Hill Climbers: Farm to Capitol

Posted January 19, 2010 at 4:31pm

Although Capitol Hill staffers probably don’t come to mind as the most helpful resource on farming matters, you should reconsider when it comes to the staff of Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.). In particular, two Lucas staffers match their practical experience to an office focusing on all things agricultural.

[IMGCAP(1)]Lucas serves as the ranking member on the House Agriculture Committee.

Although Washington, D.C., is far away from his hometown of Dexter, N.M., Jason Grassie is at home in his new job on the Hill. Grassie, 23, spent his childhood on a New Mexico family farm, an experience that helps to inform his work as legislative assistant on agriculture.

“I have seen firsthand how policy affects farming,— Grassie said. “It’s realistic for me.—

Little did he know that growing alfalfa, sorghum and corn would turn out to be good preparation for a job in politics. Grassie said many of the crops he handled on the farm are similar to the crops grown in Oklahoma’s 3rd district.

Grassie will also handle energy and immigration issues for Lucas. Previously, he worked as a staff assistant for Lucas.

Grassie’s great-grandfather founded Grassie Farms in the 1920s. Since then the operation has been a family affair, including aunts and uncles, siblings and cousins all at work. All sorts of elements of farming marked Grassie’s childhood and adolescence, including raising and harvesting crops, irrigating fields and bailing hay.

“I pretty much did some of everything,— Grassie said. “I learned to drive the tractor by the fourth grade and helped to prepare the fields from then on.—

[IMGCAP(2)]Grassie is a 2008 graduate of Abilene Christian University, where he earned a degree in criminal justice. An internship in the district office of Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) last year would provide Grassie’s unintentional foray into politics. The staffer said he didn’t have a strong political focus beforehand and that his main motivation in moving to Oklahoma was to be with his then-girlfriend, Hannah, to whom he is now engaged.

Acceptance into graduate school at George Washington University prompted another move east for Grassie. The job in Lucas’ office allows Grassie to both earn an income and attend school part time. He expects to earn a master’s degree in international affairs in December 2011.

Although Grassie acknowledged that he broke up the family farming

tradition by leaving New Mexico, he still carries his roots with him. In fact, Grassie can still use one of his talents he learned on the farm: yodeling. While plowing fields as a child, Grassie taught himself the skill by listening to CDs from his uncle, a competitive yodeler.

“It involves switching your vocal chords to a falsetto and saying different syllables and vowels,— Grassie said. “It came up all the time in school and people always ask me to do it when they hear I can.—

The staffer said he has yet to demonstrate his yodeling prowess to Lucas.

Another change to the Lucas staff is Kyle Domnick. Domnick, who replaces Grassie as staff assistant, started work in early January.

Domnick’s new job marks his third position with Lucas. He interned on the Agriculture Committee last summer and followed that with an internship at Lucas’ district office last fall.

In addition to his internships, Domnick’s job preparation includes his deep roots in the Sooner State. He hails from Chickasha, Okla., and is also a 2009 graduate of Oklahoma State University, which is in Lucas’ district.

Although Domnick didn’t grow up on a farm, he certainly took advantage of his rural surroundings. In high school, Domnick worked a variety of farming jobs, including everything from building fences to herding cattle to working at a feed store.

While studying animal science at OSU, Domnick furthered this agricultural knack by working on a dairy farm and a wheat research facility.

In between his college studies and internships, Domnick was a devoted fraternity brother with the Kappa Alpha Order. In 2009, that dedication was recognized with his election to national undergraduate chairman.

“I flew up to Greensboro, N.C., on my own dime last January and had no idea what would happen,— Domnick said. “I had put a lot of time into the fraternity and wanted to give back.—

The staffer said he hasn’t yet become homesick for Oklahoma, the only state he’s ever lived in. On the other hand, Domnick is open to finding any manner of outdoor activities to help smooth the transition: “My favorite hobby in Oklahoma was fishing, but I haven’t found a good fishing spot in D.C. yet,— Domnick said in an e-mail.

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