From grassroots projects to White House gigs, work for Minnesotans in DC variesby Elizabeth Dunbar, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Hundreds of Minnesotans have moved to Washington D.C. for many different reasons, but politics tops the list.
The group includes lobbyists, former members of Congress and political staffers, such as Denis McDonough, deputy national security adviser at the White House.
Many congressional staffers who hail from Minnesota worked their way up after serving under Minnesota members of Congress. That was the case for Josh Holmes, Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell's chief of staff, and Lisa Gilbertson Wolski, Republican Sen. Jon Kyl's chief of staff. McConnell is the Senate's top Republican, and Kyl serves as Republican whip.
Wolski started working for former Minnesota U.S. Rep. Jim Ramstad right after college.
"He was great about both teaching his young staff and expecting a lot out of them," she told MPR's Morning Edition.
Wolski found her work in Washington exciting, and decided to attend law school and stay.
Holmes, who had worked for former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman, grew up around politics -- his parents were both lawyers and his dad was a DFLer. Holmes decided his views were more aligned with Republicans. He had his first Washington internship in college and has held several political jobs since then.
"I've been fortunate enough to work with some of the brightest political minds in the business," he said. "The ability to help and change things that really impact people's lives on a day-to-day basis, there's really no other place like it, so that's why I wanted to come here."
Some Minnesotans who now live and work in Washington have been there for years. Mike Berman, who now heads a prominent lobbying firm, served under Sen. and later Vice President Walter Mondale in the 1960s and '70s. He said much has changed in Washington since then, including more partisanship.
"When I came, there was much more comity between Democrats and Republicans, much more personal relationships," he said. "It's just not as friendly as it was."
Tom Nides, who was just sworn in as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's deputy, also has connections to Mondale.
Nides, a native of Duluth, was 22 years old when he worked on Mondale's presidential campaign. Nides had been working as chief operating officer for the global financial firm Morgan Stanley before President Obama appointed him to his new post.
Nides said he's been fortunate in life, and hopes to "give back" to society, just as his parents taught him while growing up in Minnesota.
"My parents were really believers in giving back," he said. "It wasn't enough to make money. You needed to do charity, you needed to get involved."
"I am one lucky guy. How many times does a kid from Duluth get to be confirmed as the deputy secretary of state?" he added.
Impressive titles aside, there are plenty of Minnesotans who have headed to Washington to work at the grassroots level.
Matrika Bailey-Turner, 24, is one example. Bailey-Turner, who graduated with a social justice degree from Hamline University, is an administrative assistant with the Girl Up campaign and Global Partnerships at the United Nations Foundation.
Bailey-Turner said she doesn't know where she'll end up, but she hopes to continue working toward social justice for women around the world.
"My generation, the millennials, so to speak, are the inheritors of the earth," she said. "We just have such a great opportunity in front of us. And I'm lucky to be connected to 20-somethings who are in fairly significant organizations in D.C. that will become the thought leaders and sort of the leaders in social justice direction later on."
(MPR's Curtis Gilbert and Cathy Wurzer contributed to this report.)