Detour through Washington

Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) tapped his home district this month by hiring a young prosecutor as legislative assistant and an established journalist as press secretary.
Terry’s new LA, 26-year-old Michael Brzica of Omaha, earned a law degree from Creighton University and was well on his way to a promising career in litigation — except he didn’t want it. Instead, he grew up with a craving for politics, helping with campaigns as a teenager.

“I always kind of had a taste for [politics],” Brzica said. “I’m probably one of a half-dozen people under 30 back in Omaha who read National Review and The Weekly Standard.”

So he accepted an offer to work for Terry, focusing on military, law enforcement and education issues. Although his law background has helped him on the Hill, Brzica said he still feels a little out of place.

“I’ve been on the job about a week and a half,” he said. “People talk to me like I know what I’m talking about, and most of the time I just sort of smile and nod. But I’m picking things up.”

Brzica said he is most excited to be serving Omaha. He is originally from Bloomington, Minn., but has lived in Omaha most of his life and plans to settle there after his stint in Washington. Or maybe he could be persuaded to go farther west.

“If I could do anything in the world, I’d like to be a lounge singer in Las Vegas,” he said. “So I kind of took a detour … through Washington. I think [Jay] Leno said politics is show business for ugly people, so maybe I’m on the right track after all.”
Terry’s new press secretary, 37-year-old Lisa Ellis, will remain in Omaha and work in the district office. After working for 10 years as an assignment manager for the CBS affiliate KMTV-TV in Omaha, Ellis has to shift her thinking from reporting about the government to working for it.

“I was a little intimidated by the whole, you know, world of politics,” she said. “But I’m really, really happy I made the change.”

Ellis always had an interest in government, having earned a minor in political science to go with her degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Nebraska at Kearney. As a reporter, she said, it was difficult to hide her opinions at work, where neutrality was crucial. Then, by surprise, a friend submitted her résumé to Terry’s office, and she was invited to interview.

“I was just looking for something different, maybe something more meaningful for me, where I thought I could make a difference,” Ellis said. “It was an opportunity I could not say no to.”

Ellis’s experience as a journalist is serving her well as press secretary. She said writing news releases is like second nature. But other responsibilities, like speechwriting, are a bit more foreign, so she has plenty to learn.

“I’ll be learning for a very long time,” she said. But she added, “I’m ready for anything. Whatever they throw at me I’m going to handle.”

And Ellis knows a thing or two about handling what’s thrown at her. She also volunteers as a Sunday school teacher for her daughter and 18 other 4-year-olds. Like working for the government, she said, it can be challenging but very rewarding.