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Hill Climbers: Policy Is His Passion

Some people just can’t get enough of Congress. In fact, public policy can be a surprisingly potent draw.

[IMGCAP(1)]Daniel Sepulveda certainly couldn’t get enough. Last week, Sepulveda, 37, made a homecoming to Capitol Hill in becoming a senior adviser to Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.). Sepulveda will handle Kerry’s commerce, trade and business portfolio, including the lawmaker’s work as chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.

Sepulveda brings eight years of experience in the Senate to the Kerry office. From 2000 to 2004, Sepulveda worked as a legislative assistant to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). He followed that with a four-year stint with then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.). Sepulveda also worked as a legislative assistant to Obama.

After Obama was elected president in 2008, Sepulveda followed the new administration to become assistant U.S. trade representative for Congressional affairs. Sepulveda acted as a liaison between the agency and Congress.

With a decent job, why leave the Obama administration so soon? For Sepulveda, the answer is a matter of process. “I love public policy and I love this institution,— Sepulveda said. “I am a big believer in service.—

Sepulveda was pretty choosy about how to return to the Senate. Personal connections with the Kerry staff proved to be a big factor in Sepulveda’s return, but so was Kerry’s reputation.

“Sen. Kerry has a great commitment to public service,— Sepulveda said. “He and President Obama are very similar in that they are both intensely intellectual and they both have a great desire to solve problems.—

Sepulveda said he also wanted to come to an office where he would be valuable. Sepulveda’s past experience with trade issues made things seem right from “a gut perspective.—

But don’t call it a comeback. Sepulveda is just getting started. This job marks the staffer’s first experience working under Democratic control of both the legislative and executive branches of government. “This is our chance to govern,— he said.

Sepulveda’s love for public service can be traced to his undergraduate and graduate school days. A native of Orlando, Fla., Sepulveda is a 1994 graduate of Emory University, where he earned degrees in history and political science. From there, he earned a master’s degree in public affairs from the University of Texas at Austin in 1996.

[IMGCAP(2)]After finishing school, Sepulveda worked as a policy analyst at the National Council of La Raza, a position that fit well with his heritage. Both of Sepulveda’s parents are originally from Chile and moved to Florida when was very young. Sepulveda was born in Pittsburgh while his father completed graduate school.

After a year and a half at La Raza, Sepulveda moved to his first government job with the Department of Labor in the Office of Policy. Sepulveda then landed a job with Boxer in 2001 and as a volunteer for Kerry’s 2004 presidential bid and attended the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. While there, Sepulveda heard a speech from his future boss, U.S. Senate candidate Barack Obama.

“I saw him speak at the convention and got caught up in him,— Sepulveda said.

Shortly after Obama’s election to the Senate, Sepulveda became a legislative assistant to the Illinois Democrat.

During the 2008 election cycle, Sepulveda was able to travel the country on Obama’s behalf. “It was a fascinating experience,— he said. “I did a couple of town halls out in the middle of nowhere Virginia. I was really surprised how much people knew. People asked me about things like the value-added tax.—

Sepulveda would travel as far as Nevada and California on behalf of the Obama campaign. From his earlier experience at La Raza, Sepulveda was able to help the campaign on Latino issues in those states.

Working for Obama inside and outside the Senate paid off with a job in the new administration. Just two weeks after the 2008 elections, Sepulveda walked onto the transition team for the trade representative.

And there’s another change that came about because of the 2008 elections. It made the “pretty private— Sepulveda a reluctant user of Facebook. Nowadays, he doesn’t regret that decision. “My dad has 12 brothers and sisters back in Chile,— he said. “I have been able to watch my cousins grow up because of Facebook.—

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