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Hill Climbers: New Aderholt Staffers Are Native Southerners

It’s almost too obvious to note, but it’s the accents that stick out when first meeting two recent additions to the office of Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.). Considering the lawmaker recently hired an Alabamian and a Tennessean, that’s not a surprise.

“Whenever I go home, everyone’s like, ‘Stephen, where’s your accent?'” said Stephen Davis, a legislative assistant for Aderholt and native of Excel, Ala. “They tell me, ‘You sound like a Yankee!'”

Davis said he just tells people back home that they should hear what Washingtonians have to say about how he talks.

But Davis joining Aderholt’s office has little to do with his accent.

Last July, Davis, 25, transitioned to the lawmaker’s office, marking his second job on Capitol Hill. Immediately prior to the move, Davis worked as a correspondence coordinator for Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), a position that he held for two years.

“I stayed within my state in moving to the House,” Davis said. “That was one of my top priorities. One of my top priorities is to work for Alabama and to serve the people there.”

Aside from staying within the Alabama delegation, Davis said another draw was the potential to work on legislation.

“When I came to the Hill, I wanted to do legislative work,” he said. “I wasn’t really getting to do that on the Senate side. So when this door opened, it gave me a chance to start doing more policy.”

Davis assists Aderholt’s legislative director on defense and NASA issues. Aderholt is a member of the Appropriations Committee and sits on the Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science.

His portfolio has recently made for late workdays — as late as 11 p.m. — as earmark requests to the Appropriations Committee near.

“The more time in the office, the better,” Davis said jokingly. “Right now, we have a disagreement with the administration on NASA funding and how it should be funded in the future.” President Barack Obama’s budget plan, unveiled last month, would radically reshape the human space flight program, something that Aderholt opposes.

In addition to growing up in Alabama, Davis is also a graduate of the University of Alabama, where he earned degrees in political science and history in 2007. (Davis said he never misses an opportunity to rib Aderholt staffers who are alumni of Auburn University, his school’s main rival.)

Davis is the youngest member of his family — which includes an older brother and sister — as well as the first to leave Alabama and the first to graduate from a four-year university.

“Mom and dad didn’t have the opportunity to go to college, so they both stressed the importance of getting an education. Didn’t matter if you wanted to get a trade or go to college,” Davis said. “They told me I could do whatever I wanted to do.”

A summer internship with Rep. Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) — Davis’ hometown representative — while he was in college only confirmed his long-held interest in the political process.

“I remember one day, I was in fifth grade, when my mom was dropping me off at school and I said how I just really love history,” Davis said. “Ever since then, it’s just been history and politics.”

Davis said a small thing sticks out the most in his time with Aderholt: the lawmaker’s co-sponsoring of Rep. Paul Broun’s (R-Ga.) Sanctity of Human Life Act, which would deem life to begin at fertilization. “I had asked him to co-sponsor the bill, and when he agreed, it was a pretty special moment,” Davis said. “When you need access to him, you get access. He’s a very sociable person around the office. From staff assistant up to chief of staff, if you need to speak to him about something, he’s open to it.”

Although Davis’ accent makes it pretty easy to discern his geographical roots, his free-time activities provide further evidence. Davis said he’s been a “true fan” of NASCAR’s Jeff Gordon since the late 1990s.

And in the two and a half years that Davis has lived in Washington, he has been known to visit Virginia’s Civil War battlefields. So far he’s conquered the battlefields of Antietam and Manassas.

Another addition to the Aderholt office is Kristin Kilgore, who started as a staff assistant in January. Kilgore’s responsibilities are largely front of the office, including scheduling constituent tours, answering phones and greeting guests.

Because this is her first job on the Hill, Kilgore said she still has a long way to go. “I’m realizing more and more every day how much I have to learn, but it’s a really fun experience,” Kilgore said. “I’m enjoying seeing how everything works up here firsthand.”

Like her colleague, Kilgore is a native southerner. She was born and raised in Mount Juliet, Tenn., a suburb of Nashville.

Kilgore’s interest in politics manifested itself in high school. “I don’t really know what it was that first got me started, but I just developed an interest in politics,” she said.

While an undergraduate at Middle Tennessee State University, Kilgore started looking for volunteer opportunities with the Republican Party. In 2004, she volunteered in her home county, Wilson, campaigning for President George W. Bush’s re-election.

“I didn’t enjoy the door-to-door,” she said. “I enjoyed distributing campaign material at the headquarters and talking to voters there. The door-to-door stuff wasn’t fun; it was kind of hard and it was cold at the time.”

With the realization that campaign work wasn’t her strong suit, the next year Kilgore interned in the Nashville office of then-Sen. Bill Frist (R).

After finishing a bachelor’s degree in political science in 2006, Kilgore immediately headed to the Liberty University School of Law in Virginia. Kilgore said she enrolled in law school without the intention of practicing law, as Capitol Hill had already become her goal.

But Kilgore said her law degree, which she earned in 2009, will be useful. “It really gives me a better understanding of the Constitution, which is important working on the Hill,” she said. “I feel like I have a better understanding of how things work because of law school.”

And law school still affects Kilgore personally; while at Liberty, she met her husband, Michael Kilgore, who was also a law student. The two were married last September.

When Aderholt’s staff assistant position opened earlier this year, Kilgore’s goal of working in politics was at last met. “I was really excited because Congressman Aderholt and I share the same faith and conservative values,” she said. “He has a genuine concern for his constituents, which I really admire.”

She said she would eventually like to work on social policy on the Hill.

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