Left to right: Jennifer Siebel Newsom, Katie Prisco-Buxbaum and California Governor-elect Gavin Newsom. Prisco-Buxbaum served as Finance Director for Newsom’s campaign.
By David Ertischek ’01
November’s midterm elections shook up the nation’s political landscape, with the Democratic Party gaining more seats in the House of Representatives since 1974 and the Republicans winning tight races to hang on to the majority in the Senate. And powering the engines of many contests were Emerson College alumni.
Allison Teixeira Sulier, MA ’10; Daniel Tick ’12, and Katie Prisco-Buxbaum ’14 all played pivotal roles in three very high profile campaigns.
Sulier, who earned a master’s degree in communications management from Emerson, was a senior advisor to Congress member-elect Sharice Davids (D-KS) and will be going to Washington as Davids’ chief of staff. Davids represents several firsts for any Congress member: one of the first two Native Americans in Congress, the first openly gay Native American in Congress, and most likely, the first mixed martial arts fighter.
“I think Sharice’s personal story moved people to want to vote for someone who shared some of her experiences,” said Sulier, who managed a team of four paid staff members that grew to 17 staffers and thousands of volunteers, managed Davids’ consulting team and worked with the press crew.
“She’s the daughter of a single mom Army veteran and a first-generation college graduate. She worked her way through a local community college, then a local commuter college, before getting into Cornell Law, and eventually ended up a White House fellow. She still has student loans. Her experiences growing up and putting herself through school aren’t uncommon, but they are uncommon in Congress.”
Prisco-Buxbaum served as finance director for Gavin Newsom, the newly-elected governor of California, after having worked in Sen. Kamala Harris’ (D-CA) campaign, and is currently working on Newsom’s thank you program and database management until the end of the year. She is also exploring potential campaign options for 2019 and 2020 while serving as the vice president of finance for the Los Angeles County Young Democrats and on that organization’s Women’s Committee as programming and advocacy director.
“We found that 2016 had ignited energy in many folks who had not engaged in prior cycles and may have not believed that their involvement in politics was necessary,” said Prisco-Buxbaum, who built and managed a fundraising program with a goal of raising $50 million (they raised $50.5 million). “I think [Newsom’s] bold leadership on issues like same-sex marriage, universal healthcare, addressing gun violence, the legalization of cannabis, and criminal justice reform provided an alternative to national inaction on these key issues and gave voters hope that progress could be made in the state, regardless of the dysfunction in Washington, D.C.”
While Sulier’s and Prisco-Buxbaum’s campaigns were victorious, Tick’s did not win. As the Eastern North Dakota Outreach Coordinator for Sen. Heidi Heitkamp’s (D-ND) campaign, Tick worked to galvanize key stakeholders, including elected officials, allied organizations and groups. Heitkamp lost her seat after one term in a very red state.
“Despite the national landscape, it wasn’t favorable everywhere [for Democrats],” said Tick, who is looking at attending law school, as well as jobs in Washington, and would like to work on at least one more political campaign. “In the Senate path, we were defending a seat in Trump country. Democrats had a tough road to victory. You saw that in North Dakota, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, and West Virginia. There was lots of focus on trying to stay on a local message to talk about issues important at home that are not necessarily playing front and center on the national scene.”
For all three, win or lose, Emerson College provided an indispensable learning experience. Prisco-Buxbaum’s first job offer after getting a degree in political communication was for the Massachusetts Democratic Party, and came out of an internship that fellow Emersonian Emma Krause ’12 let her know about and helped with the application process. Sulier worked in the public affairs office while in grad school at Emerson, which helped her learn the nuts and bolts of a career in communications and understand what’s useful to press members.
“I had a great experience at Emerson,” Sulier said.
“I don’t think I can count, or begin to recount, how important the time I spent at Emerson and the education I got there has been to my career that I’ve had over the last six years,” said Tick, a political communication major. “I’ve done two Senate races [Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-NM, was his first campaign] and a communications role for the party. And I’ve always felt that the education I got during my four years at Emerson was really foundational to everything that I’ve done afterwards.”
As the trio move forward in their careers, they’re eager to provide guidance to Emerson students looking to get into politics and campaigns.
“There are lots of different paths to get into politics, but I think the best way to get started is to volunteer or intern on a campaign or in an official’s office,” said Sulier, who previously worked for Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and others.
“The campaign side and the official side are very different, so it’s good to check out both and see which you prefer. But like lots of other industries, politics is a lot about word-of-mouth and personal recommendations, so you need to get involved, work hard, and get to know people to really break in.”
Anyone interested in getting involved in campaigns need to go into each job with an open mind and a willingness to do any task, no matter how small, said Prisco-Buxbaum, who has also worked for Boston City Council President Andrea Campbell and the Massachusetts Democratic Party.
“In my experience, those who work hard and have a hunger to learn are vastly rewarded for their passion and work ethic,” she said. “In an industry that is very small and tight knit, the jobs you will apply for and the offers you will receive will most likely be given as a result of the network you are able to build and the positive reputation you create for yourself.”
Sulier, Prisco-Buxbaum and Tick were not the only Emerson alums who worked on political campaigns during the midterm election cycle. Peyton Lewis ’18 also worked on Heitkamp’s campaign as its media monitor and research associate. In California, Kassie King ’15, a political communication major, was the deputy communications director for Congress member-elect Katie Hill (D-CA).