Sen. Thomas R. Carper’s office is adjusting to changes to its senior staff, as two veteran staffers have moved into new positions.
Bill Ghent, who has been with the office for 11 years, assumed the role of chief of staff in May. Emily Spain, Carper’s communications director for the past four years, took Ghent’s place as legislative director.
Ghent and Spain share a common trajectory up the ranks of congressional staffers. Both served as communications director before managing the Delaware Democrat’s legislative agenda.
“I think it’s a more natural transition than some people may think,” Ghent said.
“As communications director, you have to know a little about a lot of things. You have to be a generalist to be successful,” he noted, adding that the same is true for a legislative director.
Prior to joining Carper’s office, Ghent spent eight years as a Capitol Hill reporter covering topics ranging from environmental law to taxes. Ghent’s last post was at National Journal’s CongressDaily.
After learning the ins and outs of Congress, Ghent realized he was more interested in directly participating in policy process. “I wanted to be an insider to that game,” he said. So, in 2003, Ghent joined Carper’s staff.
Spain came to Capitol Hill as a seasoned player in the political game with experience working on campaigns in California and Colorado. But, Spain said she “really wanted to work on the Hill,” so she landed at the office of her hometown congresswoman, Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif.
For Spain, the transition from campaigns to Congress was challenging, because it involved delving into the detailed policy process. “I was learning a foreign language in a way,” Spain said, adding, “I really enjoyed that challenge.”
After serving as Capps’ communications director for four years, Spain said she “was ready to take the next step professionally,” so she moved to Carper’s office in the Senate.
Spain’s recent transition from communications director to legislative director was bittersweet because she is no longer working with Capitol Hill reporters.
“I miss that because there are a lot of great reporters here on the Hill,” she said.
Ghent said his new role as chief of staff involves “a lot of management and making things cohesive.” Aside from managing the senator’s own staff, Ghent also coordinates with the staff at the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which Carper chairs.
Carper’s committee is also adjusting to a staffing change. Gabby Batkin assumed the role of committee staff director at the beginning of May. Batkin most recently served as deputy staff director for the Senate Appropriations Committee and has worked in the Senate for nearly 20 years.
By coordinating with Batkin regarding committee issues and managing the communications and legislative staff in Carper’s personal office, Ghent said, “I’m juggling a lot of things.”
He said he doesn’t have a preference when it comes to communications versus legislative work because they are “so intertwined.”
Ghent said instead, “What I would prefer is that Congress start doing things again.”
Over the past 11 years as a staffer, Ghent said he’s seen a “dramatic change” in Congress’ ability to tackle the nation’s problems.
Spain agreed, saying the “decline in [the] ability to work together to get things done has been pretty precipitous.”
Spain cited the emergence of social media, the perpetual news cycle and some new members who “don’t value the institution” as sources of tension on the Hill.
“We came here to get things done, to effect change,” Ghent said, “and we came here to work together.”