Katie Murtha, chief of staff to Rep. John Dingell, studied Russian and East European studies in college, but an internship on Capitol Hill redirected her career path.
Michigan’s redistricting process has given Katie Murtha something of a homecoming.
The new chief of staff for Rep. John Dingell grew up in Allen Park, which was added to the Michigan Democrat’s district under a revised Congressional map that the governor signed last month. She’s one in a line of politically active, Michigan Murthas (but no relation to the late Democratic Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania). “My dad was the president of our local Democratic club. My grandfather was on the school board,” she said. “I come from a political family.”
Her insider’s understanding of the area has been a big asset in her work, according to Murtha. “It’s nice to really have my finger on the district,” she said.
She enjoys being able to affect the lives of her Michigan family and friends. “I’m helping people I actually know,” she said.
Murtha was interested in diplomacy and majored in Russian and East European studies at the University of Michigan, but an internship in Dingell’s Capitol Hill office in 1998 redirected her career path. “I wanted to be a diplomat,” she said. “I had sort of had it in my head that I would end up working at the State Department, but I got here and I loved it.”
She had moved to the Washington, D.C., area not long after graduating from college, and the internship in Dingell’s office helped her reconnect with Michigan.
“In many ways, it was like coming home,” she said. “I was able to keep the ties back home, work for a Member who is a legend back home.”
Murtha worked her way up in the office hierarchy, from intern to staff assistant, legislative correspondent, legislative assistant, legislative director and deputy chief of staff. She was promoted to chief of staff during the summer.
She learned about the inner workings of politics on the job and earned a master’s degree in public policy from Georgetown University, but she has lost her fluency in Russian. Although she wishes she still had that skill, she acknowledges it probably wouldn’t be helpful in her line of work.
Still, her undergraduate experience equipped her with the life skills to be successful, she said, even if her area of study wasn’t directly applicable. “I think college is there to teach you how to think, rather than to teach you a specific skill,” she said.
For anyone looking to work on the Hill, Murtha has some advice. “Work hard, do your job, do a little bit more than your job,” she said. “Everybody has to pay their dues and start from the bottom.”
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Terri Henderson, 6, center, whose mother is El Salvador, attends a rally with members of Congress at Union Station's Columbus Circle to announce the Restore Opportunity, Strengthen, and Improve the Economy (ROSIE) Act on July 29, 2014. The legislation provides incentives for government contractors to pay a living wage and other benefits that would help low-income workers.