Name of Professional: Lori McMahon
Profession/Title: Government Affairs
Business/Company name: Toyota
While conducting research for my final product, I have also been researching different career paths within public policy. Through interviews with some of my mentor’s colleagues, I have learned a significant amount regarding different jobs within politics and policy. Recently, I had the pleasure to meet with former Chief of Staff to Congressman Sam Johnson and now lobbyist for Toyota, Lori McMahon, to discuss her role on staff for both Johnson and President George W. Bush. As I walked away from this interview, I felt as if I had a better understanding regarding the responsibilities of staff, as well as how to get involved.
Mrs. McMahon told me about the general dynamic of a Congressional staff office, and how while everyone is political, it is expected of staff members to treat everyone—regardless of their politics—with respect. As I am familiar with the recent dramatic polarization between the two parties in Congress, I further asked how had the Hill changed in the past twenty years. I was surprised by her answer. As she spoke about how the twenty-four-hour news cycle created the idea that someone should always try to make the news, people became intensely aware and critical of how Congressmen and woman acted. She explained that as it suddenly became news if two Congress members of separate parties were seen together, or if a specific member said a controversial statement, the overall tone completely shifted. This always-open eye of the news, in her opinion, made conversations less cooperative and more combative. While the Hill is still civil, Mrs. McMahon greatly believes that the news cycle has had a heavy hand in the dangerously polarized politics of today. I found this interesting, given that I have been using the news to research differing viewpoints on political and policy issues. As I learned about the news’s role in polarization, I began to further consider the weight of the news opinions synthesized with my objective research from this past year.
I left this interview interested in pursuing a job as a staff member for an elected official. When I interviewed Mrs. McMahon regarding some of her responsibilities with the Department of Transportation under the Bush Administration, I was immediately intrigued. She explained that White House staff, and often Congressional staff, members are on the forefront of their field, whether it be transportation, health, education, etc. policy. This, she explained, is because the government has the responsibility of laying the foundation for the future of America. As she was discussing the possibility of autonomous vehicles in 2004, the staff members are tasked with ensuring that there is stability in an unprecedented crisis. Mrs. McMahon proceeded to describe how her department carried out the mass evacuation plans written decades earlier when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. I found this information about staff positions interesting. While I understood that many staff members greatly contribute to research and policy writing, I did not understand to what extent until this interview. I learned a lot regarding how staff members in the executive and legislative branches communicate and work with each other in order to protect the American people currently, as well in the future. As I continued to contemplate on her responses, I realized that I want to further research how Congressional staff members manage to effectively write large policy initiatives for immediate use.
Through ISM, I have learned many things regarding policy work conducted at the local and state level. However, this interview opened my eyes to the role of federal staff members. Having discussed the responsibilities and actions of Congressional and White House staff with Lori McMahon led me to become interested working towards a similar position. Additionally, as she discussed the effort put into different policies and votes, Mrs. McMahon further helped me understand how to examine policy options for my final product.
Date of Interview: February 10, 2017