Katherine Haley, Trinity ’00, has served as staffer for House and Senate members and committees on Capitol Hill, and now serves as policy advisor to House Speaker John Boehner. Haley has worked on legislation such as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Indian Child Welfare Act and the federal budget. On her way to Ohio to wrap up campaigning for the Republican Party’s 2012 election bid, Haley took some time off to speak to The Chronicle about her life at and after Duke.
The Chronicle: You’ve been in politics for many years—what would you say is the most rewarding part of your career so far?
Katherine Haley: The most rewarding aspect of my career has been meeting remarkable people from all over the country and different parts of the world who have unbelievable stories. They are men and women who are training at-risk youth for jobs, offering innovative solutions to increase access to health care, leading schools that are revolutionizing K-12 education and witnessing HIV/AIDS patients in Zambia have a new lease on life. I’m honored to have been a part of some wonderful legislative teams, working with some outstanding policy experts and developing legislation that has been signed into law.
TC: How do you think Duke prepared you for your career as a policy adviser to House Speaker John Boehner?
KH: Duke is a melting pot of people, ideas and opportunities—it is hard to pick just one thing that helped prepare me. It is also a place that encouraged faith, reflection, perseverance, adventure, hard work and fun—elements that I have found throughout my career.
I was a member of Duke Student Government, which gave me opportunities to see the inner workings of Duke Stores and dining services. I was an active member of LEAPS—the service learning program that gave students tangible opportunities to apply the theories they learned in the classroom. Like many Duke students, I spent a lot of time at the Duke Medical Center volunteering as a patient advocate and conducting clinical research—seeing men and women fight for their lives was inspiring. Serving as a line monitor for several years taught me how to diplomatically say ‘No’ when fans were trying to cut the men’s basketball line—I have to do this often in my current position. I am grateful for the faculty who gave me their time to brainstorm and think through the concepts we were learning in class. Today, my mentors provide perspective, encouragement and a platform to contemplate the legislative issues facing Congress. Finally, the friendships I formed at Duke far surpass anything I could have imagined. These men and women have continued to provide love, support and accountability.
TC: Having worked with Boehner for around four years now, what kind of relationship would you say you have with him?
KH: It has been an honor to serve Speaker Boehner for nearly four years. I worked for him as minority leader and now as speaker. The speaker is a man for whom I have great respect—he is patient, kind, knowledgeable and very hard working. He believes in his staff and we are motivated by a shared vision of ensuring our country’s freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution are protected.
I advise Speaker Boehner on a range of issues, and he takes the points into consideration and acts accordingly. I’ve worked most closely with him on school choice, where we have seen thousands of students benefit from opportunity scholarships that have afforded them a choice in where they go to school.
TC: Recent bipartisanship in the House and Senate has led to a lot of public backlash. What are your insights on the political climate in Washington over the past few years?
KH: Speaker Boehner believes there is a difference between compromise and common ground. He believes it’s possible for members to find common ground with the other party without compromising on principle. One of his goals as speaker has been to create an environment in the House that is conducive to legislating in that fashion. It doesn’t always get headlines, but the House actually passed about three dozen jobs bills over the past two years, most of them with bipartisan support.
We have many new members in Congress who are serving their first or second terms. All members come to Washington with a certain set of principles and have to learn to work within a system of checks and balances. There is common ground between Republicans and Democrats, but members must learn to trust one another again and learn to work together. Congress is facing some very serious, significant issues, and there are very different philosophical beliefs in how to resolve them. Members will recognize that there is common ground to work together to solve very serious problems facing our country.
TC: What are your thoughts on this election’s major issues? What have you done with regard to this election and its campaigns?
KH: Jobs and the economy are the prevailing issues. Unemployment is way too high, and there is too much uncertainty for those trying to grow their businesses. In my personal time, I have volunteered for the Romney campaign in Virginia, and I will spend the waning days of the election in Ohio helping to get out the vote for all of our Republican candidates.
TC: With so many successes behind you and undoubtedly many more to come, what are your hopes for the future?
KH: I was pre-med at Duke and thought I would be a surgeon. While I applied to medical school, I thought it would be fun to work on Capitol Hill because it would help me learn the difference between Medicare and Medicaid. It has been ten years since my first internship and what an adventure. It’s unclear what is next, but I look forward to serving Speaker Boehner for the foreseeable future. We have a lot of work to do.
TC: A large number of Duke’s students are, as always, pursuing degrees and internships in the political arena. With your experience, what advice would you impart to these students?
KH: Interning on Capitol Hill is a wonderful way to learn the inner workings of Congress. Volunteering on a campaign is also a great way to see the political process and understand the grassroots part of politics. If a Duke student is seeking an internship or job, it is helpful to reach out to a campaign or congressional office for which you have a tie—you are from the member’s state, went to college in the district or you have family from a particular town. Members are looking for those who are empathic to the issues most important to their constituents. Of course, students should also reach out to the Duke network. A great friend from Duke is part of the reason I’m still working on Capitol Hill.