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Leading Through Policy and People

Alexander Scharfetter This week, we spoke to Alexander Scharfetter, Deputy Chief of Staff and District Director for the Office of Representative Brad R. Wenstrup.

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

My first job as a Congressional staffer began in 2012 with Rep. Bill Johnson, a member in rural Eastern & Southeastern Ohio in a one room office doing field outreach and casework. I continued with Rep. Johnson in various roles for three years until I moved to Southwest Ohio to work for Former Speaker of the House, John Boehner on his Ohio team. Working for the Speaker was quite an experience for the short tenure I was there before his retirement. Having the opportunity to be part of Team Boehner and a large well-organized team was invaluable to learning how successful political/official operations can run.

Beginning in 2016, I was then connected with my current boss, Rep. Brad Wenstrup, who represents Southern Ohio. I have had the privilege to work for him and grow with the team for the last eight years starting as his campaign manager, then becoming his District Director and now hold the current role of Deputy Chief & District Director.

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

Pocketbook & economic issues are what I’m most passionate about. Whether that is tax credits, marginal tax rates, or regulations that impact Americans on a day-to-day basis. It is amazing when you can see the impact of good of economic policies and legislation. Having firsthand interactions with business owners, families and individuals and talking about dollars and cents is always exciting to connect back to the polices that let them keep more of what they earn or grow their investments or business. I generally stay informed and engaged through think tank reports and other white papers, reading various online news outlet, listening to books, and I’m a sucker for talk radio and Twitter…or X.

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?

One challenging project I’ve encountered was the reintroduction of Community Project Funding (CPF) in 2021 and the need for our team to build out a framework and criteria for accepting local community projects. It was a difficult project because this type of process had not existed on the Hill for over 10 years, and we were given a short timetable to get our office’s process up and running. Tackling the project head on, I was very fortunate to be able to work directly with our great legislative director at the time to formulate criteria that my boss was comfortable with and enlisted guidelines on our requests to ensure they were limited in scope and worthy use of federal funds. Since that initial year, we have continued to refine the process, have been extremely successful in securing local priorities and have deepened engagement within the district’s communities.

Working as a congressional staffer is exciting because you are exposed to constant information, issues, challenges and people. The landscape is constantly shifting, and you have to be willing to be rooted in core beliefs but also willing to adapt to the environment and the job or tasks in front of you each day. To best navigate the job, I try to stay positive, enjoy learning new things and take on challenges as opportunities to grow.

In your role as Deputy Chief of Staff and District Director, strong leadership is essential for keeping the team motivated and focused on the office’s agenda, especially when navigating numerous issues. What are a few strategies or techniques you employ to inspire and motivate your team, ensuring that everyone remains committed to achieving the office’s objectives despite any challenges they may face?

I believe the most important part of keeping an office and team all swimming in the same direction is clear and concise communication. We are fortunate to have fostered excellent DC-District relationships where each of the respective staff knows each other and understand each other’s roles. Whether that’s our health staff talking to one of our field staff to reach a local hospital or a caseworker noticing a trend or uptick in casework that’s related to a specific policy and then calling that LA. Having that communication produces a more consistent and coherent work product while also fostering a better understanding of issues, stakeholders and enhances everyone’s pride in their work. When you have folks that enjoy the team and the environment in which they work it makes for a great workplace.

Leadership often involves guiding and mentoring others. What is an example of how you’ve supported the professional development of your team members, helping them grow in their roles and excel in their skill sets?

When leading a team, you have to be willing to show your team you trust them. Our caseworkers are some of the best in the business and I believe that is because of a few key things: 1) a great member that sets a vision, mission and expectation for excellence for our constituents, 2) clear communication and team spirit (we all help each other, and talk things through on the tough days) and 3) ownership in areas of expertise (this allows the team to take a deeper dig into the issues they work daily).

With this, we’ve been able to train within, but also allow team members to supplement knowledge though conferences, retreats and networking with other offices and even agencies directly. Our approach allows our team to grow and become subject matter experts in their areas, which is a great personal benefit to them, but also benefits those we serve because they know how to ask the right questions and press the issues.

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

Policy – Improvements

Networking – LinkedIn

Writing Skills – Undergrad

Working as a congressional staffer – Exciting

Leadership Connect – Positive

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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Gabrielle Thomas

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