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Hill Climbers: Staffer Stays Strong in Tough Times

Even before coming to Capitol Hill, Elizabeth Stower had a background deeply rooted in politics. 

The new legislative assistant for Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) spent considerable time as a child on the campaign trail in the Badger State. 

In her youth, Stower helped her father, Harvey, win and maintain a seat as an Assemblyman in the Wisconsin state Legislature during the late 1980s and early 1990s. (He had done a previous stint in the body from 1983 to 1984.) He served for a total of eight years. 

At age 8, she assisted him on a bigger stage when he ran for Congress in 1994. The results of that race were less satisfactory. In the Republican wave that year, he lost by 15 points to eight-term Rep. Steve Gunderson.

When she arrived at the University of Wisconsin, political burnout had set in. Stower had seen the highs and lows of politics through her father’s time in the limelight and was determined to chart a different course. 

“I went to Madison thinking that I would go pre-med and then ended up going to a [political science] class and realizing that that’s what I wanted to be doing,” she said. 

After graduating in 2009 with a double major (political science and international studies), she traveled to Washington, D.C., to intern for Kind. She took an opening as a staff assistant for Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) before circling back to Kind’s office as a scheduler in June of last year. 

As a legislative assistant, Stower oversees a broad menu of topics, including education, labor, defense, transportation, foreign affairs and women’s issues. The switch from organizational hand to policy wonk has been a welcome one.

“The transition was just a really great opportunity to get more involved with the legislative aspect of the Hill. And handling a portfolio that I find really interesting and engaging,” she said. 

Her passion for policy extends well beyond her duties on Capitol Hill. She is on track to earn a master’s in health and medical policy at George Mason University by December 2013. 

While her interest in health issues dates back to her earliest days in college, it grew after she was struck by personal tragedy. Her mother, Marilyn, died in 2007 after a long battle with ovarian cancer. 

“It’s a life changer. But my mother was an incredible source of inspiration and strength,” she said. 

Stower would need that inspiration and strength when, six weeks after the passing of her mother, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Initially, fear of the diagnosis caused her to reject educating herself about the disease. 

“It’s an interesting route because when you’re first diagnosed, at least for me, I just wanted my doctor to tell me what to do. I was young and scared and very late stage-three diagnosis.” 

The lack of curiosity didn’t last. As time passed, Stower familiarized herself with the disease, researching the drugs used to combat it. 

“I spent a lot more time looking at guidelines put out by the [Food and Drug Administration], looking at new drugs,” she said. 

She still takes Tamoxifen daily. The strains of that medication are far less taxing than the chemotherapy and radiation she underwent shortly after being diagnosed. (She hopes to be medication-free by January 2014.) 

In her own struggle, Stower said, she has emulated her mother, embracing a mindset rooted in toughness and strength rather than sorrow. 

“I think she provided a guide for me,” she said. “The disease never defined who I was. And it still doesn’t. I’m never one to use my past illness as a crutch. If anything, it’s pushed me to work harder.”

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