New Costa aides come bearing garlic, jokes

Rep. Jim Costa’s (D-Calif.) two new legislative assistants form a unique duo — one a nut for almonds, and the other a former stand-up comedian from the garlic capital of the world.

Jaclyn Murray, the congressman’s aide for energy and environmental issues, grew up in an almond orchard in Costa’s district and calls herself the nut’s “biggest proponent.”

Murray’s father was at one time her county’s top almond grower, and the 26-year-old University of San Diego alumna fondly remembers running through the nut orchards when they were in full bloom.

“It looks like snow because the petals fall down around you,” she says. “It’s kind of a magical experience.”

She provides this warning, though, to anyone hoping for a carefree frolic through the almond trees:

“You gotta watch out for the bees.”

Murray now works for an almond farmer. Costa has an orchard outside of Fresno, Calif. “We did bond over that,” she says.

Murray became interested in political work after interrupting her undergraduate studies to teach English for nine months in a small village in the south of France. It was the start of the Iraq war, and Murray recalls having to discuss that issue frequently.

“I learned to appreciate the vibrancy of political debate and the need to be engaged in civic life,” she says.

Murray also channels a love for hiking into her environmental policy work. She says her favorite place on earth is the Mineral King Valley in California, and she would go on a few hikes per week when she lived in San Diego.

“I just always have had a very fond — kind of a reverence for nature,” she says.

Ben Parmentier, meanwhile, is proud of his irreverence. The 23-year-old legislative assistant for housing, financial services, veterans’ affairs, the budget and taxes was a prize-winning stand-up comedian while at Fresno State University. After learning the ropes from a professor who was once a comedian in Los Angeles, Parmentier won several campus competitions.

His style of humor?

“It was fairly off-color,” he admits. The 6foot-5 Parmentier says he would often riff on his height, since “people love to comment on that and how I should be a basketball player.”

“I briefly considered taking [comedy] up as a career after college but thought I should probably focus on something a little more substantial,” he says.

Parmentier began interning in Costa’s district office while in college and then took a turn on the congressman’s campaign before recently moving to Washington. The congressman shouldn’t have to worry about the local comedy club snatching him up, Parmentier says, as he has mostly retired his comedic chops.

“I don’t see myself trying to pursue it as a career,” he says, but adds: “It does come in handy when I’m doing meetings or other things if I sort of get people to relax a little bit or laugh.”

One thing Parmentier takes seriously is garlic. He grew up in Gilroy, Calif., known as the garlic capital of the world. The smell of garlic wafts through the streets, he says.

His town has a garlic festival every summer, where attendees eat everything from garlic fries to a garlic ice cream that Parmentier describes as “a creamy sort of sauce, almost.”

“Anything’s better with garlic,” he says. “Maybe that’s a regrettable statement, but yes, I do own a garlic press, and I use it quite liberally.”