I met Rachel in late October of last year as I was preparing to board what we later hashtagged the #PenceBus for a two-day campaign swing across Indiana with her boss, Congressman Mike Pence, on behalf of Congressional and State Assembly candidates. Rachel made sure we all were arrayed in Pence t-shirts, received our (more than) ample ration of Kentucky Fried Chicken and got a few minutes to interview the Congressman if we so desired. She helped run a tight ship and did it all with winsome grace and charm.
I took singular note of Rachel’s inquisitiveness about different forms of social media and blogging, in particular. Our leaders in the Republican Party have not always taken pains to facilitate access for New Media supporters. That is changing and it was abundantly obvious that Rachel was both interested in and receptive to our efforts. Later that day, she momentarily couldn’t recall the name of my blog; when I repeated it (Ramblings), she memorably replied, “Yes, I knew it was something whimsical like that.” If you appreciate a robust vocabulary, you’ll know why I felt summarily complimented.
Rachel excels in the Capitol Hill environment and relishes the chance to be at the center of the action. I navigated the labyrinthine contours of the House office buildings for a while with her on January 5, the opening day of the 112th Congress. She was a font of information regarding pertinent personalities, locations and landmarks.
I admire Rachel more, though, for not forgetting her Indiana roots and most of all, for her devotion to living out the teachings of Jesus Christ in daily existence. If the conservative movement is to maintain a genuinely lasting impact in Washington, it will do so only if it is populated by people of deep integrity who are committed to unshakeable principle. Rachel not only grasps this truth; she personifies it.
Rachel is a bit of an outlier from previous Twitter personalities I’ve profiled. Up until the recent past, she hasn’t been known to tweet a whole lot. That has been changing over the last few weeks; I hope to see the multiplication effect continue because Rachel has a lot to offer. Follow her today at @RachelSemmel!
10 Questions for Rachel Semmel
1. You’ve been in DC for a while now, but I know you’re a Hoosier girl! Did you grow up in Indiana and how did that prepare you for the life you lead now?
I’m definitely an Indiana girl through and through. Though, as the saying goes, I’m Hoosier by birth, Boilermaker by the grace of God. I was born and raised in West Lafayette, Indiana and went to Highland Christian School and Faith Christian High school. After living on the East Coast for several years, I realize how much being from Indiana and the Midwest has influenced me. You don’t realize how much you miss Cracker Barrel, Wal-Mart, city council meetings and cornfields until you leave. My interest in politics began to develop in high school when we would campaign door-to-door for local races in government class for extra credit and when our Congressman, Steve Buyer, would come and talk to us about life in Washington. Really, my interest and involvement in politics started at the personal level when I was on the student council in high school. I liked being in charge. 🙂
2. You’re a Purdue grad. What did you major in and did that decision contribute to your eventual arrival in DC?
I was a pharmacy major for awhile, then realized as I was sitting in one endless chemistry class after another, I wanted to engage with people at a more meaningful and social level. So I switched to Public Relations, and realized I was much better at it, too! I minored in History, English and Political Science because those were my hobbies and I needed a challenge with my Communications major. While I was taking these classes, writing papers, providing defenses against ideologies they taught in these classes, I began to realize that my world view was vastly different from those who taught me as well as those around me. I became impassioned and challenged in these classes to further develop my positions so I could practice communicating them clearly to eventually win over those who disagreed with me. (Must be the “eldest child, always right” syndrome!)
Soon, the platform of the classroom became too small for such big opinions. 🙂 I eventually realized politics was a great forum for involvement in things in which I strongly believed. So I became active in local Tippecanoe County politics, College Republicans and Right to Life. I ran for Purdue Student Body Vice President, and wrote for a conservative school newspaper. I also researched political internships my sophomore year of college. Subsequently, I interned for Mike Pence, then President George W. Bush in the White House and got Potomac Fever!
3. How early in your life did you know you were a conservative and how do you define that term today?
Though my introduction to politics wasn’t until high school and college, I knew at a much younger age that I believed certain things, but didn’t really equate that to a political ideology. But in late high school to early college, I realized where I fell on the political spectrum and it was definitely on the conservative end!
Rightly or wrongly, I view the term “conservative” as a label one can wear if he or she is willing to take a stance on fiscal responsibility, limited government, strong defense, personal responsibility and the value of all human life across the board.
4. You were employed in Congressman Mike Pence’s leadership office on the Hill for some time. Tell us about working for a man who has become a hero to so many conservatives across the nation.
I was so blessed to spend the 111th Congress working under Rep. Pence’s leadership. At a time when some in the mainstream media were calling Republicans an endangered species, Congressman Pence had a clairvoyant vision to win back the House after unprecedented losses. And under his leadership, assisted by the voice of the American people, House Republicans did just that. I was blessed to play a small part in it in the press realm. I was able to work for one of my heroes, someone who lives his faith and practices what he preaches. And he’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever been around…a key in the rat race that is Congress.
5. You’ve moved over recently to the office of freshman Arizona Congressman, David Schweikert. What is your position there?
I am his Communications Director.
6. There are many people across the country who would love a window into the daily duties of a Capitol Hill staffer. What are a few of the regular ups and downs?
Working in the press world on Capitol Hill is a unique challenge and really differs, based upon whom you work for. My experiences working in a personal office and a leadership office are definitely different, but there is certainly lots of overlap.
When Congress is in session, the hours are much longer and more intense. Morning typically starts with reading the news, though in the world of around-the-clock Blackberry updates, that isn’t such a chore. Of course, catching up on what the media is saying about my boss is imperative all day long. I take a lot of time out of my day to have coffees and meetings with other communicators on the Hill: journalists, producers, bookers, and staff that I can help or who can help my boss. Maintaining good relationships is a key on Capitol Hill.
I also try to spend as much time as I can on new media and our website to make sure my boss’s message is out on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and the others. New media is crucial to connecting with constituents these days, and even now, so much more news breaks on Twitter.
I also spend a large part of my day and week making sure my boss is on TV and radio to communicate the conservative message. He is fantastic on media, so this is a priority for our office. Running around to make sure the Congressman makes his interview on live TV in the middle of a vote on the House floor can be challenging, but it’s the last minute chaos that makes the job fun!
7. We’re both committed Christians and we’ve spent time discussing our faith. How does your dedication to Christ impact your involvement in the political sphere?
My worldview is directly a result of my faith and relationship with Christ. It was this faith that catapulted me into politics (namely, working to advance the social issues) and if I ever lose perspective of my faith in my work, it’s time to get out. My faith obviously impassions me to do the work I do, to fight for the values I believe in. But, it also does much more than that. In the high-pressure grind of day to day life on Capitol Hill, it’s the “voice behind me saying, ‘this is the way, walk in it.’” (Isaiah 30:19)
8. Everyone gets asked about their favorites and this will help us all get to know you better. So tell us about the following categories, as well as a couple extra you want to toss into the mix: Books, Music, Movies, Hobbies (whatever you do in your spare time…tennis, knitting, golf, polo…like I said, whatever) and Foods?
Books: Manhunt: The 12 Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer and the sequel Bloody Crimes. All things Jane Austen. And right now, I’m reading through the Bible in a year in chronological order of events. I’ve never read it through that way before. It’s neat to read in Samuel about King David running for his life from Saul, then jump over to Psalms and read the prayers he wrote to the Lord at that same time.
Hobbies: I love playing sports, namely tennis and basketball. And of course, I’ll watch sports 24-7 if you’ll let me.
Music and Movies: nothing scary or loud
Foods: I’m slowly learning to cook, but enjoy it much more when I can pay someone to do it for me. It’s a safe bet that if it has guacamole or cheese on it, I’ll be happy as a clam. I’m also trying to break what some would consider a bad habit of going to McDonalds every morning for breakfast.
Restaurants: Madhatter, Five Guys, Gadsbys Tavern, McDonalds
9. Who are 3 inspirational figures to you (famous or unknown; doesn’t matter) who have had an influence on the life you live today and explain how that has happened.
The Rents: At this point in my life, I wouldn’t be anywhere if it hadn’t been for my parents and my grandparents (who lived next door growing up.) Not only were they godly influences who disciplined me to turn out the way I did; they sacrificed to provide me with everything I need to get to where I am.
The Apostle Paul: How can the man who said “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” while in jail not be an inspiration? I go back to his words daily.
Congressman Mike Pence: Grace under pressure. You can’t help but learn from a man who, despite being criticized, many times unfairly, still treats everyone graciously and with respect. For a hot-head like me, having a boss who exhibited that daily was a model influence.
10. You’re still quite young! Where do you feel your career is headed and what are some dreams you’d like to see realized along the way?
Unfortunately, due to my character flaw of a lack of advanced planning (I still have dry cleaning I need to pick up from last month), I usually don’t plan ahead. I know I’m where God wants me now, and since the political world can change on a dime, I will just rely on Him to guide me. I love the press and media world. I have briefly allowed myself to think I would enjoy being the White House Press Secretary down the road. I hope I’m in politics for awhile and when I feel like I’m ready to get out of the fight, I’ve entertained going over to the sports world. Don’t you think it would be fun to be Ochocinco’s publicist?