Most new staffers on Capitol Hill lament the loss of their free time and say that work now consumes their entire lives. But for newcomer Dan Casto, a former lawyer who just began as legislative director for Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, he’s finding the opposite to be true.
“I now feel like I’m able to do things on weekends,” Casto said. “The week hours are the same, but the weekends have been much more free. I’m able to get involved in church and be at home more.”
This is the 27-year-old’s first gig on the Hill. Casto is quickly learning the ropes in the West Virginia Republican’s office, but a major advantage for the newbie staffer is that he is also a native of the Mountain State.
“There’s so much to learn, especially not coming from a Hill position before, so it’s great knowing the heart of the district,” Casto said. “It’s one less thing I have to focus on. I can focus more on the process.”
It’s not entirely surprising that Casto ended up working in government; he has been active in politics since his adolescence. At 18, Casto decided to join the Republican Party’s executive committee in his county, where he could organize voter registration and help local candidates running for office.
However, in West Virginia’s Wood County, being a committee member is an elected office. Casto put himself on the ballot, ran unopposed and won. That feat earned him the title of the youngest elected official in West Virginia after the 2002 elections.
“I got an e-mail from a friend who said I had been on the Clarksburg news,” Casto said. “Secretary of State [Joe] Manchin said I was technically the youngest elected official, and I didn’t even know it!”
After high school, Casto attended Ohio Valley University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting. He then pursued a law degree from West Virginia University.
Throughout his summers in law school, he worked at several firms doing corporate work and litigation to prepare himself for his post-graduation career.
He also had to balance law school with a long-distance relationship with his high school sweetheart, Bethany. She was two years younger than Casto and lived a few hours away, so he had to make time to visit her on the weekends while studying. But all the hard work paid off; Casto married Bethany and passed his bar examination as well.
When he finished law school in 2009, Casto was hired by Sullivan & Cromwell, one of the firms he had worked for during summers while he was enrolled at West Virginia University. He practiced financial law for the firm’s D.C. office for two years.
Casto said the job taught him how to pay attention to details, learn legislative processes and get accustomed to logging long hours. But in the summer of 2010, Casto decided he wanted to delve more deeply into the lawmaking process.
He told a friend who used to work for Capito that he was interested in getting his footing on the Hill, and he kept in contact with some of the staffers. When a spot as legislative director opened up earlier this year, he jumped at the opportunity and was ultimately hired by the Congresswoman. He started on Feb. 1.
“The only negative reaction I got was that I was taking a huge pay cut,” Casto said with a laugh.
It makes sense that his law degree would propel him into a legislative director position; he now works on tax, trade and finance issues for Capito. Casto said that he’s always been interested in policy, but in practicing law, he was just reacting to the legislative body. In working for government, he’s actually influencing the legislative body.
“Now I really see myself as a person who is going to make an impact on the policy side,” Casto said. “Although I see myself getting back into law in the future, this where I want to be.”
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