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Hill Climbers: Leaving the Hill

It’s a busy time in Washington, with the convening of the 111th Congress and the upcoming inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama. But for Jarrett White, it also has to be a little bittersweet.

[IMGCAP(1)]For the first time in nearly four years, White is not among the staffers headed back to the Hill after the holidays. He had been a staff assistant to Sen. Gordon Smith since 2005, but after the Oregon Republican’s defeat by Democrat Jeff Merkley in November, White found himself bidding adieu to the office that had become his professional home.

“It was very sad when they came around and gave us the manuals on how to close an office, and took the placard off the wall,” White said.

“You kind of take it for granted,” he realized as the office prepared to shut down.

White said he is considering making the switch to the private sector, but he hasn’t ruled out another staff position. After all, the job does have its perks.

“It’s great to be on Capitol Hill at this age,” said White, who is 26. “You’re always kind of in the know.”

White found the staff assistant opening at an opportune moment. It was August 2005, and he had decided to move cross-country, from his hometown of Eugene, Ore., to Washington, D.C. He found a place to live, paid the first month’s rent — but had no job. Fortunately for him — and his landlord — he landed the job with Smith and was soon answering phones and greeting constituents in the Senator’s office.

“I got lucky,” he says of his professional break.

White was no stranger to politics, though, having been chairman of the College Republicans at the University of Oregon before graduating in 2005. He also worked for the Bush/Cheney campaign in Oregon in 2004.

Though his political future is uncertain right now, there are certain things that will stay with White.

The fact that he was working on the Hill, for one.

“Coming into the building and seeing the Capitol” is an experience that won’t leave him anytime soon. “I’d walk through and think to myself, ‘It’s really cool just to be able to say that I work here,’” he said.

And then there’s that time he got to attend President George W. Bush’s State of the Union address.

White was still fairly new to Smith’s team when he and his colleagues decided to hold a contest to see who would get tickets to the 2006 State of the Union address. Everyone who wanted a ticket had to submit a poem explaining why he or she should be the one to go. Setting his to the rhyme scheme of “The Night Before Christmas,” White made his case with a comical, if partisan, description of the event. He closed with the tactful plea: “And up in the gallery sat wee little me, straining to sit and wait patiently, for the end of the speech, for a chance to be seen, by the greatest world leader that may ever be.”

Though humor won him the ticket, White was sincere when describing what it had actually been like to be at the event.

“That was a great experience, getting to go over there and watch President Bush speak, and seeing the Congressmen and Supreme Court justices,” he said. “You’re right there in the center of the universe.”

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