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Celeste Maloy had a ‘fast and breathtaking journey’ to Congress

Republican from Utah went from working for Chris Stewart to wearing a pin herself

Rep. Celeste Maloy, R-Utah, won a special election in November. She was already a familiar face in the Capitol, after working for her predecessor, Chris Stewart.
Rep. Celeste Maloy, R-Utah, won a special election in November. She was already a familiar face in the Capitol, after working for her predecessor, Chris Stewart. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

For Celeste Maloy, it took less than a year to go from Hill staffer to sitting congresswoman. 

“A lot of times I still think, ‘How did I get from where I was to here?’” says the Utah Republican.

She worked as a public lands attorney before then-Rep. Chris Stewart offered her a job as legislative counsel, her first opportunity to directly shape federal policy.

When Stewart announced he would resign, citing his wife’s illness, he tapped Maloy to run for the 2nd District seat. “I wouldn’t have believed I could do this if he hadn’t believed I could do it first,” Maloy says.

She won a Nov. 21 special election and was sworn in a week later, taking over the same office space she had once worked in as a staffer.

Pictures still leaned against the wall waiting to be hung when Maloy sat down with Roll Call at the end of January to talk about making the leap, coming to work as a “whole person” and her first months as a member of Congress.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Q: Less than a year ago, you were still working for Stewart. What was it like to win his seat?

A: It was just such a fast and breathtaking journey. I worked really, really hard during the campaign, and it didn’t leave me with a lot of time to reflect. Now I’m here, and just a few months ago, this wasn’t even part of the plan. 

And when you win in a special, things move quickly. Normally, people get elected the first week of November and get sworn in three days into January. But one week after election night, I was sworn in — you just don’t get the same sort of ramp-up time.

Q: How did you first meet Stewart?

A: I was a deputy county attorney in southern Utah, and at the same time, I did public lands policy for the Utah Association of Counties. So I spent a lot of time working with our federal delegation. I had more and more interactions with him and with his office, and when he had an opening for an attorney and a natural resources staffer, he called and offered me a job.

I had to step up to a whole new level of understanding policy. I used to explain to people, “This is what the law says.” And as a staffer, I was like, “Oh, that’s what the law says — but we could change the law.” And that’s a really exciting and terrifying feeling.

Q: What advice did you get about running for office as a recent staffer?

A: When I was running, I met with Richard Hudson, because he’s the chair of the NRCC. And he told me staffers make the best members of Congress, because we’re in on the joke from the get go. We’ve watched people treat our bosses like they’re smarter and funnier and prettier than they really are because they want something. So we come in knowing that people are going to do that, and we don’t inhale, so to speak. And I think there’s some truth to that. 

Q: Have you been bumping into people you knew from your staffing days?

A: Yeah, it’s been really strange, but it’s also been fun. People still recognize me in the hall, and the Capitol Police still know me. And when I run into staffers I used to go to the staff gym with, they’re just really excited to see somebody who used to be one of them wearing a member pin and going to vote. 

I always say, “One of the crabs crawled out of the bucket.” But yeah, I think a lot of staffers like to see another staffer sit at the big desk. 

Q: What about members you knew before?

A: I knew them when I was a staffer, and now I’m their colleague. And that’s been a little bit of a tricky transition for me. I’m having a hard time getting used to calling them by their first names.

They’ve been great. They’ve been very welcoming. There’s been no freshman hazing or, you know, keep the new girl in her place. 

It’s much more collegial than I think the average American would assume the Hill is. Mary Peltola from Alaska sent me a really nice piece of salmon when I got here. It was just really sweet of her. She belongs to a different party, and she had never met me in person before, but it made me feel welcome. It was just a good, decent gesture. 

Q: What was Stewart like as a boss? 

A: I would tell people all the time, there’s nobody else I would work for in Washington, D.C., and it was true. I remember one time early on, I was walking with him to a hearing and he said, “How are you doing?” And I started explaining how work was going. And he said, “No, no, no. How are you doing?” 

I’m not much of a crier, but I almost cried. Because it was just a huge relief to know I was working for someone who wanted to know that I was thriving as a human, not just that I was getting the job done. And that’s one of the things I’ve tried to emulate. 

Q: You’ve said that Stewart encouraged you to run. What was that moment like?

A: I was right here in this office, and he had already told us that he was going to resign. He needed to be home and take care of his wife. And he said, “I’m going to make sure everybody lands somewhere. I’m not going to leave you guys hanging.” Then he and the chief of staff pulled me in and said, “You should really think about running,” which at first I thought was a crazy idea. 

Having a boss who was willing to encourage me to do something that really stretched my boundaries, at the same time he was dealing with a big change in his own life, is something that I am never going to forget. 

I know there was at least one other person on staff who was interested in running, and so at first he said, “Look, if you get in, I’m staying neutral. I’m not going to endorse anyone in this race.” And then I was the only member of staff who actually filed to run, [and he endorsed me].

Q: What’s the biggest problem facing congressional staffers today?

A: Good staffers throw their heart and soul into these jobs, and these are jobs that will always take as much as you give them. What I’ve seen is staffers work really hard, they’re very sincere, and they get burned out. 

We’ve had some training with our staff about work-life balance. If there’s something going on in your personal life, and you need a little time, let us know. If you’re feeling discouraged, or you feel like someone’s asking too much of you, let us know. Don’t keep going until you have to quit this job because you’ve destroyed yourself. Let’s deal with these problems early and make sure that you can come to work as a whole person.

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