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Hill Climbers: Summer in the City

This summer might go down as a time the nation collectively lost its cool. Often overlooked in the midst of those raucous health care debates is daily life in Members’ offices, where composure is essential.

[IMGCAP(1)]Trent Holbrook and Kristen Yeiser, new staffers in the office of Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), know a thing or two about maintaining the cool. Yeiser and Holbrook joined Ross’ office this summer, just as the country’s health care cauldron came to a boil. To top things off, they joined the office of one of Congress’ more involved health care legislators.

“Both sides called, and it was quite an experience talking to people,— said Holbrook, Ross’ director of constituent services. “Rep. Ross did several telephone town halls and one live one during the August recess. … You could definitely say that it was a pretty eventful summer.—

Although the calls have slowed for now, Ross’ staffers know they still have their work cut out for them on health care. But Yeiser and Holbrook take things in stride, choosing to emphasize the positives of the ferocious debate.

[IMGCAP(2)]Yeiser, Ross’ scheduler and executive assistant, said the added attention on Ross has allowed for several memorable interactions. “Over the summer, I was being whipped a new one on health care by a caller and all of the sudden someone told me to get off the line because Rahm Emanuel was calling,— she said. “I got to talk to him for a couple minutes about health care while he waited to speak with Rep. Ross.—

Holbrook and Yeiser have deep connections to the South. Holbrook’s father is originally from Arkansas, and most of his family continues to reside in the state. Holbrook himself is a native of Odessa, Texas. Yeiser was born in Monticello, Ark., and grew up in Nacogdoches, Texas.

But you would be hard-pressed to find more than common geography in their individual paths to the Hill.

Holbrook is a veteran of Democratic politics. During the summer of 2006, he served as a communications and press intern for the Democratic National Committee. After graduating from Austin College in 2007 with a degree in political science, Holbrook worked as a field organizer with Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign, crisscrossing Iowa, South Carolina and Texas on behalf of the then-Senator’s bid for the Democratic nomination.

“Being from Texas, I was definitely not used to snow, cold weather or mud,— he said. “Learning to drive in

Iowa was an experience, from swerving all over the road in the ice, to at one point, getting my car stuck in the mud.—

Holbrook also boasts a healthy amount of experience in state politics. After the Clinton campaign ended, Holbrook was appointed co-campaign manager and field director with Bill Dingus’ campaign for state Representative — all at the ripe age of 22. Holbrook said grass-roots persistence paid off in the campaign against a 40-year Republican incumbent and then-Speaker of the Texas House, Tom Craddick.

“Dingus got 15 percent of Republican voters to cross over and vote for him, and, although we lost, Craddick was not re-elected Speaker, perhaps in part because of Dingus’ challenge,— Holbrook said.

And Yeiser’s past political experience? She worked for three different Republican offices before joining Ross this summer. During the fall of her senior year in college, Yeiser interned for Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas). After graduating from Texas A&M University in 2007 with a degree in agricultural journalism, Yeiser worked for then-Rep. Ric Keller (R-Fla.) and, immediately prior to joining Ross, for Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.).

Yeiser said the partisan switch actually had little to do with ideology. “I have conservative ideals and the Congressman shares them,— she said. “But I wanted to work for someone I had a connection to. I was born in Rep. Ross’ district and, at the time I was hired, my mom was still living in the district.—

And even as Congress enters another round of health care wars, these unlikely colleagues both seemed happy for what Washington, D.C., has offered them.

For Holbrook, a highlight of his time on the Hill includes winning Ross’ lone office lottery ticket to President Barack Obama’s September address to Congress. “Being in the gallery the day before my birthday was a pretty good present,— he said.

For Yeiser, Capitol Hill has already affected her life for the long term. While interning in Gohmert’s office, she met her now-fiance, Scott, who is Gohmert’s legislative director. (Yeiser was quick to point out that the relationship began only after her internship in Gohmert’s office ended.)

“I feel like my life is consumed with wedding stuff right now,— she said. But daily gym visits and couples’ dance lessons should be well worth the hassle: In a week, Yeiser is tying the knot in front of 90 friends and family in Mexico.

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