By Kris Kitto - 07/22/08 05:48 PM EDT
Like any smart Hill aide, Debbee Keller, Rep. Jeb Hensarling’s (R-Texas) new press secretary, has a surefire career backup plan. If she tires of politics, she jokes that she’ll become a country singer.
That Plan B might not be practical for most people, but Keller, 23, could have a shot at making it big in music. Her love of singing led her to enter the beauty pageant world as a young girl. Her rendition of “Blue Moon of Kentucky” contributed to her victory in her hometown’s Miss Georgetown (Texas) contest when she was 17.
“I really do enjoy singing,” she says, explaining that pageants were “an excuse for me to find a place to perform.”
As Miss Georgetown, Keller remembers meeting staffers for Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), one of whom told her she competed in pageants to pay her way through college.
Keller considered continuing in competitions to do the same thing but questioned the commitment pageantry requires.
“It’s a lot of responsibility and a lot of traveling,” she says.
Keller soon put down her tiara and sash and graduated from Southern Methodist University, but credits her reign for helping in the political world. Along the pageant trail, she became familiar with public service and public relations, skills she would later draw on when working on a Dallas judge’s reelection campaign. She worked as an intern at Dallas-based Spaeth Communications, run by a former media relations director from the Ronald Reagan White House, Merrie Spaeth.
Pageants weren’t Keller’s only foray into public service. She was exposed to politics as a child, too.
Growing up, Keller and her mom would go door to door campaigning for anything from local government seats to congressional seats to “anything that [my mom] was passionate about,” she says.
Her mom would send Keller to school dressed in campaign T-shirts.
“They were huge on me,” she says, but that didn’t prevent her from Rollerblading around her neighborhood in political garb.
She distinctly remembers wearing one T-shirt for a congressman’s reelection. A few weeks ago, Keller met that congressman’s son at a local restaurant and blurted, “Oh, I used to wear his T-shirts to school!” (She wouldn’t say which congressman because he’s still in office — but she swears he isn’t the lawmaker who represents her hometown.)
About the same time she was wearing those oversized campaign T-shirts, Keller decided to find a unique spelling for her name.
“There was never an official way to spell my name, so growing up everyone spelled it differently,” says Keller, whose full name is Deborah.
She decided to go with D-E-B-B-E-E, but her family had a difficult time adapting to the change.
Her mother still doesn’t spell her name the way she prefers.
“I always liked to be a little different,” she says.