Senator Brown’s (TN) Chief of Staff- Dayna Smith
My eyes fly open. It’s 4:30 in the morning and, like clockwork, like it’s been since college, I’m awake. To my left, Brandon rolls over, mumbles something then slowly pulls the covers over his head. He already knows what’s next- the sounds of footsteps against the wooden floor, drawers flinging open, water exploding from the shower head.
Thirty minutes later, I’m downstairs, clad in a black pantsuit, white blouse and heels, the standard uniform of a Hill staffer. As I place a K-cup in the Keurig machine, I go through Senator Brown’s schedule for the morning in my head: Breakfast with the environmental lobbyists at seven; head to the hill at eight; staff briefing at 8:10; banking committee meeting at 8:30; interview with a Memphis local radio station at 9:30; meeting with the majority leader at 10:30; visit from his niece’s seventh grade class at 11:00am and at 11:30 the Health Care meeting committee meeting- and that meeting is scheduled for four hours.
I sigh and grab my filled cup from the base of the beeping machine. The health care bill. When I joined Senator Brown’s team as his chief of staff two years ago, I was skeptical. What change was I going to make in DC of all places? With a law degree from Yale and masters in communications from George Washington, I didn’t want to be a bobble head for an unknown senator from Tennessee. But then Brown’s docile reputation begin to evolve- he became more vocal about environmental and public health, stricter gun laws, increasing the number qualified minority teachers in public schools. Then he was tapped for the health care bill committee.
What I’ve had to explain to Capitol visitors, clueless family members and my husband over the years is that congress passes several bills over the course of any month. Ninety percent of the time, both sides of the aisle can agree to turn bills related to food, traffic, education to law. It’s the big-ticket items, issues having to do with religion, taxes, labor laws, climate, human rights- that are harder to agree on and that often make the news.
One of such is Senator Maria Kennedy Ramirez’s health care bill. She’s been championing the radical bill for three years now and has managed to bring everyone to the table- both parties, all races, insurance companies, rednecks from the southeast and hippies from the west. Never had the nation seen so much conversation, support, and enthusiasm for a bill before. People were finally reaching across the aisle, talking to each other. Even grouchy president Boriqua, who is never pleased with anything and constantly compares the country to its allies, smiled on the White House lawn two weeks ago and said, “I can’t wait till it gets to my desk.” In the following days, all reporters could talk about was how they didn’t know the president had teeth.
“Hey.” I turn to find Brandon with a towel around his waist smelling of my shampoo.
“Good morning,” I kiss him and begin to stuff files and loose papers into my briefcase.
“Big day?” he asks throwing out my K cup and loading the machine with another.
“When is it never?” I respond. “We have a few more tweaks to the bill, just minor issues- hopefully- then it should be good to.”
He nods and I know he’s barely listening. He turns on the flat screen in the living room and I can hear Cindy Portman, a FOX News White House correspondent discussing the committee meeting later this morning. “I think people are really excited to come to the table and discuss these issues and come to a consensus that will work for the American people,” she says.
“Are you working on this bill?” Brandon asks turning to me, his eyes glistening with joy.
Inwardly I groan and walk towards the door. “Bye sweetheart.”
As I make my way downtown to Meal of Rights, where the lobby breakfast was to take place, I consider Maria Ramiez’s rise to power and more importantly her ability to sustain that power.
“She seems like the kind of woman who stops to kiss babies,” Brandon had said a few years back as we watched one of her campaign speeches. And she was, still is. Maria captured the attention of the country and the world with a quickness that still fascinates and dumbfounds many. For years, decades, maybe even eons, so many people had been talking about the same things- equality, equity, creating systems that work, climate change, strong education systems, student loans, health care for all- but no one was able to make people listen and aspire to those things like Maria did. Not even 44. A survivor of the hurricane that devastated her hometown in 2016, she rose to power not just by her words, but by how she said her words, and her ability to keep them. I worshipped her.
I turn off of Connecticut Avenue and onto K Street and am immediately welcomed by a sea of early commuters in pea coats, briefcases swinging in their hands, ears plugged with headphones, deaf to the world around them. It’s now 6:05 and my phone vibrates.
“Good morning Senator.”
“Hi Dayna. Where is this breakfast again?”
“Meal of Rights, downtown. Your detail has all the information.”
He literally moans. “I can’t find my talking points. I just don’t know why this has to happen today. The focus should be on RezCare.” I’m silent, letting him be this way because everyone once in a while he needs to be.
“Are you there- at the restaurant?” he asks breaking the silence.
“I’m pulling up now sir. We have your talking points and will walk through them with you. Sir, Anna and Dan Wise will be with you most of the day. I have to meet with some staffers before the RezCare meeting.”
Ideally, I shouldn’t even be at the breakfast. But the senator was slow to trust and loved hand holding. Helping him use his communications director, scheduler and legislative director more was my performance goal for the year.
I hang up with him and turn into the parking lot where the environmentalists were shuffling into the restaurant. As I park my phone vibrates. A reminder of my 10:00 am meeting with Maria Ramiez’s chief of staff- an interview to head up her 2044 exploratory committee for president.