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Hill Climbers: First State Connections

Delaware might be one of the smallest states in the nation, but its size can only serve as an advantage for those seeking a job on the Hill. To see how connections to the First State can pay off, look no further than the recent hires in Sen. Tom Carper’s (D-Del.) office.

[IMGCAP(1)]In March, Amy Overton was hired as a legislative assistant, a role in which she primarily covers banking for the Senator.

Overton, 40, said she took a backward approach in working for Carper. “Usually people transition from the Hill over to the private sector, but with me it was completely the reverse,— she said.

Although Overton had no prior experience working on Capitol Hill before she started in Carper’s office, she was no stranger to Washington or to politics.

A 1991 graduate of Emory University, Overton first arrived in Washington, D.C., to attend law school at Catholic University. Obtaining her J.D. in 1994, she began work as an attorney with the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, a position she held from 1994 to 2001.

Working in white-collar crime and public law at the firm, Overton took part in a true Washington moment: the Clinton impeachment trial. As a member of the defense team representing Vernon Jordan, she was able to participate in one of the Hill’s more historic spectacles.

“I remember entering into the Capitol for Mr. Jordan’s deposition, but it felt more like a trial,— she said. “I knew in that moment that I was part of history.—

Overton left the law firm in 2001 and worked as counsel and chief of staff to the government and industry relations group at Fannie Mae, the job she held before joining Carper. Leaving that job in September, Overton immediately started networking. “I was fortunate to know so many former Carper staffers, and when the banking person left, it was just the perfect opportunity,— she said.

Overton, a Dallas native, said that even though her arrival on the Hill might be unconventional, she was ready for the new job. “This job really rounds out my experience in Washington — it is like the final piece in my journey.—

Outside of tackling banking issues, Overton is a serious Dallas Cowboys fan. However, with so many years in Washington, she has learned to appreciate the Washington-Dallas rivalry. Overton also loves to walk around the city, especially with her 6-year-old golden retriever, Matty.

Joining Overton as a new legislative assistant is Paul Schmid, who started in May. Schmid primarily handles transportation and labor for Carper and says his work suits his passion. “I feel strongly about transportation and climate change policy,— he said. “Many people don’t think transportation is a sexy issue, but it plays such a larger role in the economy and the environment.—

A 2004 graduate of Kenyon College, Schmid, 27, has been working on the Hill for almost five years, though this is his first position in the Senate. Schmid was a legislative director for then-Rep. Ellen Tauscher’s (D-Calif.) office, where he worked since 2007. This job was preceded by a stint with Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.) as scheduler and as a legislative assistant from 2005 to 2007.

[IMGCAP(2)]“I have to say that I do miss working with the House Rules Committee, but in general working in the House and now in the Senate is very different,— he said. “The Senate is better — the office and the staff is bigger for one — but the approach to policy is more wonky and you can definitely get more focused.—

A native of Boston, Schmid enjoys following his hometown baseball team and visiting Washington’s free museums when not working. In addition, as a member of the DC Triathlon Club, Schmid finished his first triathlon on Sunday.

Not only are new legislative assistants found in Carper’s office these days, but also new staff assistants, and ones from Delaware at that.

In April, Jennie Westbrook, of Newark, Del., was hired as a staff assistant. Westbrook, 23, previously worked at a Delaware marketing firm.

Being well-versed in Delaware’s small political environment certainly helped her get here. While in college, Westbrook had an internship with the Delaware Democratic Party, a position that gave her the necessary connections for her job in Carper’s office.

Graduating from Ohio University in 2008, Westbrook said that moving to Washington felt like she never left home. “People always ask me when they call the office if I am from Delaware,— she said. “It’s great because the state is so connected that I can sometimes recognize the people calling.—

Also joining Carper’s office from Delaware is Sheila Grant, who was hired in July as a staff assistant. While in college, Grant, 23, interned in Carper’s office and then went on to work several summers as a staffer on now-Gov. Jack Markell’s (D) campaigns.

A 2008 graduate of Georgetown University, Grant has the best of both worlds with her new job. “I have a mild obsession with Delaware, but wanted to go back to city living,— she said. “Working for a Delaware Senator in D.C. is the next best thing to living in Delaware.—

Prior to joining Carper’s office, Grant spent the last year working as an AmeriCorps teacher in a school for low-income middle school boys in Delaware. “That school really has a model that worked,— she said. “One day, I’d like to jump over to the education policy, so that experience was invaluable.—

That may someday mean going to graduate school, but in the meantime she enjoys living in Washington without the burden of homework and classes. This also means playing for Carper’s softball team, Carper Diem.

Currently 2-2, Carper Diem always plays with a lot of spirit, Grant said. And that’s not hard to understand, especially given her feelings for Delaware.

Submit news of hires and promotions on Capitol Hill to Hill Climbers here.

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