During 2006-2007, my fiancé (Blake Roberts HLS ’06) and I were clerking for federal judges and hoping to join a presidential campaign after we finished. Without a doubt, we knew we wanted to support then-Senator Obama. We believed in his vision for the country and wanted to do whatever we could to help support his campaign.
We reached out to close to 50 people—anyone we could think of—who could help us get a position. People were generous with their time, and I encourage you to cast a wide net. We owe so much to Eric Lesser (Harvard ’07, HLS ’15), whom I knew from Kirkland House when he was an undergrad and I was a resident law tutor there. Eric was doing advance work and sent our resumes to the early state field directors. We informally talked to the Nevada Field Director that summer, and Eric gave helpful advice: after our initial conversation, we should check in every three weeks to ask about the status of a position. We got offers to be field organizers right when we got back from our honeymoon. Within a few days, we started the cross-country trip to Nevada.
We spent several months traveling across the country to help organize communities by running voter outreach, volunteer recruitment, and Get Out the Vote (GOTV) operations in towns and cities in Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. I was initially unsure how I would feel about being a field organizer (making phone calls, knocking on doors, recruiting volunteers to do the same, etc.), but I am convinced in the end I could not have had a more rewarding position. I had so much responsibility and formed such incredible bonds with the volunteers I met in these states.
Blake and I were older than most of the other field organizers (most were right out of college), but I wouldn’t let that deter you. On a campaign, you need to be willing to go above and beyond no matter what your responsibilities are, and many of our future opportunities in the campaign and ultimately the Administration came from our reputations: there was no task “too little” for us, and we threw ourselves into our work and responsibilities.
After serving as field organizers in our sixth state, the Nevada state director whom we had worked with offered to connect us to Larry Strickling (HLS ’67), who was in Chicago headquarters organizing volunteer policy committees. Larry offered us positions helping to vet policy members, and we moved to Chicago for the summer of 2008 to help out. Later, Larry helped connect me to someone who was staffing state Policy Directors for the general election. That led to an interview with the campaign’s Pennsylvania State Director, who hired me for the State Policy Director role.
While nothing compares to the exhilaration of field work, I really loved this role. Because I had spent so many months in the field, I had a good sense for what resources could be helpful to field organizers, volunteers, and undecided voters, and I drafted many Pennsylvania-specific policy resources.
After the election, I was given the opportunity to join the Health Policy transition team, a group of ten health policy experts working to prepare the President-elect’s health policy agenda. I was the staff assistant; every policy transition team was given one campaign staffer in an assistant role. My boss knew my policy and legal background, and after she saw how hard I was working on non-substantive work, offered to give more substantive work as well. She asked me to manage a Health Care Community Discussion initiative, in which the President-elect encouraged Americans across the country to host and participate in discussions about their problems with the health care system and proposed solutions. I managed the qualitative and quantitative analysis of over 3,000 group reports by a team of 15 individuals and led the drafting of a 120-page report to the President.
I was then asked to join the White House Office of Health Reform, and I spent almost two years in the White House working to pass the Affordable Care Act. I spent the rest of the Obama Administration at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) helping to implement the Affordable Care Act, helping with the legal defense of it, running the HHS regulations office, and then serving as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the HHS policy, evaluation, and economic analysis office.
Being part of the Obama Campaign for 15 months in 2007-2008 was the most amazing, exhilarating, exhausting, and rewarding experience I ever could have imagined. I’ll never forget the moment when then-Senator Obama was announced as the President-elect of the United States—when Blake and I started the campaign, it was a long shot that he could even win the Democratic nomination, and it was an incredible feeling to know that we had been part of this historic campaign.