New lawmakers slowly assembling Capitol Hill staffs

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Congressional staffers hoping to advance their careers by the start of the 111th Congress may have to cool their heels as the members-elect continue to settle into their new roles.

New job opportunities for seasoned Capitol Hill aides — especially those on the left — will soon be plentiful, but so far, many members of the 111th Congress’s freshman class have held off making any more than a few of their top hires during the weeks since their election-night victories.

However, they do plan to ramp up hiring in the coming weeks, many of their spokesmen said.

Sen.-elect Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) has gotten a jump on her colleagues when it comes to assembling her congressional staff. By Nov. 18, she announced that she had hired her chief of staff, state director, deputy state director, communications director and director of scheduling. Her chief of staff will be Crystal King, Hagan’s campaign manager and a one-time aide to Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), former Rep. Tony Hall (D-Ohio) and former Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio).

Another Capitol Hill veteran, Colleen Flanagan, will be Hagan’s communications director after serving the senator-elect’s campaign in the same capacity and working for Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.).

Sen.-elect Mark Begich (D-Alaska), meanwhile, is a bit further behind — though understandably, since his race was called two weeks after his fellow freshmen. Julie Hasquet, Begich’s campaign press secretary, said the new lawmaker has already been flooded with about 200 résumés after he posted an e-mail address on his website where candidates could apply.

“I anticipate probably by mid-month there will be an announcement of at least some key staffers,” Hasquet said.

Sen.-elect Mark Warner (D-Va.) announced on Nov. 17 that his chief of staff would be Luke Albee, who was also Sen. Patrick Leahy’s (D-Vt.) most senior aide before becoming a political consultant in 2005.

As for his other hires, transition spokesman Kevin Hall said in an e-mail last week, “Sen.-elect Warner is working on transition issues and staffing issues even as we speak.”

Senate Associate Historian Don Ritchie pointed out many of the difficulties senators-elect have in getting their offices up and running in a short time. Freshmen work in transition offices in basements or trailers for the first several months, complicating their ability to put together their full staffs, he said.

They also have the basic task of deciding whom to hire.

“One of the issues new members have to decide is whether to bring their campaign staffs or local office staffs with them to Washington, or to recruit Hill veterans who know the ropes, and leave the campaign staff to run the state offices,” he said. “Opinion on that is probably pretty divided.”

The hiring situation on the House side is also moving at a trickle. Like Begich, many members-elect have posted e-mail addresses on their campaign websites where candidates can send their applications.

“We’ve had a great number of qualified applicants,” said a new chief of staff of one Democratic member-elect, requesting anonymity. “We’ve made a couple [of hires]. We still have a majority [of hires to make] … Hopefully we’ll be up and running as soon as we can.”

Rep.-elect Debbie Halvorson (D-Ill.) has a posting on her campaign website that reads, “If you are interested in working in the district or D.C. offices, please e-mail your cover letter and résumé to work@debbie-halvorson.com.”

Spokesman Ryan Vanderbilt said Halvorson plans to do more interviewing while in Washington during this week’s lame-duck session.

Rep.-elect Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) might have the smoothest transition of his freshman colleagues.

He is taking over the district represented by his father, GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter (Calif.), and has already signed on several of his dad’s aides. Vickie Middleton, who has been the elder Hunter’s chief of staff for 26 years, will head the younger Hunter’s congressional office. Dawn Alden will stay on as a legislative correspondent, and Joe Kasper will maintain his communications role.

“We’re essentially viewing this as a seamless transition,” Kasper said.