One college political science course changed the trajectory of Chase Cushman’s life during his freshman year of college at St. John’s University in Collegeville.
Cushman, a 2002 Monticello High School graduate and the son of Mark and Jean Cushman, had entered college with an English and history major in mind, but this course energized him about the political process.
“I was interested but never really active [in politics] until I started learning about ways to get involved and how much you can actually do as a citizen to get involved in our democracy,” Cushman said. Ten years later, this desire to get involved has led Cushman to a job on President Obama’s staff in Washington, D.C.
His journey to this career started with the completion of his degree in political science, followed by a position with Patty Wetterling’s 2006 congressional campaign. Cushman found himself unemployed once the campaign ended unfavorably for Wetterling, and he spent the next few months living on friends’ couches in Chicago, which was a convenient middle ground for the dozens of interviews he had for positions in either Minnesota or Washington D.C.
In his free time he started volunteering for the Obama campaign in 2007 and, as it turned out, he was offered a job on the campaign at the same time as he was offered a job in a D.C. congressional office.
“It was one of those crossroads moments where I could have either taken the uncertain path of working on a campaign where you really don’t know where it’s going to end, or taking a safe congressional job that I could have indefinitely,” Cushman said, “and I decided to stick with the campaign.”
After the 2008 campaign, Cushman was hired to continue his scheduling work as a White House official.
He described his job as similar to fitting a puzzle together: many different agenda items are placed on the president’s calendar and he and his two scheduling co-workers are charged with making sure all aspects of his schedule are talking with each other.
This involves communicating with the secret service, the military and all of the individuals or organizations the president plans to meet with.
“We make sure all aspects of the White House are talking to each other … like air traffic controllers, more than anything else,” he said.
Cushman travels to foreign countries that the president is scheduled to visit several weeks before his actual visit to meet with the foreign governments, see what they would like the president to do and fit all that into a schedule. Either he or one of his co-workers also accompany the president on the actual trip so he has someone there who knows exactly how things are supposed to happen.
“It’s kind of weird, because you go to a lot of cool places, but you basically do a tour of conference rooms and meeting rooms,” Cushman laughed. “But it has definitely been fun.”
Though he is no longer part of the campaign staff as he was in 2008, Cushman said managing the president’s schedule has gotten particularly busy and complicated with all of his re-election-related events to coordinate in addition to his typical duties as commander-in-chief. When he was Obama’s scheduler as a campaign staffer, the schedule could be focused solely on campaigning, and there weren’t as many elements to coordinate as when he was only candidate Obama. In 2012, there are a lot of balls in the air at all times.
This is one of the reasons Cushman said he enjoys trips home so much: for the peace and quiet and the ability to recharge. He said day-to-day life in Washington D.C. is a lot different than his hometown. For one, he noted the benefit of being able to walk to pretty much anywhere he needs to go in D.C., but he admits he misses the people, conversations and quiet that Monticello provides.
“It’s never quiet here, there’s always traffic or sirens or noise,” he said.
He also noted differences in the people he communicates with. In Washington D.C., he said it seems everyone works in or with the government in some capacity.
“You kind of end up having the same conversations with people over and over again, whereas back home it’s definitely more laid-back, and people don’t want to talk to you about work – they just want to talk to you about what’s going on in your life,” Cushman said.
Cushman’s career plans and future steps are largely up in the air right now, depending on the results on Nov. 6. He likes his job, but depending on the circumstances he said he might find himself going back to school, moving back home to Minnesota or staying in D.C. Eventually, he said he’d like to slow down and start a family with his wife, Ashley.
And as for what Cushman would like to tell his hometown community members, he wholeheartedly encourages people to get to the polls Nov. 6, and encourages residents to take part in the process in other ways as well.
“Politics have a bad rap of being an ugly business, but for the most part the people I’ve met in politics do it … because they love their country and they want to change something about it,” Cushman said. “That’s a truism regardless of party. So I would say don’t get turned off and cynical about it and, instead, participate.
It takes people from all different ideas and parties and beliefs to make it actually work, and that’s the great thing about it. It’s noisy, it’s loud, it’s sometimes messy, but the more people involved in doing it, the better it is.”