Hill Climbers: For Graves Staffer, It's All About the Elections

In the past three months, Bud Whitmire has worked on two runoff elections, one primary election and one special election ' everything short of a partridge in a pear tree.

'It was four elections in 91 days,' said Whitmire, who began as political director for Rep. Tom Graves' campaign in January. 'It was such high energy, and when you have that many elections in that short of a time span, there wasn't very much downtime. You're up making phone calls the night before, phone banking and going door to door.' [IMGCAP(1)]

After a string of successful elections, the Georgia Republican hired Whitmire in September to work as a legislative assistant on science, agriculture and environmental issues. He also helps with the office's new media efforts.

The Atlanta native continues to draw on his experience from the campaign trail, where he did everything from putting out yard signs to meeting constituents by trekking through the mountainous 9th district, which can sometimes take four hours to traverse. But the physical journey hardly compared to the uphill battle that he faced throughout the elections.

'It was certainly a different dynamic with the tea party rising up because you have all different mentalities, even with conservatives,' the 23-year-old said. 'It was an adventure just trying to harness that energy of disapproval from what's going on, reining that in and getting people off the couch.'

Graves, who was one of the earliest tea party members in Georgia, spoke at the tea party rally on the National Mall in 2009. Whitmire said seeing video footage of the event only made him more excited to work for the lawmaker.

Whitmire got his start on the Hill long before becoming Graves' legislative assistant. He interned for then-Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-Ga.) in 2006, Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) in 2008 and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) on his 2008 campaign.

Although Whitmire gained experience working on the operational side of the Hill during his stints as an intern, he learned the most valuable lessons from living in a politically charged atmosphere.

'When I moved to D.C., I lived in the George Washington [University] dorms. It was fun because you got to meet people from all over the country and from all ends of the political spectrum,' Whitmire said. 'You'd go out to dinner with groups that had totally opposite views as you, and you'd kind of hash that out.'

The University of Georgia alumnus majored in agricultural communications, but his original interest in the subject stems from his rural upbringing. Whitmire's father runs a small farm in western North Carolina that specializes in all-natural beef and pork, which he said is a niche market.

'Growing up around it, I just have a first-hand knowledge of agriculture,' Whitmire said. 'That's why I have even more of a buy-in on the issue. There are things floating out there right now that would directly affect that industry.'

During high school, Whitmire's father took him to National Cattlemen's Beef Association meetings around the country, including Washington. They discussed potential policies, taxes and mandates that would directly affect livestock and agriculture, which sparked Whitmire's interest in both policy and agriculture as a future career.

'Listening in on some of those meetings got me thinking, 'Hey, I know a lot about agriculture, but some people don't. Maybe I can tie that in with policy and work in Washington, D.C.,'' Whitmire said. 'It was kind of my plan to come here all along.'

Although he hopes to oversee the family business one day ' especially because small farms are slowly disappearing, he said ' Whitmire intends to stay on the Hill and try to effect change from the opposite end of the playing field.

'I thought in a roundabout sort of way, I can have an impact on the things I care about,' he said. 'So here I am, trying to do just that.'

 

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