Hill Climbers: Musical Ventures

Posted September 5, 2008 at 12:03pm

If the newly hired or recently promoted staffers of the House Rules Committee ever decide to pursue careers off the Hill, at least they can count on each other’s support.

[IMGCAP(1)]When Kristin Lee, the committee’s majority communications director, and Aimee Ghosh, press secretary to Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), both of whom play guitar, joke about starting a band, they know they could count on their colleague Ben Shannon’s photography skills to help them increase their fame. Learning the trade as photo editor on his college paper, Shannon once snapped artists such as Arcade Fire and Common. Shannon also spent some time managing a band before he turned to politics.

As Ghosh and Lee discussed their guitar skills in a recent interview, they joked that “before you know it, Ben will be snapping pictures.”

In truth, though, while the three staffers do share a passion for music, they were just kidding about leaving the Hill for a rocker lifestyle. Lee, Ghosh, Shannon and their colleague Sonny Sinha, the committee’s director of technology, are committed to their jobs and to the Democratic Party.

“This is exactly what I want to do and exactly what I see myself doing,” said Lee, who will receive her master’s degree in political communication from Johns Hopkins University this year.

A love of both music and politics seems to be in Lee’s blood. Her father has always been musical, she said, and her first job was in a record store. In addition, coming from northern California, Lee has been aware of environmental issues for most of her life and has remained passionate about the environment and women’s issues.

Lee, 28, took her commitment to progressive causes to the campaign trail, doing press and communications work in several states for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) during her run for the Democratic presidential nomination. Lee worked with her sister Mara, who was a field organizer for the campaign and now works for the Democratic Party in New Hampshire.

“It was thrilling to work with her,” Lee said.

In fact, it turns out that a love of politics is a family trait — their younger sister is a volunteer for Sen. Barack Obama’s (D-Ill.) presidential campaign.

Lee began working for the Rules Committee in July. She was previously a deputy press secretary for Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), press secretary for the League of Conservation Voters and a strategic communications consultant for the Natural Resources Defense Council before joining the Rules Committee staff.

Ghosh, 23, has also taken a music-heavy route to her work in politics. She sang with an a cappella group when she was a student at American University and began teaching herself to play guitar in order to keep music in her life.

“Being able to accompany myself seemed like a good way to do it,” she said.

Though she names Dallas as her hometown, Ghosh lived in England when she was very young and in India during fourth, fifth and sixth grades. She visits India nearly every other year and said the experience of living there inspired her interest in women’s issues.

“Living in India, you kind of stop taking the women’s rights thing for granted,” she said.

Ghosh started working in Slaughter’s office in May 2007 as a legislative correspondent, but she found her niche when she became deputy press secretary in March 2008. She has a broad base of knowledge to draw from, having earned an interdisciplinary degree in communications, legal institutions, economics and government, and studied political science as a second major.

Since coming to the Hill, Ghosh says she has been able to discover where her true interests lie and can’t imagine not being involved in politics right now.

“With this election cycle, I don’t know how you could be anywhere but the Hill or [campaigning],” she said.

Sinha comes to the committee with a different background than his colleagues. He has a degree in information technology from Catholic University and a joint certificate in innovation management from Maryland’s Smith School of Business and Clark School of Engineering. He worked as a technology consultant for Thompson Financial before becoming director of technology for the Rules Committee in 2004.

Sinha, 32, began working with the communications team this summer to beef up Slaughter’s presence on the Web. The job includes posting videos and audio clips of her floor statements to raise awareness of the Congresswoman’s involvement in legislation, such as the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.

Although he sees himself consulting for startup sites or advocating for technological innovation within the federal government “way far down the road,” Sinha does have more immediate interests. He’s about two weeks away from finishing the restoration of a red 1969 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia.

“You’ll hear it when it’s finished,” he said with a laugh.

Sinha is also passionate about the Remote Area Medical Volunteer Corps, which sets up weekend clinics in areas where people can’t easily access health care, both in the United States and abroad. After seeing a “60 Minutes” special on the program, Sinha was moved to get involved.

“I’ve given money and tried to promote it,” he said. “But, you know, I’m not a doctor,” he added with a grin.

Shannon, 24, opted for a life in politics over starting a music-management company and managing what he calls a “promising band.” It proved to be a smart move as the group eventually broke up.

Shannon, who graduated from Clemson University in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, would like to pursue another degree down the road, but he won’t stray too far from D.C.

“At some point I see myself going to law school or business school, but then coming back here to work for the [Democratic] Party,” he said.

Shannon says he is passionate about poverty issues and universal health care, and he worked for former North Carolina Democratic Sen. John Edwards’ presidential campaign before coming to the Hill.

Though conversations with friends who are touring the country with their bands occasionally makes him long for that lifestyle, Shannon sees politics as the best way for him to fight for the causes about which he is passionate.

“As much as I believe rock ’n’ roll can change the world, I thought this was a more tangible way to do it,” he said.

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