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Hill Climbers: Campaign Boot Camp

Possibly the only thing that compares to life as a Congressional staffer is a tough campaign. That said, Julie Hasquet is probably readier than most. She weathered her first political race as press secretary for Alaska Sen. Mark Begich’s (D) run against former Sen. Ted Stevens (R). The dynamics of the campaign made it necessary for Hasquet and the Begich team to change strategies as word of Stevens’ federal indictment broke and the future of the race seemed uncertain.

[IMGCAP(1)]“You’d have a plan in place, and it’d go out the window with the news item of the day,” she said.

There were days, she said, when she would think, “Oh my gosh, what am I doing in politics?” but has found the field to be one that fits so far.

Today, Hasquet serves as Begich’s press secretary in Alaska. She has been with the Senator since his days as mayor of Anchorage, back when she was making the transition from news reporter to political press secretary.

“I was burned out on news,” she said. “I wasn’t as excited about it as I was in recent years.”

When Begich was elected mayor, Hasquet decided it was a good time to try something new. “If I was ever going to work for a politician, it’s going to be this guy,” she said.

Hasquet, who was a reporter for an NBC affiliate in Alaska for 17 years, had seen Begich’s career progress. Having been with Begich throughout his rise from mayor to Senator has only reinforced her belief that he is “an excellent public servant.”

[IMGCAP(2)]“I want to be there to help him do whatever he’s doing because I think he does it so well,” she said.

Hasquet’s previous career not only helps her as a press secretary — she appreciates reporters’ deadlines and can anticipate what their angles and questions will be — but it also gave her the opportunity to cover some major historic events, including the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the Exxon federal trial and the Lillehammer, Norway, Olympics.

Hasquet, 46, was raised in Long Beach, Calif., and she received a bachelor’s degree in telecommunications and film from San Diego State University in 1985.

Begich’s chief of staff, David Ramseur, also comes from a journalism background. He holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and was a Washington correspondent for the Fairbanks News-Miner and the Anchorage Times in the 1980s.

Ramseur, 54, left reporting for politics and was press secretary to former Gov. Steve Cowper (D). He later held the same position for another Alaska governor, Tony Knowles (D). While working in Alaska politics, Ramseur came to know Begich, whom he calls the “consummate politician, in the positive sense.”

When Begich was elected mayor in 2003, Ramseur became his chief of staff and worked on speechwriting and policy papers, as well as acting as a liaison between the mayoral office and Senate campaign staff when Begich was running against Stevens.

Ramseur said he looks forward to working on various issues in which Alaska has a significant stake, including climate change and foreign affairs. On a personal note, Ramseur is interested in relations between Alaska and the Russian Far East, and he even lived in Russia for four months as a volunteer media adviser.

Living in Alaska for so many years would be a particular advantage for someone with those interests, one might surmise. Then again, maybe not.

“Contrary to what some people say, you can’t see Russia from most of Alaska,” Ramseur said dryly. “You can from one place.”

Ramseur is joined in Washington by Leslie Ridle, Begich’s deputy chief of staff.

Ridle, 47, also worked in Begich’s mayoral office before joining his Senate staff. She said she has volunteered or been on the staff of all of Begich’s campaigns, from Assembly Member to Senator. When the opportunity to come to D.C. arose, she said she “couldn’t pass up the opportunity to come with my good friend and boss, Sen. Begich, to work for Alaska interests in our U.S. Capitol.”

A 1983 graduate of Oregon State University, Ridle will work on constituent relations, appropriations, federal grants, ethics and campaign finance, among other duties. Though she has been working in Alaska politics for 20 years, she acknowledged that coming to Washington is something else entirely.

“On my first day walking to work, I turned the corner heading to the Hart Building and the Capitol dome was surrounded in sunlight,” she recalled in an e-mail. “I stopped and took a picture so I could remember forever what it was like to come to work, officially, for the first time in D.C.”

Susanne Fleek-Green has been hired as Begich’s state director. She also worked for Begich when he was mayor, in the Office of Economic and Community Development. As state director, she will oversee all of the Alaska staff and will serve as Begich’s primary representative there.

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