East Coast.

For the daughter of a local elected official — her father is a county treasurer — Washington seemed the right place to go.

“He sort of encouraged me to get involved in public service,” she said.

Realizing “I’m never going to run for office,” Bean found that working on the press side of politics was one way to heed her father’s advice.

Bean, 23, got her start on the Hill as a staff assistant for Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) and was later promoted to legislative correspondent and eventually press assistant. She looks back fondly on her days working on the House side — especially on arriving for work in the morning, when she’d see a guy she thought of as “Hot Cop,” a Capitol Hill police officer. The two would wave to one another every morning, but she never got his name. Sadly, she hasn’t seen him since switching to the Senate side.

Bean may have found public relations to be a natural fit career-wise, but just in case that doesn’t pan out, she has an alternative in mind — she could be “a senior citizen Hawaiian cruise ship social director.”

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