In the decade and a half since she first came to D.C., Summer Mersinger said she has seen many more women taking on leadership roles both downtown and in the Capitol.
"When I first came here, you didn’t see a lot of women in lobbyist roles," said Mersinger, who started as an intern for former Rep. Jim Ramstad, R-Minn., while she attended University of Minnesota. "If you did, a lot of times they were setting up the meetings, but maybe they weren’t the principals involved, and I think that’s changing — which is a great thing and I hope it continues that way."
The mother of four — two girls, ages 7 and 5, and two boys, ages 4 and 1 — said the work environment in Republican Sen. John Thune's office, where she got her first job in his House office after that initial internship, has allowed her to maintain good South Dakota family values (late nights in the office didn't mean she wouldn't take a break to go home and have dinner with her family) while getting a lot of experience in different aspects of the legislative process.
"You can have a good career and you can be good at your job, but you can also put your family first and make them a priority," the South Dakota native said.
She started working for then-Rep. Thune as an executive assistant in 1999, spent some time at Arent-Fox as director of government relations (Thune also worked at Arent-Fox in between his time leaving the House in 2003 and taking office in the Senate in 2005), worked on Thune's 2004 campaign against then-Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, and climbed the ranks to be his top aide last year before departing for K Street. Along the way, she got a law degree from Catholic University in 2007.
The way Team Thune runs things is probably "different from a lot of offices," Mersinger said. "Our theory is you find talented people and you find a way to use their talents to best serve the office, rather than try to find the person that fits a certain position."
It is hard for her to single out any particular memory as a favorite from her time working in the Capitol. From the impeachment of President Bill Clinton to rounding up bags full of trash from a 1,500-person picnic during Thune's 2004 Senate race, she said she has filled a lot of roles and learned a great deal.
And she's ready for a new job downtown, even as she keeps close to her South Dakota roots.
Jim Smith, one of the founders of the Smith-Free Group, is from the Mount Rushmore State as well. "I like the fact that I have that South Dakota connection still," she said.
Correction 4:23 p.m.
A previous version of this article misstated Rep. Jim Ramstad's first name.
The 114th: CQ Roll Call's Guide to the New Congress
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