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Hill Climbers: Big Sky Country

Montana has all that open space, stunning national parks and, of course, that big blue sky. So what could possibly make a person trade that setting for Washington, D.C., with its bustling pace and infamously unpleasant weather?

[IMGCAP(1)]For two recently promoted Hill staffers, the answer lies in part with their boss, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.). In May, Ty Matsdorf was promoted from press secretary to communications director and Deputy Press Secretary Carolyn Bunce was moved to press secretary. Both 27 years old, Matsdorf and Bunce each tell a story in which Baucus inspired a move from Montana to Capitol Hill.

Matsdorf obtained a degree from Rocky Mountain College in 2004 and then attended the University of Montana, where in 2006 he graduated with a master’s degree in political science. During that time, Matsdorf had an opportunity to intern in Baucus’ Montana office. This position led to his eventual hiring as deputy press secretary in February 2006.

A native Oregonian, Matsdorf spent several of his summers in high school and college either working on a Montana ranch or acting as a white-water raft guide. To this day, his interests involve “anything outdoors— — climbing, mountain biking, hiking and ice climbing. Yet Matsdorf was prompted to give up Montana’s great outdoors to work for Baucus. He attributes his involvement with Baucus to the Senator’s reputation.

“Going to college in Montana, everyone always talked about the great things Max was doing, how his staff was the best around. When the opportunity popped up to work for him, I jumped,— Matsdorf recalled.

After working as Baucus’ deputy press secretary for nearly two years, Matsdorf went on to serve in a variety of other political positions. From November 2007 to June 2008 Matsdorf worked as deputy communications director for the Baucus re-election campaign, which afforded him an opportunity to return to Montana. This position was followed by a brief stint during 2008 working for the Kentucky Democratic Party as a research and policy director.

[IMGCAP(2)]After wrapping up his time in Kentucky upon the conclusion of the 2008 elections, Matsdorf worked for President Barack Obama’s Inaugural Committee as inaugural parade operations director. His duties included coordinating parade participants and vendors. “Even though the weather was freezing, from my vantage point the parade was even more amazing to watch,— he said.

After the frenzied pace of the inauguration, Matsdorf says that he was ready to return “home— to the Baucus office, where an opening in February for press secretary allowed him such an opportunity. However, Matsdorf spent only a few months as press secretary before his recent promotion to communications director.

“It’s really a testament to the quality of the Senator’s office, the way in which I was eager to return and the ease I found in transitioning back,— he said.

Like her fellow staffer, Bunce says her attraction in working for the Senator began with time spent in Montana. Before joining Baucus’ office in 2007 as deputy press secretary, she worked out of Helena, Mont., as a reporter for the local CBS affiliate.

“Max is a major figure in Montana’s political world. I came to know the Senator and his staff during the years I spent covering them. They were such a hardworking, interesting group of people; I jumped at the opportunity to join the Senator’s staff,— she said.

A native of Santa Rosa, Calif., Bunce graduated from the University of Maryland in 2004 with a degree in broadcast journalism. She says that changing from journalism to politics was not too overwhelming, as she was already aware of many of the issues facing Montana from her time covering the state.

Although Bunce did not find the learning curve too steep, she did say that the Hill’s pace provided some definite adjustments. “My first day I was absolutely overwhelmed. I have always disliked the cliché drinking from a fire hose,’ but that is pretty much the only thing that begins to describe my first few weeks,— she said.

Having been on the Hill for close to two years, Bunce found her recent promotion to press secretary easier to fill than her first job with the Senator.

Also like Matsdorf, she speaks fondly of her time spent in Montana, especially in the outdoors, and says that she would go back to the state “in a heartbeat.—

“The biggest secret about Montana is that it’s not very cold. You just have to buy your long johns. When you do that, its beauty more than makes up for any inconvenience,— she said.

In the meantime, Bunce sees herself on the Hill in the future. This should afford her more opportunities to explore the city, where her fondness for Washington’s sites continues. “I still cry when I go to all the war memorials … sitting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial or popping into a free museum never seems to get old,— she said.

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