Q&A: More Beltway Bruins
By Nicole Duran
Published Apr 13, 2010 2:41 PM
Red, white, and — Bruin gold and blue? Here, we highlight more UCLA alumni who currently work at our nation's capital.
Brian Jones '93 is president of Latimer Education, Inc, a Washington, DC-based, for-profit education company that is developing an online university for African Americans.
He is the former General Counsel of the U.S. Department of Education and current Chairman of the Washington, DC Public Charter School Board.
What year did you graduate and what was your major?
I graduated from the Law School in 1993.
Where you involved in politics at all during college?
I've long been interested in politics. I volunteered for my first Presidential campaign in high school — Gary Hart [in 1984]. As an undergraduate, I was president of my campus's College Democrats chapter. And when I came to UCLA Law School in 1990, I switched parties and became active in The Federalist Society. So government service was always something I had in mind.
How did you get here?
After law school I went to work for a big firm in San Francisco. While there I got a call from a college friend about a new think tank that was being developed, the Center for New Black Leadership. My friend introduced me to the founders, and they hired me to move to D.C. and start the think tank. From there another friend — a law professor at Boalt Hall who was then working on the Hill — encouraged me to go to work for the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, where I worked on federal court and Justice Department nominations. I then came home to California to work for [former California Governor Pete Wilson] as his Deputy Legal Affairs Secretary. After the election of 2000 I was asked to interview with the new U.S. Secretary of Education, Rod Paige, about being his General Counsel. Not long after that the President nominated me for the job. That was the greatest privilege of my career.
What do you say to people who say they hate lawyers?
"Ha-ha, very funny, Dad."
Read about other Beltway Bruins. Alumni in D.C. media, on the Hill, and in the White House are making a difference.
You served as co-chairman of President Bush's Brown v. Board of Education 50th Anniversary Commission, what was that experience like?
Incredible. We visited the five venues that comprised the Brown cases (Virginia; Delaware; South Carolina; Washington, D.C. and Kansas). That was a searing experience — to drive the long distances that African American students in Prince Edward County, VA were forced to walk to a segregated school, passing numerous other "white" schools along the way, or to be in Topeka talking with families that remember first-hand Oliver Brown's extraordinary determination was beyond moving.
How did you feel about Obama's election?
I'm a proud Republican but I cannot begin to tell you how proud I was on Inauguration Day 2009. I live about a block from Pennsylvania Avenue in downtown DC. The Inauguration and the parade were virtually right outside my door. To see so many people, of every race and background, gathered together and showing such unified pride in our country and our African American President, was indescribably moving.
What's the biggest difference between working in the legislative and executive branches?
Working on the Hill showed me how difficult the work of legislating really is. It also taught me that most people in government, on both sides of the aisle, do what they do because they love the country and want to make it better. Working in the executive branch — particularly as the general counsel of a cabinet agency — taught me that the Congress has extraordinary powers. I thought back to all those writings of Madison in The Federalist — he was on to something.
What's the most rewarding part of your job and the hardest?
Working and talking with real people who care about education as a public good is the most rewarding part of my job. The hardest part is that real, meaningful, enduring reform and progress in education comes slowly — far too slowly for my taste. I'm impatient.
Lynne Weil '85, press director for the U.S Agency for International Development, spent 10 years as a broadcast reporter before moving to Capitol Hill and now the Obama administration.
How would you describe your career?
I have the kind of career that makes sense in retrospect. When I was at UCLA I had no idea what I wanted to do when I grew up. I liked writing and I found working at the Daily Bruin opened up worlds that otherwise might have been closed to me. I started with UPI [United Press International] in LA working the overnight shift on the police beat. I started filing stories for UPI radio too. After the Berlin Wall fell I headed to Germany [and] worked for the sort of the BBC of Germany, Radio Deutsche Welle. After my contract expired I decided to stay and worked for Vatican Radio, National Public Radio and Catholic News Service, who sent me to Bosnia right after the Dayton Peace Accords had been signed. I spent a week and came back with more than a dozen stories.
How did you switch from covering news to helping shape it?
After I returned to the States I took a fellowship in [the late] Sen. [Edward] Kennedy's [Mass.] office as his foreign affairs legislative assistant. Then I got my master's in public policy at Princeton and I freelanced for the New Jersey section of the New York Times while I was up there. I still considered myself a journalist but then I realized that I wanted to be more of a participant. So I interviewed with [then] Sen. [Joe] Biden's communications director. Democrats had just regained control of the Senate and he took the Foreign Relations Committee chairmanship. He needed a press secretary. I spent two years there.
And you also worked with the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
When Democrats lost the Senate majority in 2003, I lost my job. I left the Hill for a while and eventually [the late] Chairman Tom Lantos [Calif.] hired me to work on what was then called the House International Relations Committee. When he passed away Chairman [Howard] Berman [Calif.], who is also a Bruin, kept me on. He provided more opportunity for me to be out there and be more visible. I traveled to Burma, the West Bank and Yemen. We visited the embassies and learned what they do with the taxpayers' money. To look at how hard our diplomats and their local partners work to advance the interests of the U.S. in a place like Yemen is breathtaking.
What did you like most about working in the White House?
It was thrilling to work in a White House where new ideas were welcome. For example, I did about 400 events a year with the president, I worked with key constituencies and was able to build coalitions; it was rewarding to be able to put my stamp on it.
What made you decide to leave the Hill and move to the executive branch?
I've loved working in Congress and will leave a piece of my heart on the Hill. But the opportunity to serve in the Obama Administration was irresistible. This is an exciting time for our country and the way it relates to the rest of the world.
Lezlee Westine M.B.A. '85 has worked as a lawyer in Silicon Valley, for former California Governor Pete Wilson and ran the White House Office of Public Liaison (now the Office of Public Engagement) for more than four years under President George W. Bush. She is president and CEO of the Personal Care Products Council, a Washington, D.C.-based trade group for the cosmetic and personal care products industry.
What's it like working at the White House?
Inside the White House, it is like drinking water from a fire hydrant, and that really is what Silicon Valley is like as well. On your first day, you're shown where the ladies room is and you're given a kit with a pencil — I don't even think it was sharpened — a pad of Post-it notes, a ruler, and that's it.
What are you most proud of?
I'm most proud of the work we did with Afghan women. We created a council for Afghan women and conducted a lot of international outreach. We worked on various economic packages; those were some of the most successful; we created a coalition of about 1,000 organizations for some.
Were there any events that didn't really work out the way you planned?
Every Thanksgiving the president "pardons" a turkey in a public ceremony. Well, we were pardoning the turkey and the turkey bit the president...something I really want to forget.
What is the difference between working in politics and business?
There were a lot of similarities. A new administration in the White House is like a start-up. I came from Silicon Valley which is fast-paced, intense, results-oriented, very 'get things done,' but that's really how the White House was run.
What do you think of the perception of partisanship that has taken hold of politics?
There are strong bipartisan professionals who want to get things done, but they're not always the most vocal ones you hear on talk shows or talk radio. Being extremely partisan is not always the way to accomplish your goals. The negative side of partisanship is very disappointing and I try to stay away from it as much as I can. I am currently working with the Obama Administration to find areas of common ground and identify ways we can work together. Recently, I attended a dinner with my successor at the White House and all the former Office of Public Liaison directors to offer support and stimulate ideas for the new director. I feel strongly that we must support each other.