Some hot-button issues are fleeting and some are perennial. According to Margaret Klessig Edmunds, the new chief of staff at ImmigrationWorks USA, immigration is an issue that "endures."
Edmunds has engaged this radioactive issue throughout her career as an aide to Republican members of the Arizona delegation, including former Rep. Jim Kolbe, Sen. Jon Kyl and Rep. Jeff Flake, for whom she was chief of staff from 2005-09. As a legislative correspondent for Kyl, Edmunds recalls "working on several detailed and lengthy constituent letters" addressing "concerns about what was happening on the border."
Edmunds arrives at ImmigrationWorks USA after a year at home, where she answered to "one constituent who is extremely demanding." Last summer, Edmonds stepped down as Flake's top aide to spend time with her young son. "But he's off to preschool now, and so this opportunity came along at a very fortuitous moment. I have had a year to decompress and take a breath and get used to being off the Hill."
Edmunds' first exposure to the Hill came as an intern for Kolbe while an undergraduate at Boston College.
"You can take a bunch of political science courses, but when you actually see things happening right in the office where you're working ... it made a big impression on me, and I immediately began plotting to see how I could get back as soon as possible."
After graduating, Edmunds was hired by Kyl as a legislative correspondent, eventually transferring to Flake's office, but with a slight detour along the way. She had studied abroad in Florence as an undergraduate and left Kyl's office to teach English in Rome for six months. Upon her return to Washington, she worked briefly for the lobbying firm Cassidy & Associates before joining Flake's office as a legislative assistant. Edmunds was promoted to legislative director in late 2002 and named chief of staff in early 2005. She was a member of the Senate-House team that negotiated the 2005 McCain-Kennedy comprehensive immigration reform bill.
Even though her hours on the Hill were "not super family-friendly," Edmunds misses the "little things, like being able to call the Cloak Room ... and knowing what's going on."
"Everybody talks about the long hours and the low pay and the hostile constituents ... and that's definitely true. But you're really at the center of the storm, and no matter where else you could go in D.C., you're always going to be on the outside looking in, unless you were to go to work at the White House -- obviously, that's a different storm."
This article appears in the Sep. 18, 2010, edition of National Journal Daily.