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Hill Climbers: Green’s Team Brings Texas Tone to the Capitol

Even though it was a Sunday, Timothy Merritt was closing in on a 13-hour workday. He sat on Rep. Gene Green’s navy leather couch and “Lone Star State” blanket surrounded by picture frames, a stuffed pheasant and a flat-screen television displaying the debate on health care. As Congress passed the health care reform and reconciliation bills, Merritt heard cheers erupting from the Capitol. That marked one of the most defining moments in his career.

[IMGCAP(1)]”I remember looking out the window at the Capitol Dome thinking, ‘Wow, this is so cool,'” said Merritt, 28, who was recently promoted to the Texas Democrat’s communications director.

The Dallas native started interning for Green in fall 2007 before he moved over to a permanent position as scheduler. Merritt, a University of North Texas graduate, never thought he would come to D.C. but made “the decision on a whim.”

Almost three years later, Merritt now finds himself responsible for coordinating all media sources, press clippings and interviews. He’s also immersed himself in the Washington community by joining the LGBT Congressional Staff Association and frequenting shows and restaurants.

Legislative Director Abigail Pinkele shares a similar Hill moment, except she was actually on the House floor when she watched the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act pass.

Pinkele had been watching the debate take place from the gallery when she and a few other staff members were rotated out. Luckily for Pinkele, her boss insisted on taking her back to the floor with him.

“It was very emotional and overwhelming to witness the final passage in person, probably because of all the late nights and weekends spent on the legislation,” Pinkele said.

The 29-year-old has been working under the Congressman for almost seven years, serving as staff assistant, scheduler, health legislative assistant and senior legislative assistant. As of May, she is responsible for managing the D.C. office and legislative staff, in addition to handling all health-care-related issues.

Pinkele came to Green’s office after graduating from DePauw University and a brief winter internship with former Rep. Nick Lampson (D-Texas) in 2003. Although she was born in Delaware, Ohio, she considers herself an “adopted Texan.”

Legislative assistant Lindsay Mosshart, on the other hand, is not only a Houston native but also grew up admiring Green’s work. After five years with the Congressman, Mosshart has expanded her portfolio to include the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Environment. “A lot of jobs affected by the BP oil spill are coming from our district in Texas,” Mosshart said.

[IMGCAP(2)]The Vanderbilt University graduate got her start in Washington interning for Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) in September 2005. In December, the 27-year-old was hired by Green as staff assistant. Mosshart also earned her master’s degree in government through night classes at Johns Hopkins University.

One of two new staff members in Green’s office hired to take on Mosshart’s old portfolio also pursued his master’s degree at night. Sergio Espinosa, the new 30-year-old legislative assistant, received his graduate degree in secondary education from Loyola Marymount University.

The California native is responsible for advising and researching a slew of policy issues for the Congressman, but two in particular hold significant weight for him: education, because he was a teacher in Los Angeles after graduation from Williams College, and foreign affairs, because he taught 10th-grade history in Ecuador.

“I feel like you can do more as a teacher than a Hill staffer,” Espinosa said. “But what I like about the Hill is that you have a sense of immediate gratification and that you feel like you did something.”

After his various teaching stints, Espinosa came to the office of Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) as staff assistant before he was hired as legislative assistant for Green. Although he has only been in D.C. for two years, Espinosa has cherished his time here, especially when he met personal role model Yuri Beckelman, legislative assistant for Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.). “Yuri’s somewhat of a mythical creature, like something between a unicorn and a liger,” Espinosa joked.

The other new hire in the office, Nate Tipton, has an equally memorable Hill moment: persuading dining services to always include grilled chicken in the Rayburn House Office Building salad bar.

Tipton, 27, is a D.C. native. He served as legislative correspondent for Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and as legislative assistant for Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.).

The Franklin and Marshall College graduate, who is now legislative assistant responsible for the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, has noticed that Green’s office is particularly tight-knit and loyal, since most of the staffers have been with the Congressman for several years.

“Sometimes you kind of take it for granted and get desensitized to what you’re doing up here,” Merritt said. “Then you come to those moments where it’s like ‘Holy crap, the Speaker of the House just walked by.’ It’s just very cool.”

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