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Hill Climbers: Staffer Still Has Lots of Plans

Ashley Etienne was conflicted about coming back to the Hill, but it wasn’t long hours or working in the minority that held her back. It was that there was so much else she wanted to do.

The press secretary for a federal agency, Etienne had just been accepted into a doctorate program when she was offered a job as communications director for the minority on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

“I’m always conflicted with doing a lot of things, but that’s because I’m passionate about a lot of different things,” the 33-year-old Houston native said.

But she remembered a piece of advice she’d gotten while working for Rep. Al Green (D-Texas). Life is long, he told her, and you’ll get plenty of opportunities.

That’s always been the case for Etienne. After graduating from Sam Houston State University with a bachelor’s in political science in 2000, she landed a job as a legislative aide for Texas state Rep. Ron Wilson (D), working on Texas redistricting maps.

She soon decided it was time to come to Washington. Despite a lack of D.C. connections, Etienne made it work. She hopped on a plane, knocked on the doors of Texas Members of Congress and ended up with three job offers.

She spent the next four years in the House, working for Texas Democrats Kenneth Bentsen, Chris Bell and Green. She was working for Bell when he filed the ethics complaint against then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), an exciting time in her career, she said.

Etienne then worked for the Democratic National Committee during the 2004 elections and was a senior communications associate for the Dewey Square Group.

She juggled her work at Dewey with pursuing her master’s in political communications at Johns Hopkins University for a while, eventually adding work for then-Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential campaign on the side. She left the group to focus on her thesis and act as the campaign’s spokeswoman in Virginia.

“I think when people found out I was writing my thesis and working on the campaign, it explained a lot about why I was always busy and running around,” she said with a laugh.

She graduated in 2009 and started her own public affairs firm. In September of that year, she became the press secretary for the Corporation for National and Community Service, a job she said she loved because she wanted to give back.

She believes her new job will help her do that. Under former top White House attorney David Rapallo and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Etienne plans to make her committee work meaningful.

From a communications perspective, she wants to ensure committee meetings are comprehensive and address concerns such as job creation and government waste. And she plans to help develop a new agenda.

“Most people just assume that when you’re in the minority, you’re at the whim of the majority,” she said. “That doesn’t have to be the case.”

Eventually, she wants to get her Ph.D., spend a little time teaching and have a family. “D.C. can be an interesting place in that everyone’s looking for the next big move, the next big step, the next big title,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to do something that makes an impact and lives beyond my days. That’s where the conflict comes in. How long do I keep doing this stuff? But right now, this is perfect for me.”

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