Shaheen Chief Takes Family Legacy to Senate

Posted December 15, 2009 at 3:56pm

Maura Keefe, chief of staff to Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), owes her career to her father, but not in the way one might immediately expect. It’s true that she’s the second chief of staff in her family. From 1962 to 1967, her father, James Keefe, served as chief of staff to New Hampshire Sen. Tom McIntyre (D). But her father also helped pave the way for his daughter’s success — not through nepotism, but through legislation.

During his first two years working under McIntyre, James Keefe worked tirelessly on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which included a provision prohibiting gender discrimination.

“Because of that law — and I don’t think my father thought of it at the time — but because of the Civil Rights Act and the creation of the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, that’s why I’m here,— Maura Keefe says. “That’s why I can sit in this job. So it’s sort of amazing.—

In recognition of this accomplishment, Keefe displays one of the pens that President Lyndon Johnson used to sign the bill near her desk in the Hart Senate Office Building. It is framed alongside a photograph featuring a note to her father from McIntyre.

The note reads: “To Jim in appreciation for his help and assistance during this difficult first two years in the Senate with high hopes that we will both do what’s best to serve the people of New Hampshire and the nation. Tom McIntyre.—

Keefe says she had read the note hundreds of times but didn’t truly understand its meaning until she herself was working on monumental legislation in the Senate.

“I’d always read that note and never really honed in on the words ‘these first two difficult years.’ Why were they difficult? Well, because they were trying to pass the Civil Rights Act and when you’re trying to do big important things for the country it’s difficult,— she says. That message serves as an inspiration to her, she says, as she works on the pending health care legislation.

The lack of health care legislation is “killing small business, it’s bankrupting middle-class families, it’s just threatening our future. If we don’t tackle it, we’re going to leave it for somebody else to deal with. Hopefully we have the intestinal fortitude to do it,— she says.

This is not Keefe’s first go-round with health care. She served as chief of staff to Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) during President Bill Clinton’s failed attempt at reform in 1993.

“It was bitterly disappointing.— Keefe says of the legislation. “You definitely are so disappointed that you wonder if you can get big things done.—

Keefe left DeLauro’s office and Congress altogether in 2000 to work as a political consultant. The New Hampshire native joined Shaheen’s campaign in 2008. After Shaheen and Obama won election, she saw an opportunity to revisit health care. It was this mulligan that drew her back to the Hill.

“I never could have imagined that it would be 16 years till we tried again, and I feel like if we don’t get it done this time, then we probably won’t ever,— she says. “I think it’s critically important.—

In addition to being passionate about health care, Keefe is also a fervent supporter of women in politics. It is no accident that she has only worked for female Members. After working on the Maryland for Choice campaign in 1992, Keefe approached the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee about a job.

“I said, ‘Do you have any women Members looking for press secretaries?’—

DeLauro ultimately hired her. “One of my passions is getting more women elected to this body. I think we’ve got to remind people that this is a noble profession. This institution has been beat up— over the years, Keefe says.

While Congress may have a bad reputation these days, Keefe is still proud to be a part of it. Her father instilled her love of politics in her at an early age. She was born during his tenure in the Senate and spent much of her life in New Hampshire, where she has seen more than one presidential primary.

“It may be a genetic defect, but it’s definitely in my blood,— she says with a laugh.

Keefe says a highlight of her job as chief of staff is working with her staff and grooming young talent. She oversees an office of 40 people and says she enjoys helping them find their career paths, much in the way her father did with her. Keefe still talks with her father, who is 80 years old and lives in New Hampshire, about her job and the goings-on in Congress.

“He still pays attention to politics and definitely still watches all the Sunday shows and has a lot to say, so he definitely still has good political instincts,— she says. “He understands, you know, how exciting this work is and how difficult it is — but how worthwhile it is.—