I never knew DC would become one of the great loves of my life.
I never thought about this big place much before I moved here on a whim — then stayed for nearly 10 years.
I never knew THIS would be the place many dreams would come true. I didn’t even know I had some of those dreams — and they came true anyway.
I always said I didn’t care about having a real career. I just wanted to be happy. Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans, they say. And so it did.
There are about a million people, places and things to acknowledge when I talk about this great life I’ve head here in our nation’s capital for the past decade. This is JUST the professional side but there’s a lot to be said for it.
**And, be warned, this is the most name-dropping thing I will ever write but I only did so as I tried to recall all the cool people I’ve met and experiences I’ve had in my career. I’ve no doubt forgotten someone or something really important that I will kick myself for leaving out but….without further ado…
The Beginning (2006)
I came here as an early 20-something with everything ahead of me. I mean, that’s why I WAS here at all. I was a year out of college and said to myself — you can do ANYTHING in the world right now, self, what do you want to do?
There were two options at the end of the day:
1) Move to Nashville and try to work in country music (another great love of my life!) or
2) Move to DC and try to work in politics.
I was new to really following politics passionately but regularly read Townhall.com. It was there, as I sat surfing the Internet at my job at a hotel, that I spotted a journalism internship through the National Journalism Center and Young America’s Foundation.
I actually never did any internships in college and figured I would have the cred to get something cool like that in DC. The next thing I knew, I was interviewing and had landed an internship at the Washington Examiner newspaper.
Before I knew it, I was packing up and moving to DC alone & absolutely terrified mostly of using public transportation. When I arrived to Dulles (silly little me had no idea everyone hates Dulles if they live in the city) and Super Shuttled it down to Mass Avenue NE, I was actually trying to figure out if it was possible to never take the metro at all. I didn’t understand it and thought I was going to look like a complete idiot. Well, obviously, that didn’t last long.
Soon, I was hopping on and off at Farragut North, blasting “Suddenly I See This is Where I’m Supposed To Be” in my headphones, feeling like it was truly the theme song of my life.
My first week at my internship, I was starstruck to meet Newt Gingrich in an editorial meeting. We did introductions around the table, “Ericka Andersen, intern” I said meekly wondering why they were even letting me speak.
Over the next month, I met multiple politicians and even had lunch at at the Maryland Governor’s Mansion WITH Governor Robert Ehrlich. Interns do cool stuff in this city!
By the end of my internship, I began to realize that the conservative movement in Washington welcomes us young newbies like family. Everyone was nice, helpful, thirsting for new talent and fresh ideas — I felt so welcome and like this is where I was supposed to be.
My First REAL Job (2007)
Cut to months later when I landed my first real job at Human Events newspaper (“Ronald Reagan’s favorite newspaper!”) and being actually colleagues with Ann Coulter, thanks to some fast friends I made upon first arriving (thank you Amanda Carpenter for tipping me off and recommending me for my first job!) At the time, my “new” friend Michelle was working for legendary DC reporter Robert Novak, also known as “the Prince of Darkness.”
She was helping him research his autobiography, by the same name. Of course, it was a big deal when the book came out — I mean, Novak was BIG, respected, a name that will go down in history. Luckily, Michelle opted to take me as her date to the big book party. Among the high brow guests at the party were current Vice-President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne.
Here I was, less than a year into living in DC, and I was literally rubbing elbows with the Vice-President of the United States? UNREAL. Michelle and I went up and introduced ourselves to the VP — it was maybe the most awkward moment of my life. But I did it — and quickly rushed outside to call my Dad — DAD! I JUST MET THE VICE-PRESIDENT…OF THE UNITED STATES! (no photo unfortunately!)
**I had to call my Dad because I was only here because of him. It was him who got me reading Townhall.com, who encouraged me to apply to the internship, to believe that I could do whatever I wanted here in DC.
That same year — just a year into my big adventure — I’d be interviewing Senators and Congressmen and attending press conferences on Capitol Hill — and earn hate articles aimed at my writing from progressive websites like Media Matters.
I sat in editorial meetings with Presidential candidates like Fred Thompson, Mitt Romney and John McCain. I shook hands with Pat Sajak (well known conservative) from Wheel of Fortune, went to Laura Ingraham’s book party and met Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
I couldn’t believe it. I was living in Washington, DC working as political journalist, just like a journalism major would dream of doing. I was making a living as a writer — a REAL writer. How did this even happen? In addition to that, I was asked to appear on Fox News and MSNBC as a commentator based on my reporting, numerous political radio shows and more.
I got to go to a White House Press Briefing and shake hands with White House Press Secretary Tony Snow, one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.
It was beyond what I ever imagined.
I remember passing MSNBC’s Chris Matthews in the hallway and sitting on live television next to Norah O’Donnell. Despite that whole thing not being for me, it was an amazing experience to have.
I was living the life — rooming with two great new friends, going out in Dupont Circle and Georgetown on the weekends, meeting all kinds of influential individuals, gaining work experience and having a blast.
It wasn’t long before, I was asked to join a startup website that wanted to pay me way more than I ever dreamed (re: um, not really that much but from what I was making, it was a lot!). I left my first “real” job to gamble on something new. You live and you learn, right? Despite the failure of Culture11, I still met people that helped me out along the way — and inspired me, like conservative icon Bill Bennett and David Kuo, who passed away recently of brain cancer. I also got the chance to do an exclusive interview — one on one — with Andrew Breitbart just before he propelled into real fame. It was as awesome as you might imagine :)
The setback propelled me into the next phase of my career, which was better than I could have imagined. What to do next? Again, my Dad was there to push me along. Why don’t you go work for Mike Pence? He said.
Dad, you can’t just “go work for Mike Pence.” Yes, I was from Indiana but I had no experience on Capitol Hill and didn’t know anyone who worked there. But, sometimes a little effort is all it takes. Hop to it, Ericka!
I hopped on Linked In and searched “Mike Pence” to see if I had any connections with anyone that was associated with Pence. I had one connection — with his press secretary — from my time as a reporter. It was at this time I had become very interested in what everyone was calling “new media.” I met with a few folks who did “new media” for Congress and asked…what exactly do you do? This was what I wanted to do next. As it turned out, social media and all things digital were next up.
I inquired with my contact if Mike Pence was hiring for anyone to do “new media.” Would you believe…he actually WAS? THe next thing I knew, I was hired for my dream job working at the House Republican Conference under one of the most respected conservative lawmakers in the country.
I would never take back my time working on Capitol Hill. The hustle and excitement of the House everyday was everything you’d imagine — watching Speaker Boehner and Paul Ryan rush through the halls, hearing rumors of celebrities making visits to the Hill. Working with the digital team of Conference, I had access to all the GOP members, as we taped them for weekly videos, and I organized blogger conference calls, meetings and interviews.
I met regularly with communications directors from every office and set up training sessions for GOP offices to start learning and using social media effectively. I’m became immersed in Twitter and Facebook best practices, and very passionate about the power and potential of social media in politics. I was impressed by those Members of Congress, like Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who loved social media and helped push the GOP forward in that regard, creating the New Media Caucus and leading the way (she still does that, by the way!)
In the midst of all this job hopping, I was getting well-connected and ingrained to a fabulous network of bloggers. Bloggers and the blogging community have been “my people” from the beginning, when I first discovered RedState and began blogging there. To this day, I value the relationships I’ve developed there, with people like Melissa Clouthier, Erik Telford, Ben & Caleb Howe, Kira Davis, Emily Zanotti and SO MANY others I couldn’t possibly name them all but who I’ve so loved over the years. I’ve also been inspired by so many citizen journalists out there working hard and making difference for very little pay, uncovering stories and keeping government accountable…it’s all been part of why I love doing what I do.
That One Time
There were other cool things that happened while working on the Hill, like the time I snuck into onto the red carpet for the White House Correspondent’s Dinner. My friend Jason Mattera told me, “just walk on like you belong” and so we did. Inside the reception area, I met an actress from “Army Wives” and scooted by Jenny McCarthy (I am 99% sure that’s who I am remembering.) It was just after the movie, “Charlie Wilson’s War” had come out — which I loved. And would you believe who was sitting a a corner chair surrounded by women? CHARLIE WILSON! I made a point of introducing myself, not that my name mattered of course, but I had to do it! I didn’t get in the pic but I took this one of him with Michelle:
Well, the entire night, the one person I really wanted to see was Ben Affleck. It was reported he would be there but after a few hours, we figured it wasn’t going to happen. Since we couldn’t actually get into the dinner, we went out front to wait for a cab. There, the entire entrance deserted except for me and my two friends, pulled up a car with Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner.
In what felt like an out-of-body experience, I jumped up and feverishly asked him if we could please take a photo with them. Ben was NOT excited to be bothered (that much was obvious) but his lovely wife urged him to be nice and take the photo. I couldn’t have cared less if he didn’t like it. Michelle and I got our photo with Ben and Jen — and that pretty much made the rest of my year. Epic :)
After two years of working for the GOP Conference, Pence’s tenure was ending and it was time to move on. I had no idea what to do next and immediately applied for a job with my hometown Congressman, Todd Young. They had already filled the comms position there, and recommended I interview with another Indiana representative, Todd Rokita. Within a few weeks, I was hired as Communications Director for Rokita and began another exciting job change.
It was tougher than I expected and what I learned there was this: Members of Congress really need both a Comms Director AND a Press Secretary, not two in one. Unfortunately, freshmen members don’t always have that luxury. I ended up feeling run into the ground and wasn’t a happy camper in my new position. While some people might thrive in that kind of high pressure, go-go-go environment, I missed the rest of my life.
Thankfully, within months, I was approached by the Heritage Foundation to apply for an opening in their digital department. I wasn’t keen to take another new job so soon but after five months of being a Communications Director for a very busy House Freshman, I had to bolt when I was offered the job at a salary I couldn’t refuse.
Working at Heritage was one of the best decisions I ever made — and shout out to Rory Cooper — who sought me out to take the job. It ended up being a fantastic work environment and I had some amazing co-workers. I was excited to use my digital and social skills for this amazing conservative organization with a huge, excellent reputation.
I have always said, it is such a pleasure to work people who LIKE their job, who come to work committed to a vision and for a great purpose. That’s how it felt at Heritage and being led by Ed Feulner and Jim DeMint both was a privilege. At Heritage, I continued to have the opportunity to meet and work with some amazing individuals, like Condoleezza Rice, Michelle Malkin and more. You never knew who would walk through the doors of the Heritage Foundation…maybe the President of a tiny foreign country, the head of any number of large organizations or perhaps Charles Krauthammer, George Will or Donald Rumsfeld.
And maybe just maybe you get an exclusive invite to an address from former President George W. Bush — and you are in a room so small, so close you could touch him but then he is whisked away by “his people” and your dream of actually meeting him is gone in an instant. But…close enough, right?
Believe it or not, I also got to meet Ben Affleck AGAIN, when the awesome James Carafano, my Heritage colleague who was testifying on the Hill on the DRC, invited me to be his guest at the hearing. Affleck was testifying alongside him and since I had recently traveled to DRC, I was so pumped to go. I made my way to good old Ben again, shook his hand thanked him for the work he was doing in Congo. He was…again…not very friendly and seemed annoyed but oh well! :)
Side note: There are so many AMAZINGLY smart, awesome individuals at Heritage, like people that used to be heads of divisions of the CIA and commanded special forces and speak a million languages. I was lucky to work with some of the smartest policy people this country has to offer.
Heritage also gave me the chance to travel around the country to conferences like South by Southwest, where I began to learn so much more about digital media and was able to actually get one of our staffers on a panel in Austin. I heard speeches from Chelsea Clinton and Mark Cuban and a ton of other awesome voices make waves in the tech space.
Over the years, I’ve participated in tons of wonderful conferences, like Right Online, CPAC, Campaigns & Elections & more — being invited to speak as an expert on social media has been such a highlight.
I also had one of the best bosses and mentors I could have ever imagined in Rob Bluey. Rob was actually one of the first people I met in Washington and had always been so helpful in introducing me to people — he’s the ultimate connector! I have been so fortunate to work for Rob and many other wonderful people in my career — people like my editor at Human Events, Jed Babbin, who truly helped give me confidence and growth as a young writer.
Along the way, I’ve worked some phenomenonal people and organizations — the list is so long I dare not start naming names and places but there are SO many of you who’ve been a pleasure to get to know and who have been such an encouragement along the way. At numerous events and happy hours, receptions and Twitterfests, debate parties and Google Hangouts…I’ve truly talked with some of the most lovely people, so devoted to the cause of freedom and making this country and this world a better place through policy, writing, debate, polling, tech and passion.
I’ve come a LONG way since entering DC as a naive, young conservative Republican. I’m still a conservative Republican but my views have matured, my understanding has deepened and I’ve had a truly inside look at Congress, corruption, elections, the grassroots, the establishment and more.
Today, I’m working for yet another legendary conservative institution, National Review, founded by William F. Buckley. It’s a privilege to work here now under Rich Lowry and Jack Fowler, who are continuing my good fortune in having a litany of wonderful bosses! Though I am moving to Indiana, I get to take my conservative cred with me, as I’ll continue my job working with digital and social for National Review. I’m so thankful to keep my DC roots with me in the Midwest and look forward to staying connected and working with many of the people I’ve worked with for years! I’m also continuing my side work with the Steamboat Institute, another wonderful, up and coming organization that is doing great work. In fact, this summer I was able to meet Dr. Ben Carson while at their yearly conference:
My career certainly isn’t the only thing I will miss about DC — this career I never intended to have. I couldn’t pack all the memories and love of this life into one LONG post. But I did want to say how grateful I am for all the people who have helped me get to where I am today…and all those who have read about my life here on this blog. Thank you! I’m going to miss so much about this crazy, crazy city called Washington, DC.
Plus, I doubt I’ll ever be on scene to meet so many presidential candidates within one year when I’m in Indiana — but…let the new chapter of life begin :)