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Crafting Policy in an Evolving Landscape

juven jacob featured image copy of congressional spotlight interviewThis week, we spoke to Juven Jacob, Director of Operations and Policy Advisor for the Office of Representative Marcy Kaptur (D-OH, 9).

Can you tell me about your career path that you’ve taken that’s led you to where you are now?

This might be going a bit too far back, but I remember being a teenager when we figured out who we were as individuals. I remember knowing I was a bit different from the other adolescents. After I figured out I was LGBTQ+, I remember researching federal and state laws and was surprised to learn there were laws against me. Of course, at the time, I was not out, so I kept my findings to myself, but that’s the spark that I credit to learning more than just reading about our history in school.

Also, my father, at the time, was going through a transition at work, and we struggled for a few years with paying the mortgage and having to go to the local church to get groceries to eat.

I started volunteering at a young age (about 17) with candidates running for office that aligned with my policy views. I remember being in the front office answering phones and a reporter from the Houston Chronicle calling, and I freaked out because it was the press. There, I learned how political campaigns work, how the team decides on policy, and how they interact with voters and would-be constituents.

I always wanted to do political campaigns and public service on the national level. Many friends tried to steer me to Austin, TX, to do it in the state capitol, but my interest and focus was on the national stage.

In 2012, leading up to the Presidential election, I finally decided to put things in motion and move to Washington. I sold my car and house, and in 2013, moved in with a friend to save money.

I secured a fellowship with President Obama’s post-election organization, Organizing for Action. It was not paid, but I knew it was my ticket to DC and to pursue my dream. With some friends on board and a whole lot of them thinking I was crazy to quit a good job as a Communications Director, I packed up two suitcases and moved to DC.

After the fellowship, I had odd jobs here and there and then finally landed at the Smithsonian Institution as the Special Assistant to the Communications Director. At the time, it was Evelyn Lieberman. Mrs. Lieberman was a well-known communications strategist and President Clinton’s Deputy Chief of Staff. Her mentorship and guidance opened many doors for me in public service and the campaign trail. I eventually went on the campaign trail for Hillary Clinton and President Biden and then opened my own consulting practice, launching races of my own from commissioners to U.S. representatives.

I knew I had not conquered my lasting ambition to secure a job in Congress, so in 2021, after the 2020 election, I worked to secure a position on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform under the leadership of former Representative Carolyn Maloney.

From there, my public service flourished in committee and personal offices of several United States Representatives.

Which specific policy areas or legislative issues are you most passionate about, and how do you stay informed and engaged in those areas?

My passion and focus are primarily on effectively communicating the complex and confusing world of legislating to the American people in easy-to-understand terms.

If I had to narrow down a policy area, I would say sensible gun reform, LGBTQ+ issues, and income inequality. I have specific alerts on Prolegis and Politico Pro for issues important to my boss and for advancing our priorities. I am a voracious reader following the news closely from various outlets, and I have my trusty RSS Feed connected to hundreds of sites that I can and have essential tags as well.

Describe a challenging or rewarding project that significantly influenced your growth as a professional. How did you handle the challenge, and what did you learn from the experience?

I have always said that the greater the fear, the greater the risk, the greater the reward. It was tremendously scary to quit a job and move across the country, but I prepared myself as much as I could, saved money, and took the risk. After all, if I didn’t make it, I could always return to Texas and find something else to do on the state level. It was again scary to quit my job and go on the campaign trail, knowing that I wouldn’t have a job after, but I again took the risk, believed in myself, and knew I would figure my way out. Again, I took an internship with my experience level, knowing that I might be taking a few steps back, but I knew it was a huge step forward in working in Congress and public service.

Every one of those decisions was tough; I was turned down for hundreds of jobs, and I might have gotten knocked down, but I didn’t want to give up on my dreams. It is not easy. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without counsel and guidance from friends, from long nights of pondering, and yes, some nights crying, but it all made me a stronger person, and I grew each time.

What advice would you give to individuals who aspire to work on Capitol Hill?

Take your chance. Honestly, what is the worst that can happen? You get turned down, you don’t get a callback, and someone doesn’t answer your email.

Sign up for the House and Senate job placements. The fastest way into a staff position is to take an internship if possible.

Use your networks to see if anyone is willing to give you a good recommendation.

What do you believe sets Capitol Hill apart as a unique work environment, and how do you navigate its challenges in your everyday work?

It’s 535 individual offices and individual committees are run separately. Yes, there are a lot of overlaps, but every office is unique, and when you feel you learned everything there is to know on Capitol Hill, you move offices or committees, and it is a whole new learning environment with new acronyms along with it.

Word association, what is the first word that comes to mind for each of these?

Policy – Strategy

Networking – Friends

Writing Skills – Important

Working on the Hill – Fulfilling

Leadership Connect – Resource

To be featured or learn more, reach out to Gabi Thomas, and spread the word to any colleagues who would be interested.

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Gabi Thomas

Gabi joined Leadership Connect as a Research Analyst and is now the Legislature Outreach Liaison.