The Wheaton Record: Inside D.C.: Alumni Perspectives

Published: January 26, 2017

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By Sarah Holcomb

The Lobbyist

When she arrived in D.C., Jennifer Bell ‘93 was a 29-year-old speech pathologist — an outsider. Her class schedule, like Noetzel’s, never included a political science course. Her major: French.

Moving to Washington with her husband, a fellow Wheaton grad, Bell found a part-time job at a local hospital and decided to intern at Congress at the same time. That decision launched her 15-year journey through the world of public policy, which would reinvent her career, eventually leading her to co-found her own healthcare-focused lobbying firm.

As she ushered us through her home into an airy room decorated with white linen, the house seemed to stand worlds away from the buzzing streets of downtown Washington. Yet Capitol Hill is a better reflection of Bell’s mission than the quiet, wooded hill where her house sits. Bell loves the way that Washington is “concentrated” with ambitious people — go-getters gathered from around the country and the world.

Washington D.C. is a company town, Bell said — only the “company” is the federal government.

Bell’s lack of experience and “preconceived ideas” about policy making allowed her to stand out in the world of Washington, which focused on ideology. Unlike many of her colleagues developing healthcare legislation, Bell possessed a rare perspective: that of a “real person that had a real job.”

“I understand the practical implications of some of the laws we were trying to change,” she told us. That knowledge helps her to address the various needs of her clients, who include organizations like hospitals, associations of doctors and companies or CEOs.

Today, as a professional who works on behalf of clientele largely outside of the political hub, it isn’t surprising that Bell supports “outsiders” who seek to renovate Washington. It’s one reason why she supported President Trump early in the primary season when most of her colleagues did not.

“I live here and work here, but I love disruption,” she said. “I think this is a town that’s too static in its patterns.” Bell noted that her perspective reflects that of her home state, Vermont, whose suspicious and self-reliant attitude caused it to refuse to join the 13 colonies until later when it became the 14th state. “I kind of like the idea that there will be this dynamite thrown in there,” she said of the new administration.

Nevertheless, it’s “good to have a mix” of experienced politicians and newcomers, Bell added. “There’s a lot of expertise in Washington that kind of stays here.”

Learning and practicing integrity is critical in D.C., Bell said. “You can build it over time and destroy it really fast.” She stressed the need for Christians in Washington to exercise honesty and consideration. “You can have strong opinions, but do your research and take someone else’s perspective,” she said. “Try to understand what they think and build relationships.”