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Hill Climbers: Reporter’s Path From Hawaii to Hill

As a reporter in Honolulu, Ashley Nagaoka Boylan asked the tough questions. As press secretary for Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii), she is now the one answering them.

“I started watching the news at a very young age, and I wanted to be a news reporter,” Boylan told Roll Call. “I’ve always loved talking and telling stories — even to strangers.”

When Boylan was 10, she received her first voice recorder, a Talkboy, as a Christmas present. Still in elementary school, she would parade around with recorder in hand, in search of neighborhood news.

“Whenever me and my friends got together, we would go around and interview people about their pets and other kid stuff. But we would make stories about it,” she recalled.

Born and raised in Hawaii, Boylan left to attend the University of Arizona, where she majored in journalism. While politics was of little interest to her at the time, an internship in the Arizona state Senate changed her mind.

“In that situation, you’re kind of thrown into the process. You had to attend committee hearings, you had to know who all the Representatives and Senators were, and that really opened my eyes to the process,” she said. “I was hooked after that.”

As a legislative broadcast intern, Boylan turned in stories on bills under consideration and interviewed sponsors and opponents of legislation for the show “Legislative Weekly.” While rubbing elbows with Arizona lawmakers, Boylan said a specific Member fueled her interest in politics.

“When I was there, [former Rep.] Gabby Giffords was a state Senator,” she said. “I covered a couple committees she was on. … She was always just so great and friendly, even to interns.”

Boylan returned to Hawaii after graduating in 2006 and began a career as a general assignment reporter and producer for a local news station in Honolulu. It was there Boylan met her future boss.   

“I knew [Hanabusa] from my reporting days because she was our Senate president. I interviewed her all the time,” she said. “Usually it was just reactions to a bill that the Senate passed or an issue that was in the Senate.”

After a merger between her station and NBC created questions about Boylan’s job security, she moved to Washington, D.C., with her soon-to-be husband, Peter. 

“Peter was going into being a press secretary for [Sen. Daniel] Inouye,” she said. “I just thought, D.C.’s great, I love the politics, I love the environment and the love of my life was going there, so why not?”

Boylan contacted news directors in D.C. but never found a good fit. In 2010, the year Hanabusa was elected to Congress, Boylan worked as press secretary for a cancer advocacy nonprofit. She also volunteered for the campaign in D.C. doing opposition research and press work. When Hanabusa won, Boylan became her press secretary, leaving behind her days as a reporter but not entirely changing her outlook. 

“Being a reporter is public service, and I’m still doing a public service here as a press secretary,” she said. “One of the benefits that I have is that I was a reporter, so I know what they want and I know how they want information because I was on the other side.”

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