Hill Climbers: Skating Helped Lead Stevens to Hill
Mae Stevens is used to the spotlight. The former competitive figure skater recently became a legislative assistant to Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.), and her path to Capitol Hill had both everything and nothing to do with ice skating.
Growing up in Birmingham, Mich., Stevens had two passions: science and skating. She trained at the Detroit Skating Club, the stomping grounds of Olympians Todd Eldredge and Tara Lipinski.
“Even though I was a nationally competitive figure skater, I wanted to go to school because you can’t be a figure skater forever,” Stevens said. She decided to pursue a degree in environmental science at George Washington University. At the time, she was not interested in policy. She picked GW because there was an excellent rink nearby.
Once she got to D.C., however, it was impossible for Stevens not to catch the political fever rampant among the student body. In 2000, the campus was consumed by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund protests. A year later, Stevens felt her building shake when a plane crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11.
“Everything was putting a focus on Washington,” said Stevens, who found herself at a nexus of events that were shaping the nation.
Stevens’ undergraduate years proved to be as formative for her as they were for the country, and her plans changed accordingly. “I fell in love with the city,” she said, and decided “that the 6 a.m. practices had to go.”
When she graduated a year early, Stevens combined a lifelong interest in the environment with a new interest in politics. She returned to the Midwest to work for grass-roots advocacy groups in Missouri and Michigan but discovered she wanted be back at the center of policymaking.
Returning to D.C., she enjoyed working as an environmental lobbyist, but her sights were set on the Hill. She eventually enrolled at Columbia University to earn a master’s of public administration degree from Columbia’s Earth Institute.
After graduate school, Stevens worked as a policy adviser in the clean energy program at Third Way, a centrist think tank. She was almost a year into her time at Third Way when she learned of the opportunity in Carnahan’s office. Her experience working in his district and environmental expertise helped her to land the job. Working in Carnahan’s office has confirmed Stevens’ suspicion that Congress would suit her.
“There are no substitutes for being on the Hill,” she said.
And, Stevens said, “Energy efficiency, and saving taxpayer dollars, is something we can all agree on.”
She said Carnahan works to bring across-the-aisle support to his measures, citing as an example his work with moderate GOP Rep. Judy Biggert (Ill.) as co-chairs on the High-Performance Buildings Congressional Caucus Coalition.
Stevens often finds herself fielding tough and technical questions from her boss, who is “interested in the nitty-gritty details.” Stevens also serves as a source of information on clean energy science and finances for other Hill staffers.
“Staffers rely on each other to help them understand the policy,” said Stevens, who values the camaraderie on the Hill.
Stevens said she loves D.C. because “no matter where you are on the political spectrum, everyone is here to make the world a better place.”
Although a few years have passed since Stevens hung up her skates, sometimes she still feels like she is on ice. For the competitor, skating is only half of the show.
“Even if you fall down, even if you know you just lost the competition, you have to get up, keep going and keep smiling,” she explained.
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