Stellar staffers in a dark and dismal year

The reputation of Capitol Hill staffers, like that of their bosses, took a beating this year, as former GOP aides Tony Rudy, Mike Scanlon and Neil Volz all pleaded guilty to crimes stemming from the Abramoff influence-peddling scandal. Polls give Congress a dismal approval rating of below 30 percent.

But the bad apples are, as ever, the exceptions, among both lawmakers and the thousands of young men and women working for them on Capitol Hill.

For the third year in a row, The Hill is recognizing 35 staffers who are under 35 years old and who stood out for the skill with which they helped lawmakers win elections, run leadership races and navigate the legislative maze.

They burnished their bosses’ reputations and their own, and they deserve accolades. Their know-how yielded plum committee assignments and seats on conference committees.

The list does not purport to be exhaustive, and exposes a fact about Capitol Hill that many will regard as one of its most nagging and regrettable shortcomings: There are many fewer young women than men in senior legislative positions. This might have been remedied had we included communications directors and press secretaries in our list, but, as in previous years, we decided it was necessary to exclude them because their inclusion would have created a clear conflict of interest for the newspaper.

Even so, several women stand out. Amy Steinmann, 33, director of floor operations for Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), ran her boss’s leadership bid for the post of majority leader. Blunt lost and Steinmann, along with Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), worked to make sure Blunt remained whip in the minority. Few staffers can match her experience. Fewer still have more daily contact with more members than she does.

Serena Hoy, 34, has an academic pedigree unmatched on Capitol Hill. She is a Rhodes scholar and a graduate of Yale Law School, and served as an appellate court clerk. Now she works on constitutional law issues for Sen. Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Christina Reynolds, 31, is the director of opposition research for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). Her work product, dished out to reporters by the DCCC’s all-female press staff, derailed the chances of several Republican challengers and incumbents.

In a dark year, the working relationship forged between Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and their staffers also stands out. If Obama and Coburn — who passed legislation creating an Internet database of government contracts — are strange bedfellows, then so are their staffers who shepherded the bill through the Senate.

Sean Davis, 25, graduated from Texas Tech and worked for Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) and Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) before joining Coburn’s staff. Ian Solomon, 34, legislative counsel for Obama, graduated from Harvard University and Yale Law School. He worked for the consulting firm McKinsey & Co., and was the associate dean for finance and administration at Yale Law.

Together they hammered out differences and signed up cosponsors. All was going smoothly until an unknown senator (or two) placed a hold on the bill. When the bill stalled, a coalition of liberal and conservative bloggers, think tanks and watchdog groups spent the summer trying to solve the “whodunit” of which senator or senators tried to kill a transparency bill with the longstanding, secretive procedural measure.

“The blogger investigation was the most consequential moment,” said Davis. “It never would have penetrated daily political gossip without it. The bloggers not only found out who held the bill, but got them to release it.”

Sens. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) removed their holds. The bill then sailed through both chambers.

“It was refreshing and fun, and what surprised me is what little opportunity I had to make progress before this,” said Solomon. “My whole life I considered myself a bipartisan person … now I could turn it into action.

“We need more of it here on the Hill. The strangest thing … [is that] socially there is a real divide. That was surprising.”

These, then, are the standout young staffers on Capitol Hill today. Many others would not be out of place in the same league as those we selected. But it would be difficult to displace anyone on The Hill’s list on this page.

...........................................

NAME: Kriston Alford-McIntosh
Office: Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee
TITLE: Associate Director
AGE: 27

NAME: Kate Altshuler
Office: Republican Policy Committee
TITLE: Staff Director
AGE: 32

NAME: Dean Aguillen
Office: Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)
TITLE: New Member Services
AGE: 34

NAME: Lanier Avant
Office: Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.)
TITLE: Chief of Staff
AGE: 28

NAME: Jeremy Bash
Office: House Intelligence Committee
TITLE: Minority Staff Director
AGE:34

NAME: Mike Bassett
Office: Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.)
TITLE: Legislative Assistant
AGE: 29

NAME: Neil Bradley
Office: MajorityWhip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.)
TITLE: Policy Director
AGE: 31

NAME: Ian Campbell
Office: Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.)
TITLE:  Legislative Assistant
AGE: 33

NAME: Rob Collins
Office: Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.)
TITLE: Chief of Staff
AGE: 34

NAME: Sean Davis
Office: Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.)
TITLE: Legislative Assistant
AGE: 25

NAME: Jon Favreau
Office: Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.)
TITLE:  Speechwriter
AGE: 25

NAME: Gina Grandinetti
Office: Senate Republican High Tech Task Force
TITLE: Staff Director
AGE: 26
NAME: Jaime Harrison
Office: House Democratic Caucus
TITLE: Executive Director
AGE: 29

NAME: Serena Hoy
Office: Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.)
TITLE: Counsel
AGE: 34

NAME: Nicole Issac
Office: Counsel
TITLE: 31
AGE: Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.)

NAME: Aranthan Jones
Office: Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.)
TITLE: Chief of Staff
AGE: 31

NAME: Christopher Kang
Office: Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)
TITLE: Senior Floor Counsel
AGE: 30

NAME: Rohit Kumar
Office: Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.)
TITLE: Policy Director/Senior Counsel
AGE: 32

NAME: Greg Maurer
Office: Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio)
TITLE: Director of Member Services
AGE: 30

NAME: Malloy McDaniel
Office: Majority Whip Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)
TITLE: Whip Liaison
AGE: 32

NAME: Heather McHugh
Office: Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.)
TITLE: Legislative Director
AGE:31

NAME: Christina Reynolds
Office: Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee
TITLE: Research Director
AGE: 31

NAME: Roberto Rodriguez
Office: Health, Education, Labor Pensions
TITLE: Senior Counsel for Education
AGE: 31

NAME: Eric Rosenbach
Office: Senate Select Intelligence
Committee
TITLE: Professional Staff Member 
AGE: 34
NAME: Rexon Ryu
Office: Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.)
TITLE: Senior Foreign Policy Adviser
AGE: 34

NAME: Ian Solomon
Office: Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.)
TITLE: Legislative Assistant
AGE: 34

NAME: Mike Sommers
Office: Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio)
TITLE: Policy Director
AGE: 31

NAME: Amy Steinmann
Office: Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.)
TITLE: Director of Floor Operations
AGE: 33

NAME: Matt Strawn
Office: Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.)
TITLE: Chief of Staff
AGE:32

NAME: Michael Sullivan
Office: Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.)
TITLE: Senior Tech Adviser
AGE:30

NAME: Ashley Turton
Office: Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.)
TITLE: Chief of Staff
AGE: 32

NAME: Megan Uzzell
Office: Rep. Hilda Solis (D-Calif.)
TITLE: Legislative Assistant
AGE: 29

NAME: Russ Vought
Office: Republican Study Committee
TITLE: Policy Director
AGE: 30

NAME: Elyse Wasch
Office: Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.)
TITLE: Legislative Director
AGE: 34

NAME: Heather Zichal
Office: Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) 
TITLE: Legislative Assistant
AGE: 30