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Hill Climbers: Helping to Finish Out a Legacy

Dodd Staffer Looks at 10 Years on the Hill

Jeremy Sharp says Santa Barbara, Calif., is the antithesis of Washington: The weather is perfect, everyone wears flip-flops and people look at you funny if you wear a suit and tie.

“It was my year without winter,” said Sharp, 34, who was there working on Rep. Lois Capps’ re-election campaign in 2000. “In my head I was thinking, ‘OK, after this I’m going to go home, pack up my stuff and move out to California and work here.'”

But something changed the D.C. native’s mind when he was California-bound and halfway across the country. Right outside of Houston, Capps’ office called and asked whether he was interested in a job in the Washington office.

“I accelerated my car and turned right around,” Sharp said, only half-jokingly. “I made it back in time for the interview, and they ended up hiring me.”

Sharp’s position with the California Democrat marked the beginning of his Hill career, which now adds up to almost 10 years of peppered experience. He eventually shuffled over to the Senate to work for Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), where he was recently promoted to legislative director.

The decision to stay in Washington not only advanced his professional career but also enhanced his personal life: He met his wife, Elizabeth, while working on the Hill.

“She actually didn’t like me at first. She thought I was an ‘eager beaver Hill staffer,'” said Sharp, who married in September 2008. “Initially, she was willing to get to know me because she thought I would be useful, but I don’t think she needed me.”

The pair held similar jobs but for different offices — she worked for Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), while he worked on health care issues as a legislative assistant for Capps. Sharp, who attended Georgetown University, always wanted to be employed in government but never expected to be linked to health care. He majored in international relations, focusing on U.S. foreign policy and economics.

After five years with Capps’ office, Sharp took a brief hiatus from the Hill, leaving in February 2006 to take a job with a government relations firm. However, the staffer didn’t anticipate the 2006 midterm elections, when the Democrats took control of Congress for the first time in 12 years. Sharp admitted that he left before he was ready and knew it was time to come back.

“I had always worked in the minority,” Sharp said. “I just wanted the opportunity to play some offense instead of defense.”

Sharp began the hunt for Hill jobs all over again. In August 2007, he was offered a gig with Dodd’s office. He worked as a professional staff member for the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee on Children and Families, concentrating on health care reform and tobacco control legislation. Knowledge on health care may have transferred from his experience with Capps, but stark contrasts remain between the House and the Senate.

“I miss the order in the House. You always knew what was being voted on and when,” Sharp said. “But working for a Senator you have a greater opportunity to impact things.”

In June, Sharp was promoted to legislative director for the Senator, who plans to retire at the end of his term this year. Sharp helps manage the legislative staff, enact the legislative agenda and follow the Senator in any direction that he may ask.

“I’m excited to help Sen. Dodd finish out his legacy,” Sharp said. “Most Members approaching retirement would say, ‘All right, that’s it, I’m done.’ But I expect him to be very active and say, ‘OK, this is what we’re doing now.'”

Sharp has worked through historic times, including Sept. 11, 2001, President Barack Obama’s election and the passage of health care reform. These memories evoke a range of emotions for the legislative director. Looking back on his career, he is pleased with the choices he made and intends to stay on the Hill — at least for now.

“I wouldn’t trade my Washington experience,” Sharp said. “Although I’m still wistful about the sunny beaches of Santa Barbara.”

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