A start as an aviation mechanic in the Air Force gave Joe Kasper all the tools to succeed on Capitol Hill.
Now deputy chief of staff for Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), Kasper, 32, has moved up from communications director and legislative director in Hunter’s staff after previously working for the Congressman’s namesake father, a 14-term California Republican.
Kasper’s stint in the Air Force led him down a road quite different than most other Hill staffers.
“That is oftentimes one of the most unnoticed aspects of military services,” he said. “You see young Americans who are doing these extraordinary jobs.”
Kasper wrapped up his military commitment about the same time he graduated from the University of Connecticut with degrees in political science and constitutional law. Through an internship program at UConn, he moved to Washington, D.C., and began his political career working for Rep. Rob Simmons (R-Conn.).
A serendipitous opportunity arose when the now-retired Hunter offered him an entry-level position soon after Kasper arrived on the Hill. His conservative outlook aligned with Hunter’s, and he was enthusiastic about the chance to work on military issues with a senior member of the Armed Services Committee.
Kasper quickly moved up the ranks to director of communications, where he had to handle the toughest controversy in his career thus far — the bribery scandal surrounding the elder Hunter’s California and Armed Services colleague, Rep. Duke Cunningham. It was Kasper’s first real test at trying to manage the national media.
“I felt like a kid jumping in water for the first time,” he said. “It did have an impact on my initial perception of the media because there were some people in the press going to unusual lengths to misrepresent a personal friendship. It also kind of picks up on that point about being true to yourself.”
Toward the end of the senior Hunter’s time in office, Kasper added legislative director to his communications portfolio. When the Congressman retired, his son won his seat in the House, and Kasper made the transition with him.
There are differences between working for a senior Member of the House and one in his second term, but the values he shares with the Hunter family outweigh any possible concerns.
“I’ve always enjoyed coming into the office,” Kasper said. “I’ve always enjoyed working on issues where we all share a common interest, and that’s always been very fulfilling for me.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.