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Ideas in the Wild: How Jamie Hantman Navigated Washington D.C. by Living Purple in a Red/Blue Town

Jamie Hantman was a high-level White House aide, where she spearheaded work with the U.S. Senate to get two U. S. Supreme Court Justices confirmed. She ran Legislative Affairs for the Department of Justice shortly after 9/11, working with people like Bob Mueller and Ted Olson. Earlier in her career, she spent time on Capitol […]

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Jamie Hantman was a high-level White House aide, where she spearheaded work with the U.S. Senate to get two U. S. Supreme Court Justices confirmed. She ran Legislative Affairs for the Department of Justice shortly after 9/11, working with people like Bob Mueller and Ted Olson. Earlier in her career, she spent time on Capitol Hill and on the fabled “K Street.”

Jamie wrote Heels in the Arena: Living Purple in a Red/Blue Town to take people outside Washington D.C. on a sometimes-humorous journey through her career in politics. Jamie shares how she made it to that first rung on the ladder, and also pulls back the curtain on how some of the most significant political events of the past few decades actually went down.

What led Jamie to write her book and what’s her favorite idea that she shares within those pages? I caught up with her to find answers to those questions and more.

What happened that made you decide to write the book? What was the exact moment when you realized these ideas needed to get out there?

In 2012 I began keeping a running list of ideas and experiences in Evernote. Occasionally I would add something to it, but there was no real plan or sense of urgency on my part.

Then in 2016, I went to see Hamiltonfor the first time and that show hit me like a ton of bricks. One of my biggest takeaways from Lin-Manual Miranda’s creation is that we’re meant to speak our minds, not wait for someone else to step up to the plate. I knew it was time to get serious and put my thoughts and stories out into the world.

What’s your favorite specific, actionable idea in the book?

People engaged in the political arena should make an effort to get to know their adversaries. When you actually sit across from someone, learn about their family and hobbies, break bread with them, you will probably come to realize that they love their country just like you do and simply have different ideas about how to solve our problems.

This will change the way you approach politics, lead to a more civil and open dialogue, and most likely a better outcome for all of us. Most of the time, there is a solution to be found in the middle that will leave everyone happy about some aspects and unhappy about others. That’s the essence of compromise, and compromise shouldn’t be a dirty word.

What’s a story of how you’ve applied this lesson in your own life? What has this lesson done for you?

I married my political adversary! I met my husband, David, when he was working for Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein and I was working for Republican Attorney General John Ashcroft. Then when I was working on Supreme Court confirmations at the White House for George W. Bush, he was leading the charge against our nominees as Chief of Staff to Senator Chuck Schumer. To top it all off, when I went to work for Google, he took a job at Yahoo!

In case you’re wondering how a professional Republican and a professional Democrat working in direct opposition on a daily basis can do this — it was actually a great thing, both for the relationship and for the way I approached my work. How did it help our relationship?

Since most of what we each did every day was not shareable with the other person, it forced us to talk about other things — people, food, books, movies, ideas. DC is primarily a company town, which means many relationships center around discussing what’s happening in politics. That wasn’t an option for us, and it turned out to be a nice thing. When you leave DC, you discover that most people talk about anything other than politics at the end of the day.

This is healthy. I’m glad we had to do it.

For more advice on learning to love your political adversaries, you can find Heels in the Arena: Living Purple in a Red/Blue Town on Amazon.

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