Editor’s note: Heard on the Hill offers this guide to staffers for navigating the waters on Capitol Hill, from getting that first job to how to make the most of your career.
Twenty-three years ago, lobbyist Kerry Feehery was not only a staff assistant in the Senate, but also the first and last person in her office every day.
Former Florida Sen. Connie Mack III’s chief of staff tasked her with phone duty before he got into the office and after he left.
“I didn’t have a car and I lived up in Northwest [D.C.] and I had to walk a mile to the Metro, get on the Metro, get to work by 8 and the phone would start ringing,” said Feehery, 45.
On the reverse, once the chief got in his car to leave at 6 p.m., she would patch in his calls for an hour.
“I felt very much like I was walking in the snow uphill both ways,” she said.
But it paid off.
After two years of that, her boss asked her what she wanted to do next. “And I said, ‘I want to be in press’ and he said, ‘Done.’ So he rewarded me for all that ridiculous time trying to get to work to place phone calls,” she recalled.
Feehery is now a senior policy adviser at Holland & Knight.
After graduating from Villanova University she said, “I really wanted to work on the Hill for my Florida senator and they had a staff assistant job open and I just happened to hear about it at the right time. I could start right away and it just really worked out.”
She worked for Mack until 2000 as a staff assistant and deputy press secretary, and as press secretary for the Joint Economic Committee.
Her advice to staffers: Be the hardest-working person in your office.
“Capitol Hill has a culture of paying your dues and rewarding those who pay their dues and do a great job without making a fuss about it,” Feehery said.
She added that staffers should find a job that they can be the best at.
“Become the best writer, become the best at budget reconciliation, become the best at procedure, become the best at foreign policy — you have a huge platform as a young person,” she said. “There’s no better job, in my experience, than coming to the Hill and plotting a path for yourself.”
She worked in the private sector and returned to the Hill in 2004 to be communications director for former Florida Sen. Mel Martinez.
When Martinez left the Senate in 2009, LeMieux was appointed to fill out his term and Feehery worked as his chief of staff. She left to do Republican lobbying for Holland & Knight in 2011.
She said the biggest challenge in her career was working on the health care overhaul in 2009.
During that roughly three-month period, she was “disappointed” with the nasty debate around the issue and toxic atmosphere on the Hill, not to mention the long hours.
“I have kids at home and working until 10 o’clock at night, all weekend long and all of a sudden, you’re trying to figure out when you’re going to see your kids,” she said. “We were on the Bataan Death March.”
But it’s not always like that — you just need to learn to find your rhythm, she said.
“D.C. is hard like that until it’s not hard. Until you get eight weeks off for recess,” she said. “So it’s either feast or famine, and I think that’s the hardest thing to get used to even 20 years in. You’ve got to run a marathon, not a race.”