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Hill Climbers: Pressers With Wolves

Working for Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) might be hazardous to your health. Yes, there are the traditional duties that go along with being a Hill staffer, but sometimes you have to deal with the wolves — the live, uncaged, Arctic variety.

[IMGCAP(1)]Ben Miller (who bears no relation to George Miller) vividly remembers his brush with a wolf. Over the past six and a half years, Miller, 28, has served the lawmaker in a number of capacities, but none remains more memorable than the 2007 introduction of the Protect America’s Wildlife Act, a piece of legislation that would have banned aerial hunting of animals.

“Some of the staff sat around brainstorming ways to do an interesting rollout for the bill,— Miller said. “Then we thought, ‘What if we just brought in a real wolf?’—

Sounds far-fetched, but it happened. The press conference featured Atka, an Arctic gray wolf from the New York Wolf Conservation Center, as its star.

Atka drew some attention. Several days later, then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) responded with a missive admonishing Rep. Miller: “You have misconstrued the reality of life in Alaska and the importance of wild game as food to the people of this state.— Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) also chimed in with a “Dear Colleague— letter in which he told the story (and gruesome photo) of his dog’s death because of wolves.

That drama happened during Miller’s legislative assistant days. Now, Miller is the Congressman’s deputy chief of staff/legislative director, a job he began last spring. Miller oversees the office’s legislative staff but said he isn’t too far removed from the legislative process, especially natural resources policy.

“I was not ready to give up on policy,— he said. “I like being able to work with outside groups on legislation, especially with the new administration in the White House.—

Miller boasts some ties to nature outside of work: His father, Char, is an environmental historian who wrote a book on the first chief of the United States Forest Service, Gifford Pinchot.

Miller attributes all of his experience on the Hill to his current boss. He interned in George Miller’s Washington, D.C., office while a college junior and senior.

“I had heard stories about George Miller well before I was interested in working in politics,— he said. “My grandparents were involved in Bay Area politics and advocated for mental health and early childhood issues, so I often heard about how Congressman Miller and his wife, Cynthia, had helped children and families in the Bay Area. That was in the back of my mind when I was a sophomore in college, sending out résumés for a summer internship.—

After graduating from Pomona College in 2003, Miller landed his first job as a legislative assistant.

[IMGCAP(2)]Miller is originally from San Antonio and said he is a diehard fan of his hometown’s basketball team, the Spurs. He still holds out hope of landing a dream job with the team: “I gave up my professional basketball ambition in high school, but maybe they could find a spot for me.—

But these days, Miller is more likely to be changing diapers than throwing free throws. Miller and his wife, Caitlin, welcomed their first child, Samuel, six weeks ago.

Another recent change to the George Miller office is Dan Mauer, who became a legislative assistant in August. Mauer, 25, covers finance, appropriations, transportation and foreign affairs for the lawmaker.

Mauer arrived at the new position from the office of Rep. Al Green (D-Texas), where he was also a legislative assistant. To say Mauer is a fan of his new boss would be an understatement.

“I am a big economic justice advocate, and so is the Congressman,— Mauer said. “Rep. Miller has been a long-timer hero of mine, and I knew he would be a good person to work for.— Mauer is a native of Silver Spring, Md. While in college, Mauer held two Hill internships, one with Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) in 2003 and another with the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2004.

Mauer is a 2006 graduate of Brandeis University, where he triple-majored in politics, economics and African studies. Not wanting to skip a beat after college, he managed a political campaign right after graduating. At the age of 22, Mauer oversaw the Patrick Schmitt for Rhode Island State Senate campaign. Although his candidate lost, Mauer left with his head held high.

“We ended up getting 44 percent of the vote,— he said. “We were running against the leader of the state Senate who hadn’t had an opponent in years.—

Mauer claims family ties for a number of his personal interests, everything from sports to music. The longtime Marylander roots for the Mets and the Knicks because his dad is originally from Queens.

And should Mauer have to deal with wolves in his work for Miller, it should pose no problems for the staffer. Mauer played rugby for the Brandeis Judges for three years in college. In his last game, Mauer fractured his skull.

“It sounds implausible, and I actually don’t have an aggressive personality,— he said. “My head hit artificial turf, which is harder than grass.—

After blacking out for few seconds, Mauer jumped right back into the game. Only after the game finish did Mauer go to the hospital, where he discovered he had fractured his skull. Fortunately, the injury wasn’t a complete skull break.

“The diagnosis of ‘don’t slam your head into anything for the next six months’ was a pretty good thing to hear,— he said.

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