My Origin Story: of becoming a congressional staff member

So, as I said in my inaugural post, I wanted to spend some time talking about stories relating to my time as a Congressional staff member. Having talked a lot about heavy/serious issues important to me, from my take on the current presidential candidates, gun control to trying to fix the branding of the Republican Party, I thought this would be a good time to share a story from my past; the story of how I became a congressional staff member. This will be some lighter fare for my blog.  So this was my origin story.

In 2001, the year I graduated from the University of New Mexico, one of my Political Science professors (I was taking the class as an elective) mentioned internship opportunities in the congressional and senate offices. And so, looking into it, I decided to apply for a college internship in Congresswoman Heather Wilson’s district office (and to me, that’s one of the best choices I ever made). I filled out the application, attached my writing sample, and to my surprise, I got a call from the District Director, and wanted to interview me for the internship. And so I did the interview in April 2001, and I was given the internship. I was so excited at that point. The District Director and I went over their checklist (which I still have in one of my scrapbooks), and then went to work.

As an intern, data entry was a big part of my day-to-day work, as well as periodically answering the phones, helping prepare mass mailings (folding letters and sealing envelopes) and letter-drafting, usually the letters were for retirements or special events, such as someone winning a distinguished award, and the congressional office wanted to send a letter to them acknowledging the individual’s accomplishment. One of the things that distinguished me in this role was my letter writing skills. Although most of it was following a specific template, I got a few letters here and there that allowed me to show off my writing style. And I do believe that was one of things that allowed me to leave an impression with the District Director. Towards the end of the internship, I had my picture taken with Congresswoman Heather Wilson. Just being new to the system, and basically being an outsider who had only met one other elected official before, I was so excited and thrilled. I was very sad to see my internship end, and I thought that would be the end of my interactions with Congresswoman Wilson’s office. I of course would be very wrong.

In late August, I got a letter from Heather Wilson’s office, asking current and former interns if they wanted to walk in the New Mexico State Fair parade with Heather Wilson. Of course I wanted that, so I told them I would come and on September 8, 2001, I got to march in the parade with my Congresswoman. It was thrilling. I loved marching down the street in the parade, throwing candy to the onlookers. It was an amazing experience. I even got to ride to ride back in the car with the Congresswoman and the District Director, taking us back to our own vehicles, and during that time, I told them about my current job; a job with Relay New Mexico, a telephone network system for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community (I was a Relay Operator for those that used TTY machines to communicate on the telephone). When we all departed and went our separate ways, I figured that would probably be the last time I would interact with the Congressional office. But it was such a great day; a day that filled me with such euphoria. It was heartbreaking that just three days later, 9/11 would happen. One of my best days, followed by one of the worst days in our nation’s history. But of course, I would be wrong about my interactions with the Congressional office. There would be yet another interaction to come.

This time, a few months later, I was working at Relay New Mexico when the office posted a flyer; a flyer announcing a business visit from the Congresswoman. I never inquired about that, but I am convinced that they chose to do a visit because of what I had told them about Relay New Mexico. Of course, when the flyer asked people to sign up to meet with the Congresswoman (and get off the phones…it was a call center after all), I gladly signed up. The Congresswoman and the District Director toured the call center that day in I believe February 2002, and we were allowed to get off the phones to meet with her in the conference room. And again, I got to visit with both the Congresswoman and the District Director. I was again so very happy to see the Congresswoman and the District Director that I later dropped off a letter to their office thanking them for visiting Relay New Mexico.  And of course, I got a personal, hand-written note from Heather on her personal stationary shortly thereafter acknowledging my letter to her (which, again, I still have. I’m so glad I decided to scrapbook a lot of this stuff). And I can guarantee that Heather personally handwrote that note, because as a staffer, I would learn that the staff would turn over letters to Heather like mine to write personal notes for, and I do remember turning over more than my share of items for Heather to write personal notes for. For me, this was really cool. And again, after their visit…well by this point in the story, you should already know what I was thinking.  And you know what, I was wrong…again.

The next time I was contacted by the Congressional Office was on Saturday, September 23rd. I was called by the District Director, Julie. I was told that the congressional office had experienced a recent loss of staff, and because it was so close to the election that year, they needed help. So Julie was contacting me and another former intern to come in and work as temporary congressional staff members. Of course, I could not pass up that opportunity given how passionate I was about politics. I gleefully told her I would take a leave of absence and come work with Heather Wilson and the congressional staff.  And that is what I did.

My favorite part of filling out the paperwork was signing my name to the oath…”I, Michael Wich, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic: that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.” Even today, that still sends chills up and down my spine.

At that point, the other temporary staff member and I basically split up cases and case assignments. I started off with issues dealing with BIA, Postal Matters, IRS matters, business issues, Sunport matters, labor, education and some VA cases. It was quite challenging for me in those early days as I did not have experience with casework, and my previous internship with the office did not prepare me at all for conducting congressional inquiries. But I and the other staffer muddled our way through.

When it was closer to the election, I knew if Heather got re-elected, they would need new staffers. And so I seized upon that opportunity, and let Julie know that I would like to stay on permanently after the election. Julie informed me that there would need to be an interview process, as there would be some people wanting to come over from the campaign side. I was nervous, and did not know what would happen. I basically gave up my other job at Relay to do this so this was a gamble. Heather Wilson would get re-elected in 2002, and I would later be interviewed by both Julie, the District Director, and Heather’s chief of staff, Bryce, from the D.C. office. Afterwards, I was told that Bryce was impressed with my knowledge of my cases, and they hired me on permanently for the district office. It was an amazing experience, and provided me with many more amazing experiences.

The moral of this story should be if you see opportunity, make sure you take it. Seize the day; carpe diem. In 2002, I certainly did that, and it changed my life.

So that was my ‘origin story’ as a congressional staff member. I am certain there are more stories to be told about my experiences, for another day. But for now, thank you for reading, and I hoped you enjoyed my story!



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