Hill Climbers: Working for a Colorful Boss

Posted March 19, 2010 at 2:48pm

By now, pretty much everyone has heard about Sen. James Inhofe’s (R-Okla.) latest attack against global warming. What some might not know, though, is that placing a poster last week on the Senate floor showing a naked Al Gore was all the lawmaker’s idea.

[IMGCAP(1)]”He just saw the Weekly Standard cover one morning and thought it would be a great prop,” said Liz Lathrop, who was made Inhofe’s press assistant in February. “I think it was during a morning before a radio interview when he saw it and had the idea to pair it with a National Review cover showing money raining on Al Gore.”

Lathrop, 26, takes credit for actually blowing up the magazine illustration onto poster board. It was all in a day’s work for the new staffer, who said she appreciates her new boss’s humor.

Lathrop’s responsibilities usually revolve around the more serious: writing press releases, photographing special events and accompanying Inhofe during radio calls and television appearances.

The job marks the completion of a goal Lathrop had in coming to Washington: first, to acclimate herself to the Hill in an administrative job, which she did the past two years as staff assistant with Rep. John Sullivan (R-Okla.), and with that experience move over to the press side.

Lathrop’s new gig complements her academic mooring: Lathrop is a 2007 graduate of the University of Kansas, where she studied English and political science.

Even before Lathrop had a career aim, politics was her thing. The spark came during a summer internship with Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.), which she held as a college sophomore. “I realized I wanted to come back after that finished, even though I was just 19.” Back in Kansas, Lathrop remained political through state politics and volunteered on campaigns during the remainder of college.

By the time she earned her bachelor’s degree, Lathrop was ready to leave her home state — the staffer is a native of Overland Park, Kan. — for Washington, D.C. “My dad drove the U-Haul down with me to D.C., all while I had the flu,” she said. “I was so sick, it caused me some doubts on whether it would work out.”

Lathrop’s return to Capitol Hill came through another internship, this time in the office of Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.). With persistence, Sullivan snagged a job in five months. “I was just going on interview after interview trying to get a job,” Lathrop said. “And this was kind of when it was really hard to get a job in a Republican office,” during the first year of the Democratic takeover of the 110th Congress. “I think I went on a total of 20 interviews by the time I was done.”

But in retrospect, the wait was worthwhile. “I had had a great boss there, Elizabeth Bartheld, who is Congressman Sullivan’s chief of staff,” she said. “All the other staffers were men.”

[IMGCAP(2)]In addition to forming a close relationship with the chief, Lathrop developed a thick skin while she was at Sullivan’s office. “They would definitely play tricks on me — nice tricks — but it taught me not to leave my phone or money out on my desk. They would tape my money on the computer screen or tape my phone underneath my desk,” she said. With Bartheld’s encouragement, Lathrop made the leap to apply to become Inhofe’s press assistant. And so far, that advice has paid dividends.

“I’ve done a lot of things that I never thought that I’d do,” Lathrop said. “It’s still kind of weird for me. … We’ll go to do radio shows, and to just be able to put on the headphones as he’s interviewed is awesome.”

But it’s not just the opportunity to work press that the staffer welcomes; Lathrop also said her boss’s outspokenness on everything from climate change to defense is a positive. “That’s what I admire the most about him,” she said. “Even if there’s no one on his side, if it’s the right thing to do he’ll do it. That’s very honorable.”

Capitol Hill hasn’t drawn the staffer far from her roots, though. Lathrop calls her mom every day — her “sanity check” — and remains close to her sisters. The staffer has an older sister and a fraternal twin sister.

“We all like to show things to our mom that illustrates our accomplishments,” Lathrop said. “My communications director recently sent me a photo of me and the Senator in the office, just me writing down something for him. It was really neat to see because that was the first time I had really worked one-on-one with the Senator.”

And during March Madness, Lathrop has the Kansas Jayhawks going all the way in the Inhofe office NCAA bracket.

“I’ve also done a friend’s bracket that has Kansas going all the way to be national champions,” Lathrop said.

As much as a Jayhawks championship would thrill Lathrop, the staffer’s day-by-day excitement comes through taking it all in and adjusting to a different side of Capitol Hill. “My main goal is to learn everything I can from the communications director,” she said. That’s really where I’m at now. It’s been a lot of new things. The very first day someone told me that the Senate and the House are completely different and I thought to myself, ‘Oh, how different can they be?’ I’ve learned that they are completely different in every shape down to the littlest things, even like the paperwork.”

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