Hill Climbers: Scalise Staffers Love the Louisiana Office Spirit

Posted March 12, 2010 at 4:01pm

A signed New Orleans Saints football adorns a shelf in the front office of Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), a symbol of resilience and renewal for a city that is still recovering from the devastation that Hurricane Katrina wrought nearly five years ago.

[IMGCAP(1)]Caitlin Songy was a student at Louisiana State University when Katrina hit. Eager to aid the reeling city, Songy accepted an internship at a Baton Rouge satellite office then-Rep. Bobby Jindal (R-La.) had opened.

“There was a huge need for help and service, so I wanted to do what I could do to help out,” Songy said. “I’ve always been interested in politics, but that’s what really spurred me.”

That was Songy’s entry point to politics, and aside from a stint on the Ways and Means Committee, her time in Washington has always retained a close connection to Louisiana. Songy has worked under Scalise since 2008, and with a recent promotion to legislative assistant, the Mandeville, La., native continues to see her work intertwine with her roots.

“I feel most gratified that I work for my hometown,” Songy said, articulating her words with a subtle Southern lilt. “We have so much opportunity to really rebuild and make New Orleans better. So much reform and change is happening, and I want to be part of that and capitalize on all the opportunities that are there.”

Songy said that among the pieces of legislation that she is now responsible for tracking, those dealing with defense and foreign affairs interest her the most.

“It’s a crucial part of our nation’s security, and it’s always going to be an important issue,” she said. “We have to always make sure we’re strong on that.”

Songy said she became close with Scalise’s family in her former role as a scheduler, and she referenced an office esprit de corps — bolstered by a group of Louisiana natives on staff and Scalise’s fervor as a Saints and LSU fan — that makes for a welcoming place to do business.

Scalise “is great to work for,” she said. “Very laid back, fun and good-natured. He’s very excited to work here and for the work we’re doing, and I think it spreads throughout our staff.”

Also partaking in the office levity is Rebecca Heilig, an Alexandria, Va., native who recently became a scheduler for Scalise. Heilig graduated from the College of William & Mary in 2007, and she said her lifelong proximity to Washington made a career on the Hill a natural move for her, despite having studied English and history.

“I became interested in politics just from growing up here, being in the culture,” she said. “Being in D.C., you kind of catch the political fever — it’s hard not to get caught up in it.”

A series of summer internships led Heilig to her first job out of college in the Office of Appointments and Scheduling under George W. Bush, and she said that even limited interactions with the former president made for an “awe-inspiring” experience.

When asked about her new boss, Heilig also described an office imbued with a deep sense of camaraderie, praising Scalise’s “great sense of humor.” She said this was particularly helpful during her rite of passage as a scheduler: trying to negotiate a day that included a 5 p.m. flight from Dulles International Airport to Louisiana immediately after a vote that lasted until 3:45 p.m.

“He’s particularly in good spirits when we make mad dashes to the airport and we’re trying to get him on a flight,” she said, laughing as she recounted the story. “You have that 45 minutes of downtime thinking, ‘Is he going to make it? Is he not going to make it?’ So you’re sort of sitting on the edge of your chair.”

Heilig said that people see in her “the typical redhead personality — that I’m particularly stubborn and driven, if you will.” Still, she has had no trouble fitting in in an office where late-night football-tosses are common and where the staff bonded over a meal of corned beef sandwiches and doughnuts, typical Indianapolis fare sent over by André Carson’s (D-Ind.) staff to hold up Carson’s end of a Super Bowl bet with Scalise.

“We have a very friendly office,” Heilig said. “It’s been helpful to me as a new member of the team because I feel like I can approach everyone and ask them anything, or get some advice.”

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