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Hill Climbers: Bonding Over Civil War Passions

When Christopher Bognanno left D.C. to become a policy liaison for Rep. John Campbell in Orange County, Calif., he knew there was a possibility that he could check in, but he could never leave.

“My friend told me, ‘Don’t forget, it’s Hotel California,'” Bognanno said. “And it’s true; after you live there for a year, it’s hard to give up the perfect weather and beautiful beaches. What’s there not to love?”

But apparently for this staffer, it wasn’t so hard after all; he was recently offered a position as communications director in the California Republican’s Washington office.

“Just two and a half weeks ago I was in California. I even bought a house in Laguna Hills,” the 28-year-old said. “But then our chief of staff came out and offered me the position here. It took a few days to decide, but it was a good move for me.”

Bognanno’s history with Campbell dates back to December 2005, when he started as his staff assistant on Capitol Hill. But in the past five years, he has donned myriad hats, including roles as legislative correspondent and legislative assistant.

It was a shared love of history discovered during the Arizona native’s first interview with Campbell that sealed the deal. “We ended up talking about the Civil War, because I’m a big history buff,” Bognanno said. “He talked to me like I was his equal. It was serious, but casual — he really just wanted to get to know me.”

Bognanno graduated from James Madison University in 2004 after majoring in history and criminal justice. He participated in Officer Candidate School while at JMU, but he suffered an ankle injury and had to abandon a potential career with the Marine Corps.

With the encouragement of a friend, Bognanno was nudged into an internship with the late Rep. Jo Ann Davis (R-Va.)

Bognanno found his niche in politics, particularly during his five-year stint with Campbell’s office. After several years in D.C., he was transferred to the district office to provide an “open door” between the constituents and Washington.

“I really had no clue where the O.C. was, other than from the shows ‘The O.C.’ and ‘Laguna Beach,'” Bognanno joked.

Bognanno spent parts of his childhood in New Mexico, Missouri, Texas and Virginia because of his father’s work in nonprofit organizations. As a result, transition has always come easily to him.

And when Bognanno returned to the District this month, he had a new transition waiting for him: He is now responsible for all communications in the office, including the press, media and electronic newsletters.

“You got to keep moving on. I will always love California and will go back whenever I can, but moving is a part of life,” he said. “And I’m 100 percent on board with it.”

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