An Interview with Political Strategist Emily Passini

Today we're talking about everyone's favorite Facebook topic, politics! In contrast to the people you have hidden from your Newsfeed, today you'll meet someone who has spent her career working in politics.

Emily's and my career passports share a lot of the same stamps, but we didn't cross professional paths until earlier this year when she hired me to manage the social media for one of her candidate's campaigns. Having spent the past 8 months working alongside Emily, she has kind of blown my mind. Emily doesn't hesitate, apologize, or wait her turn to speak. And when she speaks, you listen because homegirl knows her stuff. Meet today's bitch, my friend, Emily Passini!

What is your job title and where do you work?

Partner at Greenlight Media Strategies. Greenlight is a political consulting firm specializing in direct mail, working exclusively with Democrats and progressive causes. We work directly with candidates, as well as advocacy groups, labor organizations, state parties and candidate committees in over 30 states.

When did you first learn about this field of work?

I was introduced to direct mail during my first campaign in 2004, but I knew I wanted to work in politics at an early age. I grew up in Little Rock (cue the Clintons), and the first campaign I volunteered for was Clinton/Gore ’92. That experience made politics very real and personal, but at the time, I didn’t know you could make a career out of it. 

How did you know it was what you wanted to do?

I always knew I wanted to work in politics and government, but it wasn’t until I managed my first campaign in 2004 that I knew I wanted the political side to be my career. 

What was your path that lead you to the job you have now?

My career has been a very windy road! This is going to take a lot of explaining and backstory…

Growing up, I thought I would go to law school. That seemed the obvious path for getting into politics and government. I was accepted to law school, but it didn’t feel right, so I enrolled in a graduate program at the University of Memphis and earned an M.A. in Urban Anthropology. Believe it or not, that was the exact right move for me! Anthropology is all about the study of people and culture, and the main research technique is ethnography – observing and talking with people. It taught me how to quickly assess situations; talk to complete strangers without anxiety; and understand how different situations affect different communities. I worked for a non-profit in Memphis as their Director of Community and eventually started a new non-profit with the assistance of my current employer.

About a year later, I accepted a position in then-Governor Phil Bredesen’s administration as the Special Assistant to the Commissioner of Mental Health and Development Disabilities. It was during that time (2003 – 2005) that I got to know the players in the Tennessee Democratic Party. In 2004, at the urging of State Representative John Ray Clemmons (he was the political director of the TNDP at the time), I took a leave from the administration and managed my first campaign – John McKamey for State Senate. It was a hard fought race, and we raised more money than any other democrat had ever done in the district. We lost, but I knew I had found my calling. 

I came back to the Governor’s administration for another 6 months before heading to New Jersey for the 2005 cycle. I was the Deputy Political Director for the NJ Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee. We took the Democrats to their highest majority since the late 70’s.

The next year, I returned to Nashville and was the Campaign Director for the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus. Democrats were still in the majority that cycle. We had 53 seats out of 99. We had a budget of $1.5 million, and we did not lose a single incumbent seat. It was the first time in 10 years that democrats didn’t lose an incumbent seat, and it hasn’t happened again since. I was also the first woman to serve in that position.

In 2007, I managed David Briley’s mayoral campaign in Nashville. We didn’t win, but the campaign still ranks as my favorite. I learned a lot, and made some great personal and professional relationships. 

From 2008 – 2010, I took a break from politics and did public affairs work specializing in land use issues. 

In 2010, I moved to DC to take a job as a Political Director with the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC). The DLCC is a national committee that works to elect Democrats to state legislatures. I was responsible for spending and strategic decisions in 13 states. It was a lot of travel, but well worth it. The connections I made were invaluable.

I went to work for my first direct mail firm in 2013. It was a great experience, and I learned the production side of direct mail, which is the most difficult part to understand and execute. 

Earlier this year, I accepted a partnership with Greenlight. We’re an all-woman firm and that is definitely a plus in my book! 

Favorite piece of advice, business or otherwise?

I was negotiating an employment contract, and I was unhappy with what was being offered, when a friend told me to read Knowing Your Value. That book completely changed my outlook on my value in the workplace. Women are more likely to accept less than a man, and we’re more likely to think that people will reward us for our accomplishments without us asking for it. That doesn’t happen in business. You have to stand up for yourself or no one else will. I went into my final negotiation with a list of what I wanted, and I was okay with walking away from that job if they didn’t meet it. That firm didn’t want to meet my demands, so I walked. I felt incredibly empowered by that decision, and less than a week later I landed at Greenlight. 

Failure you learned from or that helped you improve the way you work?

In this business you either win or lose, there’s no in between. Hopefully you win more than you lose, but it’s the losses that teach you the most and make you better at what you do. You rarely, if ever, pick apart the wins. But I always take a deep dive into my losses to see what we could have done better. 

What would you do with 2 more hours a day?

More gym time!

What is your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) in your professional life?

My favorite “job” in politics has been as the Tennessee House Caucus Director. 2006 was a high stakes year, and we accomplished something that hadn’t been done in 10 years (not losing an incumbent seat) and I was, and still am, very proud of that. Caucus jobs are tough because you’re working on 15+ races with multiple candidates, staff and consultants. It’s a juggling act. 

What’s the first app or website you open when you wake up in the morning?

Definitely email.

How do you decompress at the end of the work day?

Sometimes it’s working out. Other times it watching my latest obsession on Netflix. It depends on the day. 

What’s the hardest thing about your job that isn’t obvious?

The production end is probably the most difficult thing I do. There are a lot of details involved with direct mail. You deal with designers, printers, mail houses and the Post Office. Making sure everyone is on the same page regarding schedule is key. 

What is one thing everyone gets wrong about what you do?

The biggest misconception about my job is that it isn't a career. I think a lot of people don’t understand that this is a full time, lucrative job.

Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack?

Favorite TV show is such a hard one because I have so many! I just finished binge-watching The Good Wife and it is indeed very good. I also love The West WingHouse of Cards and Orange is the New Black.

Since I am writing this during the holiday season, I have to say my favorite snack is Chex Mix.

All photos courtesy of Emily Passini

P.S. Meet last week's bitch:  Artist, Agnes Barton-Sabo!

P.P.S. Full list of My Bitches here.

2015 Recap

Super Thrift!

Super Thrift!