New Culberson aide: Working for Cheney isn’t as tough as baling hay on family farm

Megan Mitchell has already experienced one of the highest-pressure jobs in Washington. She was former Vice President Cheney’s press secretary before she joined Rep. John Culberson’s (R-Texas) office as his communications director.

But her most difficult job came as a girl raised on a farm in western Illinois.

“When people ask me, ‘Isn’t it tough ... working in government and politics?’ — nothing is as difficult as baling hay,” says Mitchell, 28.

Yet she appreciates her background in agriculture (“I love to bale hay,” she adds) and can even credit it for her political career. If it weren’t for the prospect of having to spend a summer detasseling corn, she might not have gotten her foot in the White House. (For the unknowing, Mitchell explains detasseling corn as pulling the tassels off the top of the corn so they don’t overpollinate.)

During her junior year at Western Illinois University, Mitchell came to Washington for American University’s Washington semester program. She then landed an internship with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), and when she finished there, she asked the congressman to write her a recommendation letter for an internship at the White House.

“I didn’t want to go home and work on the farm,” says Mitchell, who grew up in the 15,000-person town of Sterling, Ill. “I wanted to stay out in the big city.”

She got the White House job and stayed a month beyond the normal eight-week program. Less than a year later, after she graduated from college, Mitchell landed a permanent staff assistant job in the vice president’s office.

She left the family business but says her time helping family members ship hogs and cattle off to market, lay sod and perform other manual-labor tasks were pivotal learning experiences for her.

There was one other change, though, that Mitchell had to break to her family.

“I come from a family of all Democrats,” she says in explaining that her time in Washington helped shape her political beliefs.

Any philosophical differences haven’t gotten in the way of their relationships, though.

“I’m very close to my family,” she says. They all like to engage in political debate, she adds, but nobody takes anything personally.

“We play practical jokes on each other more than discuss politics,” Mitchell says.

Mitchell had two different runs with Cheney, separated by a stint after the 2004 elections with the Republican National Committee. But she was so dedicated to the then-vice president that she unwittingly postponed her engagement to her now-husband.

In September 2006, Cheney was scheduled for what would be his final appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” That also happened to be the weekend Mitchell’s boyfriend had planned to propose to her.

“He had the ring; he worked with my friends to set up a brunch afterward; invitations had gone out,” she recalls, “and he had to cancel because I was at work.”

Her boyfriend’s second attempt was successful — they got engaged shortly thereafter on a hike in Virginia (though, even then, Mitchell unknowingly gave her boyfriend grief, she laughs, because she wanted to get her hair cut that day rather than go on a hike).

Mitchell once thought she’d go to law school but has grown accustomed to the immediate results political communications jobs can have. And she still keeps her farming past near the top of her mind.

“I like describing complex policy in a way that my mom in Sterling, Ill., would understand,” she says.