Rep. Barton’s adventurous aides climb every mountain and ford every stream

An adventurous spirit runs through Rep. Joe Barton’s (R-Texas) office. His new press secretary once rode a mechanical bull on live TV, one of his new legislative assistants recently went spelunking in West Virginia and a newly promoted legislative assistant aspires to one day climb Mount Everest.

Sean Brown started as Barton’s press secretary in April after working for 10 years as a local television news reporter. Sarah Whiting joined the office a month earlier as part of Barton’s legislative team, which also includes Michael Weems, who was promoted earlier this year from legislative correspondent to legislative assistant.

Though Brown’s mechanical-bull days are over — “[It] bucked me off in, like, three seconds,” he recalls. “Not one of my prouder moments on live TV” — he has already found similar excitement working on the Hill.

“Just like in news, you never know what you’re going to do,” he says. His new job combines his two passions of politics and journalism, but Brown, 33, says he’s still getting used to being the person answering questions rather than asking them.

Whiting’s road to the Hill was happenstance more than anything. Encouraged by a professor, she came to Washington during her studies at Texas A&M University to complete a brief internship and, once done, planned on taking a job at a youth camp in Latin America. That job’s funding fell through, and at the same time, the office where she was an intern, Rep. Michael McCaul’s (R-Texas), offered her a permanent position.

So she stayed.

Whiting, 25, gets outdoors “as much as possible” to hike, kayak or explore caves.

Her colleague, Weems, shares Whiting’s love of the outdoors, but unlike Whiting, his trail to Washington was more deliberate. After visiting from his hometown of Austin, Texas, to take part in a high school program in Washington, classmates dubbed him “Mr. Political, and I just kind of stuck with it.”

He also discovered cycling after high school and has toyed with taking a few months off to ride cross-country with a friend. His ultimate goal, however, is to climb Mount Everest.

“I grew up in the Boy Scouts and worked in high-adventure camps,” he says, “so I want to get into mountain climbing.” About that Everest climb, he says, “I’ve always wanted to push myself, and that’d be the one thing where you would really have to push yourself and one way you can really test your mental toughness as well as your physical toughness.”  

Brown says he’s “not near the outdoors person” his colleagues are, but he may have lived through the most extreme outdoors experience of all. As a TV reporter in South Florida, he worked through two hurricanes — Charley and Wilma.

“I did get knocked down once in the wind,” he says. “I was one of those guys that you always see that blows over.”
While Weems and Whiting go mountain climbing and spelunking, Brown is happy to stay on the Hill.

“I’m still in awe of where I work and what I do on a daily basis,” he says from the safety of his Rayburn office.