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Hill Climbers: Lamborn’s New Lineup

The one word most frequently used by Rep. Doug Lamborn’s (R-Colo.) staff members to describe their Capitol Hill experiences is “blessed.”

[IMGCAP(2)]Last January, two staff departures precipitated a series of shuffles in the Lamborn office, creating a new lineup of three legislative assistants and a new scheduler. The women bring a healthy dose of appreciation for their new gigs, and having settled into their positions, they count one another as friends.

Abby Gunderson, 24, who has been with Lamborn for one and a half years, is the most senior among the staff changes. In January, Gunderson was promoted from scheduler to legislative assistant.

Gunderson says she has a diverse portfolio with “every issue imaginable,” including budget, immigration and trade. And that’s just a small part of her legislative responsibilities; in total, she handles 11 issues for Lamborn in addition to acting as the office intern coordinator.

As scheduler, Gunderson held a small legislative role, which she said helped to round out her administrative duties. She prefers to take the good with the bad in the explosion of her workload. “I guess it’s better than it could be, but the learning curve is still there,” she said.

Gunderson was fortunate enough to secure a job on Capitol Hill immediately after college. The day after graduating from Wheaton College in Illinois in 2008 — where she studied political science and communications ­— Gunderson drove to Washington for her first job: as a legislative correspondent for Lamborn.

Gunderson’s home state of California did little to help her stand out. Rather, during Gunderson’s senior year, she interned with a fundraising firm in Illinois, which provided her the necessary connection to Lamborn.

But she does owe her interest in politics to her home state. California’s 2003 gubernatorial recall election struck a chord with Gunderson while she was a high school student.

“It was the epitome of the people coming together and democracy in action,” she said. “It was completely grass roots, and I watched it all unfold. That for me spoke volumes about our government and a political system I wanted to work within.”

Mallori McClure also assumed new duties for Lamborn in January. Although she holds the same title she had when she started working for Lamborn in 2008 ­— legislative assistant ­— she recently consolidated her workload to handle the lawmaker’s work with the Natural Resources Committee. Lamborn is ranking member of the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources.

McClure, 24, hails from Colorado Springs, which Lamborn represents in Colorado’s 5th district. One week after graduating from Colorado State University in 2008 ­— where she studied political science and aerospace science — McClure became an intern in the D.C. office of then-Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.).

Before too long, McClure landed a job as staff assistant with the Senate Republican Policy Committee under Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas). The job provided the staffer with the opportunity to meet Lamborn.

“While there, the Congressman approached me about moving over to his office,” McClure said. “I wanted to work for my home district and am very happy and really blessed to be here.”

[IMGCAP(1)]A career in public service was already on McClure’s mind as an undergraduate. She attended Colorado State as a contracted cadet with the Air Force ROTC and planned on entering the military after graduation. But halfway through her senior year, McClure received a medical disqualification.

“I was like, what do I do now?” she said. “I thought, why not go to Washington? So I contacted Sen. Allard’s office and came out here for an internship right after graduation. I even missed my commencement to come to D.C.”

The third change in Lamborn’s legislative roster is Rachel Lee. In January, Lee was promoted from legislative correspondent to legislative assistant, a role that allows her to handle a number of domestic issues, including health care and education.

“I’m still trying to get up to speed, especially on health care,” she said. “I’ve kind of entered that late in the game.”

Lee’s approach to Capitol Hill also came through an internship. After graduating from Liberty University in Virginia in 2008 with a degree in communications studies, Lee interned at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. While in the internship, Lee had the opportunity to meet Lamborn, with whom she said she clicked ideologically. Lee began working for Lamborn in January 2009.

“Even though I’m not from Colorado, we see eye to eye on the issues,” she said. “It worked out well for me to come to his office.”

For Lee, 23, politics is a mix of personal beliefs and family. Lee’s uncle was a county commissioner in North Carolina, her home state, and she now has a cousin running for North Carolina’s state Senate.

“I’ve always kind of been involved in local politics,” she said. “I guess I’ve always had a real drive to defend values and liberty in our society. I didn’t really think of it as a way to a means after college, as a career, until the 2008 presidential primary was heating up. It kind of hit me: I should pursue this; I should find something.”

Rounding out the list of changes in Lamborn’s office is Erin Newton, who is Lamborn’s executive assistant. In addition to handling the lawmaker’s scheduling, Newton, 25, also works on two legislative issues, government reform and Social Security.

Newton hails from Buena Vista, in Lamborn’s district, and is a 2007 graduate of Pepperdine University in California, where she studied history. After unsuccessfully searching for a job on Capitol Hill, Newton’s first stint came as an intern with Lamborn in 2008. That gig would lead to a job with Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), for whom Newton worked as a staff assistant until February.

“I was happy to come back to Colorado politics, to my home district,” she said. “People call who I actually know personally at this office.”

Newton owes her foray into politics to a television show. “I had a really good history teacher in high school, and we watched ‘The West Wing’ in class,” she said. “I became hooked on the whole process, how the deals get made, how you reach compromises and just how it all goes together.”

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