Hill Climbers: Staffer for Matsui Puts California in Her Past

Posted March 16, 2010 at 4:05pm

California Dreaming. When a Member sits on the House Energy and Commerce and Rules committees as does Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), it’s a safe bet to say that no day is a slow day. In the case of Matsui, couple the lawmaker’s committee assignments with her public outreach role — she sits on the Smithsonian Institute’s Board of Regents — and you know her aides stay busy, both on and off Capitol Hill.
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For Kari Lacosta, Matsui’s office is demanding, but it’s also something she wouldn’t trade for anything else. Lacosta, 25, has been a legislative assistant since November.

Before her new job, Lacosta was a caseworker and field representative in Matsui’s Sacramento office.

That job, which she held for two and a half years, involved handling constituent requests on a wide variety of issues, but especially health care and immigration.

Lacosta’s new role is equally diverse: Her portfolio now includes education, civil rights, agriculture, homeland security, immigration, science and the arts.

With four months spent on the East Coast, the San Ramon, Calif., native says she has a good handle on Capitol Hill. “It wasn’t an awkward transition coming to Rep. Matsui’s Washington office,” Lacosta said. “I knew all of the staff from talking to them over the phone while I was in California. There’s a great camaraderie here, and everyone knew me by name. I had also spent time with the Congresswoman when she visited the district.”

Lacosta’s first brush with Washington came through an internship arranged by the University of California

Washington Center. In addition to taking elective coursework, Lacosta interned with then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) for a quarter.

“She was a phenomenal woman to work for,” Lacosta said. “I was in the scheduling office, and in total there were about 15 interns that winter, but she was very gracious to us all. … It really opened up my eyes to all the possibilities in politics.”

After graduating from the University of California at Davis in 2006, where she earned degrees in communications and political science, Lacosta began her professional career with a health care nonprofit in Sacramento.

But politics never remained too far away. While working for the nonprofit, Lacosta also served as communications director for the Sacramento County Young Democrats. In that position, she came across the opening in Matsui’s district office. It was a no-brainer opportunity for Lacosta to get back into politics.

But political work in California bears little resemblance to that in Washington. “In the district office, there’s more of a focus on outreach,” Lacosta said. “We tried to get word out there of the work she does in Washington because she can’t make it out to California as much because of her committee roles.”

Lacosta said working for the same Member on both a district level and in Washington has given her a unique perspective. “I saw firsthand the need for things like immigration reform while in the district,” she said. The staffer also said it’s a nice feeling to recognize constituents who visit the Washington office.

And even though Lacosta’s workload remains enveloped in the looming appropriations season, she still gets a kick out of the little pleasures that come with working on Capitol Hill, like going onto the House floor.

Washington, D.C., has also brought the unprecedented to Lacosta: snow. “Snowmageddon was actually kind of entertaining for me,” she said. “I didn’t own a pair of boots prior to the snow, and my co-workers had to teach me what wellies were.”

The staffer said she now owns four pairs of boots, all of which she put to use during the record snowfalls this winter.

Although the West Coast’s distance often leaves Lacosta missing the Golden State, she’ll soon make a homecoming. In April, she will fly back home for her older sister’s baby shower. “I call it my ‘neiphew’ right now because we don’t yet know the gender,” Lacosta said.

The staffer is set to become an aunt in May.

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