The Columns

Working the National Conventions

— by on August 3rd, 2016

W&L was well represented by five alumni and one current undergraduate working at the Republican National Convention, held July 18-21, in Cleveland. One week later, Jake Barr ’16 worked the Democratic National Convention, held July 25 -28 in Philadelphia. (Rising senior Steven Yeung served as one of the DNC’s youngest delegates, and you can read his account of the experience here).

Here’s what the convention staffers had to say about the experience:

Scott McClintock ’12, Political Science

I have been working in politics for the past four years managing campaigns, acting as personal aide to Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, serving as executive director of Gov. Bryant’s inauguration and now working at the Republican National Convention.

At the RNC, I served as special projects manager for the Operations Department — allocating over 1 million square feet of space, managing the overall build-out schedule of the arena transformation, and essentially taking on anything that doesn’t have a category.

After three years in the office of the governor, I knew that I enjoyed logistics and people, so the Republican National Convention was a perfect fit for me. Additionally, Cleveland was a world away for me, so I jumped at the opportunity to spend half a year in a completely new environment (winter was tough!). In six months, I’ve watched this convention grow from ideas on paper to lights on a podium.

The city after the Cavs won the NBA title was amazing. However, because Cleveland took seven games to win, the convention was left with four weeks to perform a complete venue overhaul in what is typically a six-week build-out. Completing the same amount of work in two fewer weeks has resulted in some late nights and early mornings. And for a while, we were preparing to host three campaigns in what would have been a contested convention.

In managing special projects in the operations division, my work spanned from PhotoShopping maps and planning fireworks shows to setting up doublewide trailers and giving tours to visiting governors. The breadth of responsibilities, I believe, directly correlates with my liberal arts education and ability to dissect and address problems of all varieties rather than having a tunneled skill set.

Cameron Dorsey ’14, Art History

I worked for a small PAC fundraising and event planning firm in Washington, D.C.

For the convention, I was the manager of hotel data, meaning I contracted and assigned 17,000 hotel rooms in the greater Cleveland area for the 80,000 credentialed attendees of the convention. I then moved onto the campaign side and did advance work for the Trump campaign. This role included strategizing which surrogate (or spokesperson) went to each delegation event, and then staffing these events to keep the surrogate on message.

I am originally from Cleveland and was one of the first people on the ground for the RNC, starting in February 2015 (over a year and a half ago!). The opportunity fulfilled my desire to give back to my city and support the Republican cause. It was like killing two birds with one stone.

The most exciting aspect of this experience is getting to work with such fascinating and accomplished people from around the country. They have such amazing stories, spanning decades.

W&L taught me to be honest. That can be a unique quality in the political world, but one that people appreciate. It also taught me to be efficient, yet detail-oriented. That was incredibly important when dealing with the minute details of assigning 17,000 rooms.

Joy Lee ’12L

After a post-graduate fellowship in Charlottesville, I moved to D.C. to work for the District of Columbia Public Employee Relations Board. Most recently, I was an attorney advisor at the Federal Labor Relations Board.

I was an attorney in the legal division for the 2016 Republican National Convention. I advised the counsel and convention officers and staff on regulatory compliance, and I drafted, revised and edited contracts for venues, hotels, independent contractors, official providers, the 2016 RNC Freedom Marketplace, caterers and more. I also represented the convention’s interests in contract negotiations and other interactions with state parties and delegations, state and local officials, and representatives from corporate entities and the host committee.

This was my first job in politics. Up until this position, I had only worked in politics on an individual and volunteer basis in state and local campaigns. I wanted to transition into politics and had learned about this opportunity through the Republican National Lawyers Association (RNLA) after volunteering at the RNLA Election Law Seminar. I first applied for the position in October 2015, interviewed in January 2016 and then came on board about a month later. There were about 50 people on staff at that point, and we built up to about 120 by the end (in addition to hundreds of volunteers).

The most fascinating aspect of this experience has been seeing how a National Special Security Event (NSSE), an event of national or international significance deemed by the United States Department of Homeland Security, comes together, and getting to know each person who worked to make it possible. The convention is the second-largest media-credentialed event in the world, behind the Olympics. Because of what’s at stake, the convention often attracts the best of the best in each respective field (logistics, communications, security, IT, etc.), and it’s been an honor to be a part of this team.

W&L taught me a lot of things, but I believe its honor code is what will remain with me forever. There are plenty of gray areas in politics and in life, in general, so it’s that much more imperative to have and to unwaveringly hold onto a set of morals.

Bill Greener ’72, American History and Psychology

I have been engaged in public policy-politics-government service. I have worked in the White House, headed public affairs at the Department of Energy, been in charge of both the political and communications divisions at the RNC, served as CEO of the 1996 convention, and been program coordinator for the 2008 convention. In 1998, I became the founding partner of Greener and Hook, a strategic communications firm serving Republican candidates and organizations, individual companies, and ad hoc groups.

For this convention, I was the program director — responsible for developing the content of the program, as well as directing official proceedings and supervising production (meaning I make sure what Executive Producer Phil Alongi wants, Phil Alongi gets).

I came at the request of the convention, the RNC and the Trump campaign. I arrived on Thursday, June 23.

Going from a blank piece of paper to an actual program in the length of time we had remaining to accomplish the task — were it not for Jeff Larson (CEO of the convention), Reince Priebus (chair of the Republican National Committee) and Paul Manafort (Trump’s campaign chair) and their support and leadership, it would never have happened. I am in their debt.

W&L prepared me in two ways.  First, understanding the Honor System is not just words on a page but a way of life is a guiding light in all that I attempt to do. Second, I learned how to formulate the right questions to ask, a process to go about getting them answered, and creating criteria to evaluate the answers generated.

Dustin Olson ’02, Politics

Since graduation, I have managed campaigns or consulted for political organizations at all levels across the country, with a few stints working in government on Capitol Hill and in the Bush Administration. In 2006, I founded Olson Strategies & Advertising, a political consulting firm specializing in advocacy, fundraising and campaigns. We have offices in Colorado and Ohio. In 2009, I met my wife, Carolyn, while helping Congressman Joe Wilson ’69 win reelection.

At the convention, I worked with fellow W&L alumnus Bill Greener ’72 on the Program Team. Specifically, I did all of the video elements for the convention. Bill brought me in when he accepted the role of program director.

It was an honor to work with so many talented people. In particular, the production team — many of whom are former television journalists — who are amazing and responsible for the razzle-dazzle that makes it a show.

I would not have a career in politics if it weren’t for the Contact Committee at W&L. Many of the speakers we brought to campus made a lasting impact on me and opened up doors I would not have had access to otherwise.

Jake Barr ’16, History and Politics

Working at the Democratic National Convention was an amazing and unforgettable experience. At the convention I was on the backstage credentialing team. Our job was to distribute temporary backstage and podium passes to speakers, staffers and event employees. During my week in Philadelphia, I had the fortune of meeting many of my heroes and having a behind-the-scenes view of the incredible amount of effort that goes into coordinating the many moving pieces of the convention. In my time at Washington and Lee, I was on the Steering Committee for Mock Convention, and it was remarkable to see the similarities between the preparation, coordination and execution of our Mock Convention and the real thing. I still cannot believe that I had a front-row seat to history. Go Hillary! #ImWithHer