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Becoming the Boss: Staffers Have Upper Hand

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Rep. Bill Huizenga succeeded retiring Rep. Pete Hoekstra in Michigan’s 2nd district in 2010 after serving as his home-based policy director for six years.

Rep. Frank Guinta is one example of the staffer-to-lawmaker success story. The New Hampshire Republican ran in 2010 on his record of public service as the former mayor of Manchester. But he also leveraged his two-year stint as a district aide for Rep. Jeb Bradley (R), who held the same seat from 2003 to 2007.

“Certainly I had a unique perspective of the 1st Congressional district that you don’t get unless you’re serving it in that capacity,” said Guinta, who described his geographically diverse district as one where constituents place a high premium on in-person interactions with local officials.

“Individuals there expect to have relationships with Members of Congress,” he said. “It helped that I knew a lot of people throughout the district before the campaign began.”

Rep. Bill Huizenga (R) capitalized on his connections to Michigan’s 2nd district in his successful 2010 campaign to succeed retiring Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R). Huizenga was Hoekstra’s home-based policy director for six years.

“My job was literally to be his eyes and ears,” Huizenga said. “And it was a huge advantage in the campaign because we were going into some of these small towns, and my opponents had never been there before, but I had. ... I knew asparagus was important, I knew particular manufacturing issues were important. ... I knew them.”

Kia’aina hopes her long history with Hawaii’s 2nd district will also resonate with voters. With Election Day more than a year away, the former Hill staffer is pursuing a seat that has been held by two of her former bosses.

Kia’aina, who is currently chief advocate for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, is campaigning to succeed Rep. Mazie Hirono (D), who has entered the race for the seat held by retiring Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii).

Kia’aina lived and worked in Washington, D.C., for more than two decades before returning to Hawaii. Akaka held the 2nd district seat for 13 years before being appointed to the Senate, and Kia’aina was his legislative assistant during his first nine years as a Senator. She was also chief of staff for Rep. Ed Case (D), who represented the district from 2002 to 2007.

Kia’aina believes her level of experience will serve her well. Like Guinta and Huizenga, she emphasizes her knowledge about the diverse district and her insights into the needs of her constituents.

But she also knows how she would fare in a Capitol Hill office after spending so much time there.

“I have a good appreciation for what is necessary on Day 1, and not only organizing an office and assembling a good staff,” she said. “I know how to hit the ground running.”

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