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A PRACTICAL EDUCATION IN GOVERNMENT

James Windle Outside the West Wing

In front of the West Wing with the Old Executive Building in the background

Everyone should be so lucky as to find passion in their life work. For me it is public service.  My commitment to public service emerged at an early age from lessons learned working at my family’s gas station: James on Lessons from the Gas Station. Among those lessons was the importance of learning by doing.  I remember my father told me that I could watch him change an alternator on a car, but I would never know how to do it unless I actually did the job.

When it came to public service, I knew I would have to go to Washington, DC. The federal government is a complex and unique environment. I wanted to understand it to enable me to be effective in serving the public good. The plan was that I would go to school, work in the federal government, and then come home to apply the knowledge. I did not know how or when this so-called plan would unfold; I certainly did not know I would be running for Congress, but it was nevertheless the plan.

The Long Road of College

After taking political sciences courses at Shoreline Community College and Bellevue College, I was hooked. I eventually transferred to Washington State University. A constitutional law course ignited a life-long love for the ideas of the American Revolution, Declaration of Independence, and United States Constitution. The cost of education posed a challenge for me, so I took time off and put in some hours at the gas station to save for my next move.

The University of Washington admitted me for their summer quarter classes. My interests narrowed toward national security policy. This is where my plan crystallized that I needed to work in Washington, DC, to understand it and make an impact. My long journey through college also left me with my streak of independence as I had to find my own way. After earning a master’s degree at Boston University, I made a move that would launch my career in the federal government.

Mr. Windle Goes to Washington

One of my favorite University of Washington professors linked me up with a fellowship with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), which is based in Richland, Washington. PNNL opened the door to a job opportunity at the U.S. Department of Energy in Washington, DC.  I spent my first years working as policy advisor on programs to prevent nuclear terrorist attacks at the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. A temporary assignment eventually led to a permanent job at the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) under the George W Bush Administration. My duties included oversight of the U.S. Air Force operations and maintenance budget. I also led an effort to improve the coordination of federal national security spending. I learned a lot at OMB about duplication of efforts in government and the difficulty of getting high performance out of government.

I took this knowledge with me when I left OMB to serve in a supervisory position at the Department of Energy. Amidst the transition to the Obama Administration, I managed the team responsible for coordinating communication between the Department and the powerful House and Senate Committees on Appropriations. This experience led to an opportunity to work in Congress.

Time in Congress

At the Committee on Appropriations in the U.S. House of Representatives I worked as a professional staffer in Congress, under the Democratic majority. My duties included making funding and policy recommendations to the Subcommittee clerk and Chairman on over $15 billion of federal programs at the Department of Energy and other agencies.

After nearly eight years working on the massive machinery in the Executive Branch, I learned the mechanics of Congress.  It was a privilege to be on the Committee, but my exposure to the partisan politics encouraged my independent thinking. Parties took priority over voters in many cases. I saw this first-hand. I also began exploring options for returning home to Washington State and giving back what I had learned in a more significant way.

Teaching What I Learned

After my time in Congress, I had an opportunity to research and teach at the Department of Defense’s National Defense University (NDU). My assignment to NDU was to develop courses but I eventually became the Associate Dean of Administration and Finance for the College of International Security Affairs (CISA). I developed a course, “How Congress Works,” that I taught this past spring. During this time, I also completed a second master’s degree from the Naval War College that honed my strategic planning skills and allowed me to reflect on what I had learned about the federal government.  I began writing regularly about ideas for improving the federal government for AOL Government. I started to think about what I wanted to do next.

My experience had given me a unique perspective on the federal government and power. I had seen federal agencies, the White House, and Congress. The goal I had at the University of Washington had been to get a practical education in government.  Teaching prompted me to realize that the practical education phase of my career had ended, and I was ready to do more and go home to do it.

The Courageous Leap into Elected Politics

James Windle for Congress Campaign Sign

While teaching my course, I had conversations with my wife about whether or not I was doing enough to make the country better. Due to restrictions as a federal employee, I could not explore elected office. I would have to resign from my job, drive home to Snoqualmie Pass, and gauge my prospects for support once I was back home in Washington State.  We considered the risks involved, particularly in the current economic climate, but made a decision based on what we thought was right.

I took the courageous leap with the support of my wife. Now I am a candidate to be your member of Congress from Washington State’s 8th District. It was one of the best decisions I ever made to come home and reconnect with the community. My practical education in government changed me forever. Now I am working tirelessly to be elected your member of Congress to apply what I have learned and promote what is in the interest of my community and country. Elect Windle for Congress because I represent independent ideas and the courage to act to move our country forward.