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Hill Climbers: Louie Gohmert’s Staffers Take It All in Stride

There’s never a dull moment in the office of Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas). From helping the lawmaker lead his famous night tours around the Capitol, to high-heeled rescues, Gohmert staffers take it all in stride. Along the way, they often negotiate Capitol Hill’s ups and downs with some help from “the boss.”

Gohmert’s four recent staff shuffles split evenly between new hires and promotions. And most of the women easily recall memorable brushes with the boss.

Last month, Patricia Paxson Slezak, 25, started as scheduler. She is a 2006 graduate of Southwestern University.

Paxson Slezak actually goes way back with Gohmert. Not only does the staffer hail from Gohmert’s 1st district, but four years ago, on her first day as tour coordinator for then-Sen. George Allen (R-Va.), she was rescued by her future boss.

“When I first started in 2006, I was running an errand in the Cannon [House Office] Building and I was wearing heels. … I got my shoe stuck in the Cannon elevator because there’s a giant gap. I was trying to wedge my shoe out without falling over and had this pencil skirt on. Congressman Gohmert came over and was like, ‘I have three daughters. I understand,’ and wedged my shoe out.”

Afterward, Paxson Slezak shared her embarrassment with her parents (who promptly recounted their daughter’s rescue to Gohmert on his next district visit), but she now tries to put the incident in her past. “I try to avoid it,” said Paxson Slezak. “That was a long time ago.”

After Allen lost re-election in 2006, Paxson Slezak transferred to become assistant scheduler for Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas). After a year with Hutchison, Paxson Slezak tried the private sector, as federal government affairs coordinator for Comcast Government Affairs.

But in two and a half years with Comcast, she slowly started to miss working in Congress. “The corporate world is fun, but it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be necessarily,” Paxson Slezak said. “I missed the team aspect of the Hill.”

Paxson Slezak said she knew she’d fit in well with Gohmert’s office, especially when she was able to trade Capitol Hill trivia with the lawmaker. “I am a huge history nerd and he is, too, and so we were trading stuff in my interview,” she said. “I was like, ‘Oh, did you know this about the Capitol?’ He was like, ‘No, did you know this?’ I was like, ‘No, I didn’t know that!'”

Another new addition to the Texas lawmaker’s staff is Kristina Culley, 29, who started as legislative counsel in December. Although Culley’s roots lie in the Golden State — she hails from the town of Fullerton, Calif. — she earned her Texas stripes while in law school at Baylor University. Culley is a 2009 Baylor graduate, while Gohmert earned his J.D. from the school in 1977.

“I lived in Texas for several years, and I really love the state,” Culley said.

After graduating from Claremont McKenna College in 2002, working in marketing real estate and, more recently, going to law school, Culley said Capitol Hill became something that she wanted to experience. “It’s always been something in the back of my mind,” she said. “It wasn’t the only thing that I was looking at, but when the opportunity presented itself I knew I wanted to try the Hill.”

Culley handles a variety of issues for Gohmert, including energy and commerce, small-business and military affairs.

Staff promotions have also made a vivid mark on the Gohmert office.

Kate Thompson, 26, recently moved from special projects coordinator to communications coordinator. She first started in Gohmert’s office in 2008 as a legislative correspondent.

Thompson went to college at Texas A&M University with Gohmert’s former press secretary — she is a 2006 graduate of the school — which provided the Houston native the necessary hook to the Gohmert office. After 10 months of working as a recruiter post-college, a “burned out” Thompson jumped at the opportunity to join the lawmaker.

“I met with the Congressman and the chief and got hired an hour and a half later,” Thompson said. “He was like, ‘Can you start on Monday?’ It was a Wednesday night and I was like, ‘No, we have to do two weeks.’ He just wants people to start. He likes people so much.”

Joining Thompson in moving up is Michelle Aurelio, who moved from staff assistant to legislative correspondent in March.

Aurelio’s approach to the Hill came with the end of a contract working for the Christian nonprofit World Vision.

“I was interested in the Hill and especially with health care coming up,” said Aurelio, 27, who joined Gohmert in September. “I guess that’s kind of what drew me to the Hill.”

Gohmert hired Aurelio on a Thursday, and she started on a Friday.

Aurelio is a 2005 graduate of Liberty University and earned a master’s degree in global public health in 2008 from George Washington University.

“It was neat to kind of see the health care debate play out in front of me, and not just read about it or talk about it in theory,” Aurelio said.

Aurelio, fittingly, handles health care, as well as judicial and natural resources issues. She also sets up the lawmaker’s famous night tours, a weekly occurrence in which Gohmert leads constituents or the occasional tea party group around the Capitol and discusses the building’s history.

“You learn something new every time,” Aurelio said.

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