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Valerie Nelson, most recently director of member services for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., is embarking on what she calls a new adventure at Dentons as senior managing director of the firm’s public policy and regulation practice.
“I was thinking about [leaving the Hill] but I loved my job,” the Capitol Hill veteran said. “It was fun working in the leadership, being around this energy and policymaking, but I was ready to try a new adventure.”
Nelson said the friendships and relationships she established working for Cantor prepared her well to branch out into Washington’s other professional circles. “I got to know the people that interact with the members in their offices. I created friendships with people that aren’t working on the Hill, so I sort of knew what it was like out there but it was nothing like what I envisioned,” she explained.
“For me it’s the human relationship that sometimes this town is lacking in,” she said.
“I see people for who they are not just because they have a pin or because they are a chief of staff. The relationships supersede the title. That has been very rewarding for me. I think of these people as friends and I miss them! I watch C-SPAN and think — ooh —‘Who is in the chair?’ or ‘Good, good for her. That’s a good issue for her!’”
After living and working on the Hill for about 17 years, Nelson’s jump is taking her into unfamiliar territory.
“This is such a big change! Before, I didn’t have a reason to Metro to work. Transportation alone is new to me.”
Nelson was quick to clarify that she has taken Metro before. There was just never a need for her to commute via public transportation to work. Getting around the Hill was easier; it’s a much smaller area.
“It’s like being the new kid at school riding the bus,” she said, smiling. “I feel like I have my backpack on and Mom should say goodbye to me every morning, sending me off to school. I just haven’t done this in almost a decade! I even had to invest in some comfortable shoes because I’ve been doing a whole lot more walking than I ever remember before.”
Besides commuting, the timing of her day has been completely altered. During her tenure on the Hill, Nelson never kept normal business hours. Her days were filled with early mornings and late evenings, trying to fit in a small bit of time for friends if they could sync schedules.
“I’m lucky that a lot of people work downtown and I can meet someone for coffee or lunch, which I could never do before unless they came to me. Having Cosi and Starbucks around is amazing,” Nelson said with a laugh.
“Also, my tennis racket needs to probably be dusted off and I can get back on the courts.”
Nelson is beginning to realize how much less hectic things are off Capitol Hill. She doesn’t have to go into a frenzy, for instance, trying to get something done quickly before the members go to the floor.
“It’s a different animal, the speed at which you work on the Hill — so much is happening so quickly,” she said. “At Dentons, you’re playing long ball. You have different clients with different needs and different time frames.”
Nelson feels very lucky to again be surrounded by a good team that made her feel welcome from day one. She explained that at Dentons, everyone has their own expertise and said she looks forward to learning from the Democratic side as well as the Senate side.
“If you have a good team, it can smooth out some of the ruffles, and you can feel good about that later.”
Nelson admits the future is wide open for her, but she hopes to keep the human element present in her new workplace.
“I hope I will be able to once again bridge these communities with clients that Dentons has with the members that are interested in the issues,” she said.
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