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Hill Climbers: Hold Onto Your Hat

The Republican staff of the House Energy and Commerce Committee recently underwent a whopping eight-person change. With such a large number of changes, the range of people found on the staff comes as no surprise. But even the most seasoned Hill staffer would find the convergences unique. Recent additions include a former counsel to the vice president, an aspiring museum docent and a Texas-Canadian, to name a few.

[IMGCAP(1)]Starting out the list is Katie Wheelbarger, who came to the committee in November. Wheelbarger, 32, joins the committee as one of two deputy chiefs of staff.

Wheelbarger is a native Californian and a 1999 graduate of the University of California at Los Angeles. After receiving a degree in political science from UCLA, Wheelbarger went on to earn a degree from Harvard Law School in 2002.

Wheelbarger’s first taste of Capitol Hill came in 1997 when she interned with the Joint Economic Committee with then-Rep. John Kasich (R-Ohio). After law school, Wheelbarger worked in a variety of capacities, including as a law clerk for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and as a litigation associate with the law firm Cooper & Kirk.

Wheelbarger arrived in D.C. in 2004 and spent several months working with the Bush/Cheney re-election campaign.

“I was determined to serve with the previous administration, and after 9/11, I was focused on national security issues,— she said.

After the election, Wheelbarger launched her public service career with the Department of Homeland Security, first serving in the general counsel’s office and then as counselor to then-Secretary Michael Chertoff. After several years with the DHS, Wheelbarger went to work as Vice President Dick Cheney’s counsel, a position that allowed her to address a wide range of legal and policy issues.

After the close of the Bush administration, Wheelbarger decided to move back to California and take some time to travel across the country and overseas.

Wheelbarger said her return to the work force was brought about by “the unique opportunity to work on the committee and focus on some of the most important issues confronting the country today.—

In another committee change, Amanda Mertens Campbell was promoted last month to general counsel. Mertens Campbell, 32, previously worked as counsel for the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment.

Mertens Campbell hails from Essex, N.J., though her roots stretch across the country, having lived in seven different states growing up.

[IMGCAP(2)]Mertens Campbell earned a bachelor’s degree in American studies and English literature in 1999 from Lake Forest College. From there, she earned a law degree from Roger Williams University in 2005.

Outside of the Hill, Mertens Campbell channels a love for reading and volunteering with the Junior League of Washington, an organization that works on child literacy. Each year, Mertens Campbell also volunteers with the National Book Festival. She said she would be working as a “museum docent or a European tour guide— if not on the Hill.

Another recent committee promotion was Will Carty, who moved to senior professional staff member/policy counselor. Carty, 32, joined the committee in 2000 and has worked as a clerk and professional staff member.

In his new capacity, Carty works across the committee’s jurisdiction but maintains a primary focus on telecommunications, technology, consumer protection, content and privacy issues.

Carty is a 1999 graduate of Middlebury College, where he majored in sociology, anthropology and American civilization.

Carty belongs to a rare breed of Texas-Canadians. Carty was born in Montreal and raised in Dallas. Not surprisingly, the staffer’s sport loyalties spread to include the Montreal Canadiens, Dallas Stars, Dallas Mavericks and Vancouver Canucks.

Next on the list of committee changes is Ike Brannon, who joins the committee as the first staff economist.

Brannon, 44, previously worked as a senior policy adviser for the Senate Republican Policy Committee. He also spent time as a senior policy adviser and chief economist for the McCain/Palin presidential campaign. Before the campaign, Brannon held positions with the Treasury, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the Joint Economic Committee and the Office of Management and Budget.

“I came to D.C. in 2001 on a sabbatical to work for OMB, and at the end of the year, I went to the Hill instead of returning to academia,— Brannon said. Brannon hails from Mossville, Ill., and earned his bachelor’s degree in math, economics and Spanish from Augustana College. He earned his master’s and doctorate degrees in economics from Indiana University.

Brannon still keeps his own study of economics alive by helping to run the Prosperity Caucus, a group of libertarian-minded economists, Hill staffers and academics. He also helped found the Savings and Retirement Forum, a research group for economists in D.C.

Along with working as counsel for the committee, Shannon Weinberg has now taken on the role of parliamentarian. Weinberg, 33, first joined the committee in 2006.

Before coming to work for the committee, Weinberg held several other jobs on and off the Hill. She worked as counsel to the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, counsel to Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.) and in private practice in the fields of aviation and immigration.

Weinberg is a 1997 graduate of High Point University. In 2001, she earned a degree from the George Washington University School of Law.

Weinberg, a self-described “native— of D.C., grew up in up in Montgomery County, Md.

Kevin Kohl recently took up the role of professional staff member for the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. Previously, Kohl worked as a special assistant to the committee’s Republican chief of staff.

Kohl, 26, is a graduate of Franklin and Marshall College, where he studied government and international relations. Kohl is a Garden State native and hails from the town of Manasquan.

Nathan Crow replaces Kohl as committee special assistant. Crow previously served as a committee staff assistant, a position that he held from January to November.

Crow, 27, is a 2004 graduate of New York University with a bachelor’s degree in history. He is also a Dallas native.

An opportunity to work for the McCain/Palin campaign prompted Crow to move to D.C. a year and a half ago. “I put basically everything I owned in my car and moved myself up before I was even sure what my exact job was going to be,— Crow said.

Rounding out the committee roller coaster of changes is Cedric James, hired as a staff assistant in November.

James, 25, is the third Texan in the group and hails from Austin. He is a graduate of Texas State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in public administration.

James previously interned with the committee. In the summer of 2008, James was as a Barbara Jordan Health Policy scholar. That scholarship places college students and graduates in Congressional offices to learn about health care policy. The past year, James served as the Pedro Zamora Public Policy fellow in the AIDS Action Council.

Not surprisingly, the newbie staffer said he would be working in a health care organization if he weren’t on the Hill.

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

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