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Reynolds ’01 excels on Capitol Hill

January 5, 2013 | Alumni

At the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, Nichole Francis Reynolds ’01 was working backstage preparing speakers to go onstage when a colleague pointed out former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton (D-Ohio) to her. Reynolds approached Sutton, who represented Reynolds’ hometown of Lorain, Ohio, and introduced herself. A few months later, Reynolds was hired as Sutton’s chief of staff in her Washington, D.C. office.

The meeting might have been serendipitous, but it is no coincidence that Reynolds is in her fifth year as a chief of staff on Capitol Hill, now with U.S. Rep. Terri A. Sewell (D-Ala.). Reynolds has worked her entire career to shape policy and legislation in the nation’s capital, an interest she honed at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. In 2011, The Washington Post called Reynolds a “rising star,” stating that she is “expert at both serving constituents and mentoring office staff.”

“It is an amazing opportunity to work in a city where legislation is formed and implemented across the country,” Reynolds said. “To have the opportunity to influence that legislation and the impact of the legislation is very rewarding.”

When Reynolds enrolled at Moritz, she wasn’t sure what kind of law she wanted to practice or what she should strive to do with her law degree. She had interned on the Hill during college, including in U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio)’s office but sought direction. Reynolds found it during her 1L year in Professor Ruth Colker’s Legislation course.

“Professor Colker’s Legislation course further renewed my interested in the legislative public policy arena,” Reynolds said. “I learned so much about legislative history, legislative interpretation, and how the Supreme Court interprets laws. I absolutely loved it.”

During her 2L summer, Reynolds worked at a large firm in Washington, D.C., spending time in the legislative and regulatory practice group. The experience fueled her desire to return to D.C. after graduation.

“I was so inspired by the attorneys who practiced in the public policy arena,” Reynolds said. “In order to really be effective, I knew I had to get more experience.”

After spending a year practicing law, Reynolds found her first opportunity in politics. But to get it, she had to leave D.C. Reynolds moved to Memphis, Tenn. to be the district director for former U.S. Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr. (D-Tenn.).

“Congressman Ford asked me to manage his Memphis office,” Reynolds said. “I took a big risk, and it was amazing. I learned there the importance of how public policy affects people every day.”

After two years working for Ford, a stint on U.S. Sen. John Kerry’s presidential campaign, and a year in private practice, Reynolds returned to D.C. in 2007 to work on the House Homeland Security Committee. The next year, she joined Sutton’s staff. The highlight of Reynolds’ tenure with Sutton was working on the “Cash for Clunkers” legislation, which encouraged consumers to trade in gas-guzzling cars for fuel-efficient vehicles.

“It was so awesome to have the opportunity to work for a dynamic member and work on behalf of issues at home,” Reynolds said.

Her current position gave her the chance to lay the groundwork for Sewell, setting up her field offices and helping the congresswoman shape her legislative platform. But Reynolds’ favorite part of her job is the daily work in the office.

“Managing the staff is rewarding because we are all learning together and growing together,” Reynolds said. “I’m grateful to have the opportunity to help mold and groom young people.”