The last 11 years have been full of surprises for Jennifer Nielson Scott.
The erstwhile representative Jason Chaffetz’s communications director, Jennifer has been with him since April 2006, before his first campaign. The time has catapulted herself and her family into the public eye, consumed almost her every waking hour, and taught her that sometimes the most successful social media posts are the Congressman’s dog, not policy.
Her plan after leaving the House, she told the Deseret News, is to “become a full-time Internet troll.”
That’s a joke. Probably.
“I haven’t decided what comes next, but I do look forward to regaining custody of my political voice from Jason Chaffetz!” she said.
Political flacks are constantly on the record, but their boss’s record, not theirs. They often have to bite their tongues online (and even in person) and carry flags up hills they might rather not carry. But the positives vastly outweigh the negatives.
“Nothing has been more rewarding to me than interacting with the changemakers in our communities,” Scott said. “As I have engaged in outreach to the business community, the non-profit sector, political groups, women’s groups and others, I am honored to rub shoulders with those who are doing the heavy lifting to solve problems in our communities. That’s where the real work gets done.”
One of Utah’s current crop of political super-moms, Scott was active in community politics for more than ten years as a volunteer before landing her first paid political job with Chaffetz. She ran Dave Newton’s campaign to become mayor of West Jordan and served as general coordinator of the Wild West Jordan Playground project, in which the community raised more than $400,000 and brought together 6,000 volunteers to build one of the biggest playgrounds in Utah without government funding.
When she started volunteering for Chaffetz, Scott wasn’t looking to work full time. But after Chaffetz won in 2008, husband Rusty told her he wanted a turn to be home with the kids.
“So we basically traded places,” she said. “The kids loved it. Now it’s time to trade places again! It’s what we do, I guess!”
Rusty told us, “Being heavily involved in politics has been a positive in our family. Our kids have become more politically minded. They ask deeper questions about policies; they engage their friends in discussions, they have been more interested in world events as they have grown.”
Chairman Chaffetz had kind words for a staffer who’s been with him since the beginning.
“Jennifer has been an integral part of my political career since she started as the first volunteer on the first Congressional campaign 11 years ago. I’ve depended on her to help me spread my message and build relationships in the district. No one is better at capturing my voice and promoting my message than Jennifer.”
Jennifer started her tenure with Chaffetz as district manager, taking over as communications director when the previous CD, Alisia Essig, departed.
“Jennifer Scott is a political powerhouse. She is passionate, yet practical,” Alisia said. “Working with Jennifer was a dream. She never belittled anyone. She saw the potential in everyone from an intern to a Congressman. She easily becomes everyone’s friend, but she also isn’t afraid to teach or direct you when needed. She is a hard worker, great at networking, and has a vision for what needs to be done going forward.
“Can you tell that I loved working with Jennifer?” Essig added unnecessarily. “It is true! I love that woman!”
When Jennifer answered the call, the rest of her family got drafted –which has been an asset for everyone all around.
Full-time House staffers get a privileged view of how Congress works, and those who work back in the home district also get to see what’s happening on the frontlines: how legislation affects average Americans.
“In my outreach work, I see so much happening at the local level that is effective and meets the needs of specific communities,” Scott said. “But back in DC, I see a Congress that represents so many diverse voices and interests it can never really reach long-term consensus. … Congress was designed to be thwarted by checks and balances and separation of powers. It wasn’t designed to run a complex health care system. We expect too much of the institution and then complain when it can’t deliver. Congress has an important role to play, but it will be more effective if we ask less of it.”
Her advice to people who want to start out in politics to remember that it should be a means, not an end.
“Don’t jump in as a candidate until you know what it is you want to accomplish,” she said. “Meanwhile, help with the heavy lifting by engaging in your community. That is where people can really make a difference, but also where they develop a passion for specific solutions that might propel an agenda for public office.”
Rusty added, “Set your priorities and expectations early and review them often. Politics is a fickle beast and can consume every waking moment if you let it.”