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Hill Climbers: North Dakota State of Mind

Sometimes it’s just obvious when people come from the same state. For two new staffers in the office of Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), the signs couldn’t be clearer. From a mutual appreciation of ice hockey to a love of radio, these staffers are first and foremost natives of the Roughrider State.

[IMGCAP(1)]Last November, Alethea Lange joined Conrad as a legislative correspondent. Lange, 24, supports the lawmaker’s initiatives in the areas of banking, economics, transportation, housing, business and telecommunications.

Lange hails from the town of Mandan, N.D., located across the Missouri River from Bismarck.

Lange’s entrance on the Hill last year marked her first time working in politics. After graduating from the University of Chicago in 2008, where she studied English and political science, Lange interned with Chicago Public Radio.

The internship proved to be a fitting one for Lange, who grew up in the home of radio fans: “I have always had an interest in public radio programs and listened to many of them growing up,— Lange said. “It’s a really popular media in North Dakota because the state is so rural.—

But after nearly a year working in the Windy City, Lange found herself wanting new challenges. “I came down to D.C. and did a number of informational interviews and Sen. Conrad’s office let me apply for an opening,— she said. “I loved working in radio, but I didn’t want to put off coming to D.C. I think you either go big or go home.—

Lange said the ability to walk to work has been one of the more pleasant adjustments to living in Washington, D.C., but that a sense of home has been the highlight to her time so far: “This job has really showed me how much North Dakota has given me,— she said. “It’s really nice to be around people from the state again.—

The staffer might mix up the Conrad office next month with her celebration of Valentine’s Day. “It’s my favorite holiday,— she said. “It’s an opportunity to take a day in the dead of winter to reflect on the great things about all the people you love, romantically or not.—

Lange is known to pass out little pink hearts on Feb. 14.

Lange is also learning to show love to her new home. The staffer recently finished training to volunteer with the D.C. Earned Income Tax Credit Campaign as a volunteer tax preparer. She will work once a week with Washington residents throughout tax season.

But Lange’s athletic loyalties aren’t likely to change. She takes pride in the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux hockey team. The university’s hockey team has a strong following in North Dakota, which lacks any professional sports franchises.

“I have four little boy cousins who are rock star hockey fans,— Lange said. “We have a game in my family on who can get the boys the best hockey gifts each Christmas.—

Another November addition to the Conrad office included Julianne Minar. Minar, 25, was also hired as a legislative correspondent and works on health care, labor and education issues.

The position marks Minar’s first position on the Hill, but her second job in Washington. After graduating from Augustana College in South Dakota in 2007, Minar worked with the League of Women Voters for two and a half years.

Minar said a passion for her home state — she hails from Bismarck — prompted a career change. “I knew the people in the office who were aware that I was looking to move into public service,— she said. “I wanted to work for Sen. Conrad and to give back to the people of North Dakota.—

Minar owes a number of things to the Roughrider State, including a love of hockey and radio. The staffer said “This American Life— is her favorite radio program and that she, naturally, is a fan of the Fighting Sioux hockey team.

Washington Capitals games provide a substitute for Minar while she is far away from home.

In the two and a half years that Minar has spent in Washington, the Capitals aren’t the only thing she has come to enjoy: “I love how walkable the city is,— she said. “The weather is pretty good, too. I laugh when people say it’s cold here.—

But Minar heaps more than praise on her second home; she also gives back to Washington. The staffer volunteers as a tutor with Horton’s Kids. The program brings elementary students from Ward 8 to the Hill each week for tutoring.

“It’s like a second home for these kids,— she said. “I tutor a boy once a week, but they come to Rayburn three times a week to study with volunteers.—

Outside of getting used to the job and volunteer work, Minar has her hands full with wedding preparations. She and her fiancé, a third-year medical student at Georgetown University, plan to be married in Colorado in June.

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