By Betsy Rothstein - 02/13/07 12:00 AM EST
If there’s anything Sean Dalton, who a month ago became chief of staff to Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.), does not want to be considered, it’s a micromanager. “It isn’t my style to stand over people’s shoulders,” he said.
Dalton had two previous stints on Capitol Hill. In 1997, he became chief of staff to then-Rep. Charles Taylor (R-N.C.). In 2002 he left for the world of lobbying, taking a position at Ball Janik, only to return to work for Taylor in 2004 until the congressman lost in his bid for reelection in 2006.
Dalton didn’t think the job with Gingrey’s office was a sure thing. The congressman’s previous chief of staff, Mitch Hunter, and his wife had moved back to Marietta, Ga., so the position had to be filled quickly.
After his first interview, Dalton said, he had no idea how it had gone. “I wasn’t even sure I’d get a call back,” he said. “I wasn’t sure that I was what Phil was looking for. I wasn’t sure if Phil thought I’d be happy working for a more junior member who wasn’t on Appropriations.”
The second meeting with Gingrey was better: “That one went really well,” Dalton said, explaining that the follow-up interview was intended to determine whether their personalities would mesh. Dalton, in blue suspenders over a crisp white shirt, looks like a banker in a small Southern town.
“Charles and Phil are very, very different,” Dalton said, adding that Taylor was more committee-driven, while Gingrey is eager to get to the House floor often to deliver speeches. “Phil is much more active speaking on amendments, rules and special orders. It keeps us busier in terms of briefing him on bills and the floor situation. It keeps us on our toes and makes us feel a part of what’s going on in a very active kind of way.”
Born in Greenville, S.C., Dalton spent his teens in Portland, Ore., and went on to college at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, where he studied law and political science.
He was never part of any political clubs, nor was he ever class president. But in the fifth grade he won a fiction-writing competition, for which he wrote about a secret stairway.
In college, he joined a literary debating society where members discussed the issues of the day. It was there that he first met his wife — but he didn’t ask her out until 10 years later. “Eventually she wasn’t dating anybody and I wasn’t so I asked her out,” he said. The couple married two years ago and live in Alexandria, Va.
J.D. Easley, who works under Dalton, is among the first faces you see when you enter Gingrey’s Cannon office. The 23-year-old started last month as a legislative correspondent/staff assistant.
His foray into politics began with an internship as a scheduler for the Potomac Advocates, a lobbying firm that handles issues such as defense and intelligence.
Easley is a recent graduate of Georgia College & State University in Milledgeville, Ga., where he studied political science. A native of Augusta, the young aide said his lack of a Southern twang may have something to do with the fact that he attended private schools. “Most people who’ve been to my school really don’t [have the accent] because they [the teachers] come from the North and if you said something incorrectly, they corrected you,” he said.
Easley said he knew he wanted to work in Washington since the fifth or sixth grade. “It’s what I’ve always been interested in,” he said. He explained he originally intended to work for GOP Georgia candidate Max Burns — he worked on the campaign, but the candidate lost. “I had hoped he would win and I would go to work for him, but he lost by 900 votes,” he said.
So Easley pounded the pavement, meeting with every Georgia Republican chief of staff who would agree to an informational interview. His perseverance paid off. Eventually Rep. John Linder’s (R-Ga.) chief of staff called and said there was an opening in Gingrey’s office.
But perhaps Easley’s lucky break came in the eighth grade when he scored in the 99th percentile on his Iowa basic skills test in social studies. As a result, administrators asked him to take the SAT. His total score was in the 800s — but so what? He was in the eighth grade, and this was a high honor. “It wasn’t great, but I thought for an eighth-grader it was pretty decent,” he said.