From Zen to substitute teacher to the NGA

Congress can be a rowdy, unruly place, especially for a novice lobbyist who’s just taken on a high-profile, high-stress job.

If Matt Salo, the director of the National Governors Association’s (NGA) health and human services committee, had felt intimated when he started out in 1999, surely no one would have faulted him. But for Salo, there’s something a whole lot scarier than politicians: teenagers.

After he graduated from the University of Virginia in 1992, Salo’s first job was as a substitute teacher at his alma mater, T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va.

“I spent two years working [at] a high school, and I’ve never encountered a more hostile audience than a bunch of eighth-graders who smell blood when a substitute teacher walked in the room,” Salo says.

So spending the past seven-plus years trying to get 50 governors to agree on policy positions and get 535 members of Congress to buy into those policies is a cakewalk by comparison?

“There hasn’t been a meeting where I’ve felt as overwhelmed or as intimidated as that,” he says.

Salo’s confidence seems to have surprised even him when he started out at the NGA. He had been working for five years in the policy shop at the National Association of State Medicaid Directors (NASMD) but had never done any lobbying until he got hired by the governors organization.

In fact, he says, he had to be talked into taking the job, which has since turned into a career for the 35-year-old Salo.

When first approached, “I was honestly a little intimidated. … It took me a while to sort of reach a decision,” he says

Salo was urged to apply for the job by Jennifer Young (n