German continues passion for politics

Justin+German+ran+for+the+track+team+during+his+time+at+HHS%2C+as+well+as+creating+and+running+the+Young+Democrats+Club.

Courtesy of Justin German

Justin German ran for the track team during his time at HHS, as well as creating and running the Young Democrats Club.

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Justin German, class of 2005, had always been interested in politics.

“I remember being in elementary school and wanting to run for class council,” German said. “I remember when I was in seventh grade I was just obsessed with learning about the presidential primaries, that was Bush and Gore. It was something that by default was fascinating to me and I always kind of knew it was the world I wanted to be a part of.”

In high school, German and a friend founded a young Democrats club.

“Man, that’s a bummer that it’s gone,” German said. “It was 2004, so we would do like debate watch parties for the debates and we had the house of delegates candidate come in and talk to everyone. We had a presidential watch party night.”

It was no surprise, then, that German decided to major in political science when at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg. In hindsight however, German wishes he would have gotten a more practical degree.

“18 year old Justin had literally no interest in doing a business degree, but I wish in retrospect that I would have done that and had something more tangible under my belt,” German said. “Do something that you want to do and that’s fun to you, but also get something that’s practical and that’s going to be helpful down the road.”

In the end it worked out and German was able to get a job as a fellow in former Virginia governor Tim Kaine’s office.

After that, German moved to Washington, D.C. for an internship with senator Ted Kaufman. Even though he had interned in the House of Representatives during college, German found it hard to make it into congress.

“I literally knew no one on the Hill,” German said. “I had no connections to a member of congress that I really wanted to work for because I’m a Democrat and around [Harrisonburg] it’s just tough. So I got this internship totally randomly and then a job opened up a few months in in the front office, being a staff assistant.”

Kaufman was the appointment to fill former Vice President Joe Biden’s senate seat, so when Kaufman’s term ran out, German was able to stay on with the next senator, Chris Coons.

In this position, German was in charge of responding to letters and emails from voters and working with policy. He stayed in the senate until 2012, when he switched over to the House of Representatives with representative John Carney.

With Carney, German was a policy adviser in the areas of energy, the environment, agriculture, trade, immigration, judiciary and patents.

“In a congressional office, particularly in the house, there’s only like a couple staff, so you get to work on a lot of different issues, which is cool,” German said. “It’s cool to get a big base of knowledge and expertise.”

From there German transferred to the office of another representative, Annie Kuster of New Hampshire. For the last two and a half years he has been her legislative director on Capitol Hill.

“[She] is a really awesome boss and a really effective member of congress and it’s been a great opportunity to work for her and I have a really good team around me,” German said. “It’s a really fun, fulfilling thing to be a part of even though the broader political dialogue right now is very frustrating.”

D.C. has been German’s home for the past eight years and he has no plans of leaving soon. Basically all the major jobs for him are in there and he enjoys the environment.

“What I love about D.C. is that it’s this mixing pot of the whole country,” German said. “You get people from all over who come either to work in politics or to work in something else tangentially related to that. You get a really diverse group of people with different backgrounds and perspectives… I think a lot of major cities will have their own culture and feel to them, but D.C. is not exactly like that because of that quality of having people from all over.”

Kuster’s five main areas of focus are the heroin and opioid epidemic, veterans affairs, ending sexual violence, agriculture and economic development. German has had the opportunity to work on all of these. He is particularly proud of his work on Bipartisan Heroin Task Force.

“Last congress we were able to pass 18 bills in the House of Representatives on [opioids] in a single week. We then turned [that] into a broader piece of legislation that was passed by congress and then later president Obama signed it into law,” German said. “We’re hopeful we can replicate that later this year. The big thing is we need money for treatment and prevention and for law enforcement. That’s challenging in this political environment we’re in now, even for a crisis like this. We had a billion dollars that was included as part of a research bill last year that was dolled out in 500 million parts each year, but even that’s not enough, we need more.”

German is also proud of the work they’ve done on ending sexual violence. In early 2017, Kuster, inspired by Emily Doe of Stanford, shared some of her personal stories about sexual violence.

“That was a special moment for her in terms of sharing, not necessarily in terms of being about her story, but about how this is a thing so many women and men, too, experience that we just don’t talk about as much,” German said. “I think we’ve been successful in generating a lot of attention and focus on policy fixes that we need in that area.”

German was involved in the Bipartisan Task Force to End Sexual Violence, modeled after the heroin task force.

Bipartisanship is something German prides his office on working towards, although it’s not always easy.

“[Kuster] has a very bipartisan focus in her work, in all the stuff that we do,” German said. “I think that’s a little bit unique in the type of dialogue that we have right now nationally. I think there’s a lot more bipartisanship now than people realize.”

However, German still sees things that need improvement.

“I think the dialogue is very frustrating as far as the negativity and the partisanship,” German said. “I understand that that is a relevant, necessary part of politics, but I think that at the same time most people in congress are really in it for the right reasons… I wish the broader public had an opportunity to see through how frustrating our dialogue is to realize that the members of congress are real people, too. They have real lives and they are just trying to do the best job they can for the people they represent. People are going to have real policy disagreements, which is fine and good and we should talk about those disagreements and have a real dialogue, but I think because of the way things play out, it’s hard to have an accurate representation of who members of congress actually are. I don’t know how we change that, but that’s something that’s definitely challenging for me.”

Working as a staffer, German has gained a lot of experience in the 13 years since he’s been at HHS, but he’s not sure what the future holds or if he would consider running for any kind of political office.

“If an opportunity like that presents itself at some point, it’s something I would be interested in,” German said, “but at the same time I’m comfortable in the same type of role I’m in now.”

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