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Hill Climbers: Catholic Education Shaped Politics

Jessica Kahanek was born into a Republican family, but she jokes that the nuns turned her into a Democrat.

The new communications director for Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.) credits her affiliation to her Catholic education and a campaign fight over children’s health issues.

While a senior in high school in Waco, Texas, Kahanek watched the GOP opponent of then-Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Texas) propose budget cuts that would reduce the number of children receiving health benefits from Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Incensed by the proposal, she signed up to help with the Edwards campaign.

“To me that was just offensive,” she said. “That’s really the only word I can use for it. It was just not right to me, and so I went in and volunteered one day.”

Kahanek credits her Catholic education with her sense of social justice. She joked that she and her mother share everything but their politics. 

“The nuns and the deacons got to me first,” she said. “My Catholic education made me realize from a very young age [that] you’re part of something bigger. It made [working in politics] a more natural choice.”

During college, Kahanek interned with former Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.) in the office’s communications department. After graduation, she went back to political communications, working as a press assistant for what was then the House Education and Labor Committee.

It was there that Kahanek earned her chops. “I kind of got a taste of the whole operation,” she said. 

Kahanek then returned to her home state, at least professionally, and went to work for Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas) as the office’s new media coordinator and legislative associate. 

“I always knew I wanted to work for a Texas Member,” she said. “It was something that I felt like I needed to do.”

Although she loved working in Green’s office, she knew when she needed to move on. “It was hard for me to leave,” she said. 

Kahanek said that being able to recognize new opportunities and being unafraid to take them has been helpful. 

“Your timeline isn’t going to be the same as everyone else’s,” she said.

In terms of what her next opportunity will be, she isn’t sure. She planned on returning to Texas to attend law school, but she was in the District three weeks after graduating from college. 

“You move here, and you’re like, ‘I’ll be here for two years.’ Then two years hits, and you’re like, ‘I’ll be here for three years,’” she said. Now that she’s going on her fourth year here, she’s not sure those timelines were ever right for her. 

“I don’t know when my expiration date is yet,” she joked.

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