PARTICIPANTS

Margaret Klessig

We‘d been filming people working in Congress for a couple of years before we made our way to Arizona Congressman Jeff Flake‘s office and met his Legislative Director and main immigration staffer, Margaret. By then we‘d gotten pretty used to the fact that, even though they‘re running the world in a way, many Congressional staffers are surprisingly young. You forget about it when you‘re dealing with them or watching them work, it becomes not a big deal -- but objectively, they are. So it wasn‘t her age that surprised us so much about Margaret.

What really surprised us, honestly amazed us, was how, right from the start, Margaret hardly seemed to notice the camera. That was the last thing we‘d learned to expect on Capitol Hill. Anybody there who wasn‘t running for office was almost always camera-shy, just didn‘t have a good feeling about it, period. And staffers most of all are trained and socialized to stay in the shadows, always ceding the limelight and its sometimes punishing glare, to their “bosses”.

But Margaret was a natural -- quite obviously, we‘re sure that camera presence was the farthest thing from her mind. She was completely absorbed in the daunting task that drew us to her boss in the first place. He‘d asked her to do something that sounded pretty reasonable, and turned out to be revolutionary. In fact, Jeff Flake‘s early guestworker bill, the one Margaret wrote with Becky Jensen in Rep. Kolbe‘s office in 2003, turned out to be a pivotal moment in the big story of the fight for comprehensive immigration reform legislation.

When we first learned about the these two “kids across the hill”, from the Senate side, the Kolbe-Flake bill seemed to have come out of the blue. Who were these young staffers? And on top of that, the original draft language (all 33 pages!) outlined an idea that was either radical or radically sensible, depending on your perspective. But it was immediately controversial. It would be a while before the genius of the idea was recognized by people in the immigration field.

Over the next couple of years, Margaret and Becky learned much about the tricky and sometimes uncomfortable intersection of politics and policy. Their original draft attracted all kinds of attention, positive in the press, and intensely negative attention from restrictionist groups like FAIR and Numbers USA, as well as a lot of pro-immigration advocacy organizations. The most interesting response probably came from the White House, which “adopted” a lot of Margaret and Becky‘s ideas for their 2004 principles statement, the basis of the President‘s very successful speech that January.

They kept at it. By 2005 when the original Kolbe-Flake-McCain bill became central to the first bi-cameral, bi-partisan CIR bill ever introduced in Congress, Margaret had become Congressman Flake‘s Chief of Staff. She was very much on the scene for the immigration battles in the next couple of years. And after her son Max was born in 2007, Margaret decided to take off for a while to be with the family.

But now that Congressman Flake is running for the Senate, Margaret is back in the game...



Margaret Klessig appears in Stories 5 The Kids Across the Hill, 8 The Road to Miami, 10 Brothers and Rivals, and 11 The Senate Speaks
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