Hill Climbers: Hitting the Bike Trails

Posted July 14, 2009 at 4:29pm

It’s not every day that someone gets to exercise with the leader of the free world, let alone on a regular basis. But this is exactly part of the experience that Barrett Karr brings to her new job as minority staff director for the House Education and Labor Committee.

[IMGCAP(1)]While working for the George W. Bush administration, Karr was often part of an exclusive posse of eight to 10 cyclists who on weekends hit the trails with the president. Because the former president was known for his determined approach to mountain biking, Karr, 36, said this time allowed her to see a different side of him.

“Biking with President Bush on a routine basis let me see him as a more relaxed person,— she said. “It was an unbelievable honor to head up to Maryland on weekends to work out with him.—

Also a native Texan, Karr served the president from 2005 to 2008 as a special assistant for legislative affairs. That time was followed by a brief appointment to deputy assistant for legislative affairs through the end of the administration.

Outside of her years in the executive branch, Karr has extensive experience on the Hill. From 1996 to 2005, she worked in the office of Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), where she advanced from legislative assistant to legislative director and eventually to chief of staff, a position Karr served in for four years.

Now having been in Washington for 14 years, Karr describes her draw to the city as a romantic one. “I would love to say it was because I wanted to make a difference, but I have to confess that I was chasing my adorable future husband,— she said. “He was in Philadelphia, and D.C. was a lot closer for me than Texas.—

[IMGCAP(2)]A 1994 graduate of Texas Christian University with a degree in political science, Karr said both employment and marriage came shortly after her decision to move east. While an undergraduate, Karr interned with then-Rep. Pete Geren (D-Texas), who was also from her hometown of Fort Worth. Aside from her romantic pursuit, Karr said her Hill experience during college also helped to prompt her move to Washington for a “real job.—

After beginning her job with Granger in 1996, Karr married her reason for coming to Washington, Shane Karr, in 1997. She also earned a master’s degree from George Washington University in 1997.

After nearly 13 years of marriage,

Karr and her husband welcomed a baby boy, Tilman, earlier this year. Although Karr loves motherhood and her new son, she said the time spent away from politics has definitely made her eager to return: She’ll be starting her job Aug. 1. “I’ve spent these last four months thinking about being on the Hill,— she said. “I miss being in the middle of the action.—

This head-on attitude will likely serve her well as minority staff director for the Education and Labor Committee. Ranking member John Kline (R-Minn.) is a retired Marine officer and carried the “nuclear football— for Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.

“I think that it’s a really good fit that I work for the Congressman,— she said. “While I worked in the White House, I had the opportunity to work with several Marine officers. I also use their systematic style of working, which is part of the reason I think that the Congressman and I clicked.—

Although Karr has several weeks before beginning her new job, she wasted no time in preparing for her new responsibilities. “The staff will be a lot bigger compared to my time as chief of staff for Congresswoman Granger, but I am ready for the challenge,— she said. Karr will be managing the minority staff while also providing direction and feedback.

With Bush now retired to Texas, Karr said she does not spend as much of her free time mountain biking. Instead, she enjoys swimming, frequenting Capitol Hill’s restaurants and coffee shops, and “actually getting to know— her neighbors.

She said her one sporting loyalty lies with her college alma mater, the Texas Christian University Horned Frogs. “If anyone needs to know what a Horned Frog is, they can call me,— she said.

Because of her broad experience, Karr also tries to mentor young women who want to work or advance on Capitol Hill. “Many young women on the Hill get typecast into scheduler positions when they really want policy positions,— she said. “If they want to do policy, they often need help jumping to that track.—

To that extent, Karr often gives advice to young graduates from Texas Christian University through the college’s Washington alumni chapter. “I really try to help mentor young students however I can,— she said.

Karr is also a member of Texas State Society, the fraternal organization for Texans on the Hill. Her home-state pride is not the only thing that can make her stand out, though. Karr is proficient at riding a unicycle, a skill that her father taught her as a child. “I have never displayed this skill while in Washington, nor would I seek it out,— she said. “But if challenged, I would have to live up to it.—

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