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Hill Climbers: Long Hill Career Leads to K Street

“To be kind.”

Not the typical lesson you hear every day from someone in politics. But it is one of the most important lessons Rob Epplin says he learned during his 23 years working on Capitol Hill. 

He has taken that philosophy to K Street as he moved from being legislative director for Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), for whom he had worked since 2008, to his new position as vice president at Gephardt Government Affairs.

His path has taken him from California to Washington state to the offices of two Senators from a third West Coast state.

Coming from a military family in San Diego, Epplin stayed in the state for college, earning a bachelor’s degree in political science with a minor in Russian civilization at the University of California, Los Angeles. He then traveled north to the University of Washington, earning a master’s in international relations.

Epplin began his career in politics in the late 1980s working for GOP consultant Mary Matalin “tracking Western state politics and some issues that were important for that cycle.” 

“It sounded so interesting and out of character and not what I had prepared myself to do, so I jumped out and never looked back,” Epplin said.

After a couple of years working for Education Secretary Lamar Alexander during the early 1990s, he moved to the Hill as deputy chief of staff for then-Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.) and then worked for then-Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) for almost 11 years. 

“A lot of Oregon politics,” he said. “Time passed rather quickly. I just enjoyed myself. I liked the people I was working with, and I felt like I was making progress and moving the ball.”

Despite his departure from the Hill, Epplin’s fondness for it remains.

“Working for Members has left me with a lot of respect for those who put their names on a ballot. As a staffer you see both sides of public service,” he said.

A career built on working for moderate Republicans such as Packwood, Smith and Collins certainly helped prepare him for Gephardt Government Affairs, a firm led by former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.).

“It was just an easy transition,” Epplin said, “because I went from a series of Senators who like to get things done to a firm that likes to work to get things done.” 

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