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Hill Climbers: United by Golf

There’s nothing like a common passion to bring about a sense of camaraderie in an office, and the floor assistants in House Minority Whip Eric Cantor’s (R-Va.) office have that in spades.

[IMGCAP(1)]On a recent Wednesday afternoon, Chris Vieson, John Stipicevic and Matt Bravo took advantage of the recess to indulge in watching the Masters Tournament. The golf game played in the background as they chatted about their jobs, their personal paths to Capitol Hill and the occasional staff outing to the links.

They pointed proudly to the fact that their team won the White House legislative golf tournament last July. In fact, Bravo and Stipicevic flirted briefly

with the idea of going professional instead of getting involved in politics.

“I decided to come to Washington, which was the right move,— Stipicevic said. “I realized I wasn’t good enough.—

Apparently he is good enough, however, to rag on Bravo, even though his colleague has been playing since he was 4 years old.

“I love the game,— Bravo said. “If I wasn’t working on the Hill, I would be somewhere out in California playing golf.—

The teasing is all in good fun, except when it comes to Bravo’s prowess in another area: arm-wrestling.

The Fairfax, Va., native readily admits that the other floor assistants beat him regularly in such contests, but it does help pass the time when they are working late nights.

Bravo is the only one of the three to have grown up in the area. He left briefly to attend Lynchburg College in Virginia, but he made a beeline for the Hill when he graduated, beginning with an internship in Cantor’s office.

[IMGCAP(2)]After about four months, Bravo was hired as a staff assistant and then as personal assistant to Cantor.

“He actually cares about you and wants to know about your personal life,— not only the job at hand, Bravo said. “He’s just a really genuine person, and that made it easy to work the long hours.—

Bravo does double duty now, still aiding Cantor while also serving as a floor assistant.

Stipicevic moved to Washington from Yonkers, N.Y., to attend college at Catholic University. Although he visits the Empire State frequently, he said he doesn’t have any immediate plans to move back.

After interning with former House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Stipicevic was hooked. While still in school, he was hired as a staff assistant and eventually became a floor assistant for Blunt.

Having spent time in the position already, he was prepared to transition to working under Cantor. “Doing the floor stuff, you’ve got to know how the floor works; you’ve got to know the Members,— he said. “You get to be a fly on the wall in a lot of places. You learn how this place works, and you go from there.—

Even with the previous experience, one would expect the change in bosses to present some kind of professional challenge. Not so, Stipicevic said, although he couldn’t resist getting in another dig.

“Working alongside Matt Bravo — that’s got to be the most challenging,— he said.

Vieson never had designs on a staffer position when he first moved to Washington. He was tired of bartending in Atlanta, and a Phoenix-based friend who was in a similar position suggested they move to the District. After a road trip that involved a stop in New Orleans for Mardi Gras, the friends found an acquaintance’s couch to crash on for a few weeks until they found a place to live.

An English literature graduate from Tulane University, Vieson hadn’t given much thought to a career in politics, but he figured that since he was in D.C., he might as well try it out.

He landed an internship with former Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio) and held several positions for her and Rep. Adam Putnam (Fla.) with the Republican Conference. He was eventually hired as a floor assistant to Blunt, and decided to stay on at the position when Cantor took over the office.

The three floor assistants work closely with Kyle Nevins, Cantor’s floor director. He, too, is a holdover from the Blunt days, though there are certainly differences in how he does his job.

With a Democratic president and a Democrat-controlled Congress, Nevins noted the importance of both floor votes and the message Republicans send with those.

When Republicans were in the majority, and even when President George W. Bush was in office, the GOP was focused on sustaining and protecting its agenda.

Now, “we’re trying to chart a new course, redefine ourselves in a way that shows our ideas as well,— Nevins said.

That means coordinating floor votes and being sure of the signal they’re sending.

“Zero sets a tone or sends a message,— he said. “We have to pick and choose our battles. When we put up a zero, it’s deciding ahead of time that’s what we want to do,— and determining an alternative to accompany the vote.

Nevertheless, Nevins is still working with Members, determining the best arguments to make on an issue and providing them with policy information and help in their districts.

Despite the transition in strategies and agendas, Nevins is happy with his job. After all, it’s a title he’s sought since his Georgetown days, when he was interning under former Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas). Having worked in the office as long as he had, Nevins jumped at the chance to work with Cantor.

“He is described as a young gun in the party,— he said. “He’s got a lot of energy to look at things differently than they have been.—

Policy Director Neil Bradley has also been adjusting to doing his job in the minority. “It’s been a fairly frenetic pace as to what the majority has been trying to move through Congress and what the president has been moving with his agenda,— Bradley said.

Bradley is also a Georgetown alumnus. He graduated with a degree in government in 1998 — “an exciting time for a Republican,— he said.

Before becoming policy director in the Whip office in 2004, Bradley was the executive director of the Republican Study Committee.

Jeff Burton is Cantor’s national coalitions and grass-roots director. He is a veteran of political campaigns, having worked on California Rep. Darrell Issa’s (R) 2000 race and for the Bush/Cheney effort that year.

Burton also served as chief of staff and campaign consultant to Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) before joining Cantor’s team.

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