Hill Climbers: Pelosi Staffer Recalls Father’s Encouragement
Lori Pepper might as well have been born on the campaign trail.
“In the ’92 election with President [Bill] Clinton, I remember my dad was trying to teach me about the Electoral College,” said Pepper, whose father, Jeff Pepper, was a campaign manager in Maryland. “We had a map of the United States and had written in how many electoral votes each state had, and as the results were coming in, we would color in the states like they do on TV now. I kept saying, Are we at 270 yet?'”
Pepper’s father died in 2004, but she had already begun following in his footsteps after college. She started as a campaign manager for then-Rep. Albert Wynn (D-Md.), and most recently, she secured a gig as policy adviser for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
“My second day here they told me I would be traveling to Milwaukee with the Speaker. She gave a speech at the American Legion’s national convention, and there were 10,000 people there,” Pepper said. “There’s nothing like jumping right into the deep end.”
In addition to serving as a liaison to the Blue Dog Coalition, the 32-year-old has become responsible for a basket of issues since she started on Aug. 16, including agriculture, veterans and small business. Pepper has already had the opportunity to work on bills related to these three areas, but the one that hits closest to home is veterans’ legislation.
“My cousin and her husband are both active duty Air Force, and my two grandfathers were veterans,” she said. “I think it’s an issue that really touches most people’s families, and obviously mine as well.”
Pepper, a Baltimore native, graduated in 2001 from the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s in psychology, but she jokes that she never had serious intentions of pursuing that career path. Not surprisingly, her first political job came in 2002, working as campaign manager for Wynn.
“I tried to kind of go and be a teacher, but I just kept volunteering on campaigns,” Pepper said. “I was always involved in campaigns and politics with my dad, so coming to D.C. was a natural fit.”
In 2003, Wynn hired Pepper in his Washington office, where for two years she worked on health care and telecommunications issues.
She later took a job as director of government relations for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. Pepper loved the issues she got to work on with the NCTA because she was able to lobby both sides of the aisle, but she admits that she may have abandoned her Hill track prematurely.
“Someone once told me, You know, you kind of have to wear out your welcome on the Hill before you leave,'” Pepper said. “And I don’t think I did that yet.”
She eventually moved to the office of Rep. Baron Hill (D-Ind.) as deputy chief of staff in 2007 to manage the legislative staff. Pepper said her Hill homecoming remains one of her most memorable moments.
In October 2009, Pepper seasoned her résumé with a new title: director of policy and outreach for the House Science and Technology Committee. She was primarily responsible for the outreach portfolio and Member services, which she had never done before.
“I don’t have a professional background in any one particular area, but I love being able to delve into all these different issues,” Pepper said. “I got to learn a little about a whole lot.”
Putting things into perspective has been important in Pepper’s life, but she said no one did that better than her father.
“I was working for Congressman Wynn, and he had just endorsed John Edwards for president, so I was working on that campaign,” Pepper said. “I remember the night before my dad ended up passing away, we were on the phone and he said, I’m just so jealous of you!'”
The policy adviser has decided that this time around, she will remain on the Hill until she has worn out her welcome. But it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen anytime soon.
“As every election cycle goes by, I keep thinking I’m going to want to leave, but I never do,” Pepper said. “I still love seeing the Capitol Dome and the Washington Monument as I drive into work. When that gets old, I know it’s time to leave.”
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