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The following post is from GSPM Research Director Prof. Michael Cornfield

In the space of three weeks Senator Al Franken (DFL-MN) plummeted in public standing from a presidential mentionable to a disgraced official on the verge of departure. Some blame his Democratic colleagues for abandoning him in the interest of political expediency. A review of Franken’s remarks indicates that the bulk of the responsibility belongs with him.

Al Franken was the first in the post-Harvey Weinstein sleaze parade to give a speech about his scandalous predicament. Previous celebrities exited in silence or under cover of brief released statements expressing combinations of apology, self-defense, and promises to rehabilitate, with the notably defiant exceptions of Roy Moore and Donald Trump.

The Leeann Tweeden accusation hit on November 16, fortified by an incriminating photo. Franken questioned her interpretation of their encounters but apologized, in public and in personal communications (as he told the public). She accepted his apology. So far, so good.

Senators McConnell and Schumer initiated a Senate Ethics Committee review of the incident. Franken embraced the move and went silent under the pretext that the review would afford him “due process.” This damage control strategy was terribly flawed. More accusations surfaced, turning a one-off incident into a pattern that a fuller statement by Franken about his behavior in his pre-Senate days could have mitigated.

It’s also hard to see how a Congressional panel could rule fairly on he-said she-said conduct that occurred before the accused was a member of the body to whose rules he would be accountable. A more cynical perspective would interpret the referral as a stall. Given the performance of Congress in recent years, earning the institution job approval ratings in the same number range as the age of Roy Moore’s victims, cynicism is justified.

Twitter data show the stonewall held for a short while. Here are the number of times Franken’s name was mentioned between November 16 and December 5. The public eye went elsewhere, even on November 23 when Franken surfaced to issue what now sounded like excuses: "I've met tens of thousands of people and taken thousands of photographs, often in crowded and chaotic situations. I'm a warm person; I hug people. I've learned from recent stories that in some of those encounters, I crossed a line for some women — and I know that any number is too many.” In other words, only under public scrutiny did Franken become aware that there are certain places his hands and tongue should not go when he was in close proximity to women.

On December 6, the wall collapsed. A seventh accusation appeared in Politico, and it came from a Congressional staffer. Time valorized the “silence breakers” as “Persons of the Year.” Senator Kirsten Gillibrand declared that “enough is enough” and called for Franken to resign. A cascade of more than thirty Senatorial dittos fell within hours.

Senator Franken now had a huge audience for his goodbye and, if he chose, a farewell address that would put his troubles in a larger context.


He opened well, harkening back to the post-Weinstein pre-Tweeden weeks:

We were finally beginning to listen to women about the ways in which men's actions affect them. The moment was long overdue. I was excited for that conversation and hopeful that it would result in real change that made life better for women all across the country and in every part of our society.

Then the conversation turned to me, Franken continued, and I was shocked. In being a respectful listener “I think it gave some people the false impression that I was admitting to doing things that in fact I haven't done.”

Franken was walking back his culpability as a misunderstanding on the part of “some people,” as the hellacious price paid by a well-intentioned “respectful listener.”

He then widened his attention from himself to include two other accused sexual harassers:

I of all people am aware that there is some irony in the fact that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office, and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party.

The bitter comparison was easy to see as a self-exculpating “whataboutist” diversionary tactic, but hard to accept as helpful to the conversation, given Franken’s refusal to clarify the differences between what he had done, as he saw it, and what Trump and Moore are accused of doing. Instead of setting forth categories, he asked people to take his innocence on faith in his character.

“I know who I really am,” Franken asserted. I knew I was joking around or just being warm, he implied, and so did the women. Or so they should have. After all, he’s famous.

He was resigning, he said, because he could not remain effective for the people of Minnesota while defending himself before the Ethics Committee. Then why did he approve of the committee referral in the first place? Because exoneration was no longer a foregone conclusion?

This speech was Senator Franken’s last best chance to frame the sexual harassment issue moving forward. But he talked about himself instead of his accusers and others in similar situations. In all likelihood, his conduct WAS different from that of Trump and Moore in many respects. But on the crucial matter of refusing to apologize to all he had offended, intimidated, confused, and disappointed, he was, ultimately, the same.


Sometimes in life we fixate on what we are about to lose and fail to see what we could gain. A different speech would have imbued Franken with the moral authority to go on this Sunday’s (December 10) news programs and blast Roy Moore, Donald Trump, and all the Republicans who are enabling their aberrant behavior toward women. From there, he could have rebuilt his political career by adopting the role of the reformed man who gets it. (For different reasons, Senator Jeff Flake is in this very position. He is departing the Senate with long-term potential. He was the only Republican who attended Franken’s speech.)

“I'm going to be just fine,” Franken said at one point.

It’s not you I’m worried about, Senator Franken.

Trailblazers in Politics
The inaugural winners of Trailblazers in Politics awards on front row starting third from left: Samantha Joy Fay, DeJuana Thompson, Jeanine Henderson Arnett and Keysha Brooks-Coley.

The George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM) and the Virginia Leadership Institute (VLI) launched the inaugural Trailblazers in Politics award Wednesday, honoring diverse GSPM students and alumni who have made significant contributions to the field of politics.

This year’s winners are DeJuana Thompson, M.P.S. ’17; Samantha Joy Fay, M.P.S. ’17; Keysha Brooks-Coley, M.A. ’00; and Jeanine Henderson Arnett, M.A. ’04. The four women have led drives for change inside and outside of local and federal government.

The Trailblazers in Politics award was born from the desire of GSPM and VLI to recognize and amplify the message that governments that reflect the diversity of their communities better serve society.

“Leadership is a collection of character traits, and it comes in all packages. If we’re going to have a country that represents all people, we need to recognize leadership in everyone that steps up to the plate,” said GSPM Director Lara Brown.

VLI founder Krysta Jones said the idea for her institute was born from a GSPM project. During a thesis discussion with a professor, Ms. Jones noted that Northern Virginia’s political culture was much more homogeneous than surrounding areas such as the District and Prince George’s County, Md. “My professor said instead of making a thesis why don’t you do something to solve the problem. VLI comes directly as a result of my GSPM education,” said Ms. Jones.

The organization currently has a goal to help elect 500 black officials in Virginia by 2026 by providing training and resources for candidates.

This year’s honorees were introduced during a ceremony at GW's City View Room by colleagues and mentors from the highest levels of government and advocacy.

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) was on hand to present the award to Ms. Fay, who serves as a legislative aide in his office. He said that in politics “it is easy to lose faith, but when I see young people and the people in this program…I am optimistic.”

Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis Randall presented the Trailblazers award to Ms. Arnett, her former chief of staff who is now the executive director of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Ms. Randall said that the essence of politics is “working hard for the many people who need us the most. The ones who don’t know we’re even doing it.” She said that Ms. Henderson Arnett embodied that ethos through her work for the county and her role as a mentor.

A leadership and mentorship role was key in the success of honoree Ms. Brooks-Coley, director of Federal Relations at the American Cancer Society Action Network. “I have never seen her turn down a request for an informational interview. She leans in. She’s a connector,” said Dick Woodruff, the society’s vice president of Federal Relations.

Ms. Thompson gave back to her community through politics and public service, serving as a senior adviser for Public Engagement at the U.S. Small Business Administration and the national deputy director for Community Engagement at the Democratic National Committee. “She is one of the most tireless workers in the field to push for change to ensure that communities of color have a space, access, and opportunities,” said Stephanie Gidigbi, a former colleague and director at the National Resources Defense Council.

GSPM and the VLI have committed to working together to train and advocate for the next generation of political and advocacy leaders, and the first generation of Trailblazers in Politics award will be there to help lead the charge.

The 2016 presidential election took nearly everyone by surprise, with political neophyte Donald Trump winning over Hillary Clinton, one of the most well-known political figures ever. A panel of GSPM adjunct faculty, who are also leading campaign strategists with several presidential campaigns on their resumes, weighed in on what happened and what comes next in the worlds of campaigning and political consulting.

The biggest change in the 2016 cycle was the explosion of content that campaigns needed to produce to stay competitive. “Politics has become very personal and the ways to consume content have too, and the more ways there are to consume content the more content there needs to be,” said Evan Tracey, Political Management Adjunct Professor and Senior Vice President at the political advertising firm National Media Research, Planning, and Placement.

Peter Fenn, a long-time media consultant, says the old model of big media buys are coming to an end. “I call paid media now ‘pay more get less’ media. We’re in a situation where fewer and fewer people are watching television commercials and it’s more about targeting and figuring out where undecided voters are and appealing to them personally,” he said. He noted that data analytics and consumer segmentation are going to drive campaign strategy to an ever-larger extent.

For another expert, the need to understand national dynamics was key. “You needed to be a master of the modern media environment to be a successful candidate,” said Adjunct Professor Suzanne Zurn, founder of the Three Lines Group. She lamented that part of that understanding was that in an increasingly polarized society, factual accuracy was less important than in the past.

That understanding of the media environment allowed Trump, who frequently eschewed conservative policy principles and campaign norms, to thrive. Mark Mellman, a Democratic strategist, noted that Trump was able to build a coalition by bringing together three strands of conservative thought: people’s aversion to government, change, and difference. A general political malaise helped the outsider candidate as well. “People didn’t think he would win, so he was a good protest vote,” said Mellman. Katie Packer, who ran a Republican SuperPAC opposed to the Trump campaign, noted that none of the other candidates were willing or able to stop the New Yorker’s momentum. “In campaigns, opponents don't just die people kill them, metaphorically of course,” she said.

In addition to offering a post-mortem of the past, the panelists also gave some advice to students just starting their political careers. “When you start in politics you should be knocking on doors" said Fenn. “And when you get older you should keep doing it. I love knocking on doors." He also cautioned against the caricature of the wealthy campaign consultant. “Don't go into political consulting to get rich. You can make money sure, but you gotta love it in order to succeed.”

GSPM students in our Strategic Public Relations Principles & Practices were treated to a visit and guest lecture from the Mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico Carmen Yulín Cruz earlier this week. She gave an update on relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Maria and shared her lessons on the importance of honesty in political communications.

From The GW Hatchet:

“You have to become not a politician, but a public servant,” she said. “We may not agree, but you need to know what I stand for. And if someone doesn’t like what I have to say, then I tell them to not vote for me in 2020.”

As the discussion shifted from her campaign and political career to the devastation of Hurricane Maria, Yulín Cruz spoke to the students about her firsthand experiences leading the city in the immediate aftermath of the storm.

“I’ve seen elderly people left in their homes to die. I’ve seen mothers cry because they cannot find their children medicine,” Yulìn Cruz said. “Now the world has to face our poverty and inequality and it cannot be covered up by piña coladas and palm trees.”

Read more at The GW Hatchet.

Lt. Col. Steven Coffee
Lt. Col. Steven Coffee says his GSPM degree has helped him better engage with senior civilian and military leaders.

A prevailing thought in the officer corps of the United States Air Force is that one needs a master’s degree to get beyond a certain rank. Practically any master’s will do.

For Lt Col. Steven Coffee, the Legislative Affairs program at the Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM) met that requirement and so much more. “I wanted to get something that would be useful to me in the military and when I transition back to civilian life. A friend from undergrad and fellow GSPM alum 06’, Anthony Coley, told me about the program and it sounded like a perfect fit given my undergrad degree in political science,” Coffee said.

Initially he thought that his degree would help him to pursue a run for office or a career in government relations after leaving the military, but Coffee was soon using the skills he learned at GSPM while in the armed forces. “Immediately after graduating in 2008 I served as a Force Structure Analyst at the United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM), and was immersed in understanding the balance of Congressional and budgetary oversight with military requirements; and later served as a legislative analyst for SOCOM in 2010. I still use the critical thinking skills that are taught there, especially the importance of looking at issues in a comprehensive and holistic manner,” he said. Coffee added that class work in political rhetoric helped him manage communications and engage with Hill staffers, senior civilian, and military leaders.

He had another chance to use his GSPM skills during a stretch as a Social Aide in the White Houses of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, coordinating the planning and execution of social events for the president and first lady. “I was able to observe the theory of politics taught in the classroom in reality,” said Coffee. “It was great to learn how to engage and work within the political process and contribute to the conversation.”

Lt Col. Coffee currently serves as a Joint Manpower Analyst (J1 Human Capital Division), Directorate of Manpower and Personnel at the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In that role, he serves as the chief human capital and requirements expert for the nine geographical four-star combatant commanders. “The personnel staff works to validate the requirements of combatant commanders. We’re the gatekeepers of validating manpower and personnel efficiency requirements and requests from four star generals through the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” Coffee said.

Now nine years removed from the program, Coffee shared some advice for current and prospective students in the lead-up to Colonials Weekend, the university’s homecoming celebration. He was set to receive the GW IMPACT Award, which is given by the George Washington Black Alumni Association (GWBAA), and is “the highest form of recognition bestowed on distinguished Black alumni by the GWBAA Executive Committee,” to those who have cultivated a history of commitment to the university. “You need to let the program go through you. Don’t just go through the program. Get involved in the discussions,” he said. “Where else can you learn politics right across from the Capitol with people who work there and tell you the reality? This program is special. Immerse yourself in it.”

Colonials Weekend is a time to reconnect and celebrate the accomplishments of our alumni. The Graduate School of Political Management is proud to honor two alumni who are receiving awards this weekend. Their dedication to public service is an inspiration to us and we look forward to witnessing their future accomplishments.

Mindy Finn, Political Management 2010, winner of the GW Recent Alumni Achievement Award

Finn is an experienced digital politics operative, working in national campaigns, party headquarters, and in the private sector.

Finn established the first new media division at the Republican National Committee in 2005 after leading similar efforts for President George W. Bush’s re-election campaign, and went on to become a senior digital strategist for the 2008 Mitt Romney presidential campaign.

She later founded Empowered Women, a non-profit working to give “voice to a bold new generation of American women (and) identify emerging leaders and provide the resources to promote them into civic life.”

Sensing a need for a conservative alternative to the Donald Trump campaign for president in 2016, Finn became independent candidate Evan McMullin’s running mate. They continue their work to “lead Americans in the promotion of liberty, equality, and truth in America” through Stand Up Republic, a political non-profit.

The Recent Alumni Achievement Award is one of the highest forms of recognition given annually by the university and the George Washington Alumni Association to a graduate, and seeks to honor those that have achieved notable accomplishments in their field.

Lt. Col. Steven Coffee, USAF, Legislative Affairs 2008, winner of the GW IMPACT Award

Lt. Col. Coffee is the Manpower Analyst (J1 Human Capital Division) at the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In that role he serves as the chief human capitol expert for the heads of the armed forces.

Coffee previously served as a Force Support, Squadron Commander, providing assistance and training to more than 1,100 active duty and reserve Air Force members. He has served in the White Houses of George W. Bush and Barack Obama as the White House Military Social Aide, which assists in the planning and executions of official events for the president and first lady.

Coffee is receiving the GW IMPACT Award, which is given by the George Washington Black Alumni Association (GWBAA), and is “the highest form of recognition bestowed on distinguished Black alumni by the GWBAA Executive Committee” to those who have cultivated a history of commitment to the university.

Additionally, GSPM grad Erin Houchin, currently serving as an Indiana State Senator for the 47th District, will participate in the Sunday Political Discourse, which will provide insights on the latest developments in politics and governance.

We hope to see you all this weekend and if you can’t make it please take a moment to update your contact information with us. For a complete listing of Colonials Weekend activities click here.


A host of changes to politics over the last two decades, from redistricting and gerrymandering to modifications of campaign finance laws, have decreased incentives to govern effectively said  one current member and three former members of Congress at an event Wednesday at the George Washington University.

Those changes and their consequences have given rise to a series of never-ending purity tests, says former Rep. Al Wynn (D-Md.). “I came into politics with the understanding that you compromise to get things done….,” Mr. Wynn said. “As a result of redistricting, you end up with inter-party fights, and I view it as a fight between ideological members and pragmatic centrist candidates.”

Mr. Wynn added that SuperPACs and other outside groups made the changes worse with outsized spending and advertising campaigns that seek to nationalize every race, rather than focusing on local issues.

Mr. Wynn was among four panelists at the event co-hosted by GW’s Graduate School of Political Management and the U.S. Association of Former Member of Congress. Also on the panel were former Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), B.S. ‘63, former Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.)  and Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.).

Read more at GW Today.

Current Student Taylor McCarty says GSPM is "the ultimate networking opportunity"


It’s not what you know it’s who you know. Your network is your net worth. These sayings are clichés for a reason, but like many clichés, they contain a grain of truth. How do you stand out in a crowded job market? How do you learn about job openings before anyone else?

The most effective way is to leverage your personal and professional networks. Your current and former coworkers, your friends, and the alumni of the schools you attended are the key to your job search. This is even more important when looking for career opportunities in competitive fields such as politics and advocacy.

We asked several of our alumni how they got into the world of politics, and why they look to GSPM for future hires. A key for Bret Caldwell, GSPM ’95 and Special Assistant to the President and Director of Communications for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, was a shared understanding. “What I’m looking for are people who can enter an organization and adapt quickly; have the skills to bring about organizational change if necessary; and the ability to become leaders within the organization,” said Caldwell.

While filling a recent vacancy, Caldwell interviewed another alum, Ash Latimer, GSPM ’15. “It was clear she was going to be a great add to the team and since we’ve both been through the program it’s very apparent we’re on the same wavelength on our approach to tackling complex issues,” he noted.

Latimer first found out about the opportunity from a mutual friend. “I got a text saying are you interested in working for the Teamster’s,” she said. “Within an hour he had connected me with Bret. We set up a meeting two days later, I met with assistant directors the next week, and I got the offer later that week.”

For Bill Meierling, GSPM ’08 and Chief Operating Officer and Senior Vice President, Public Affairs at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the school’s unique curriculum is an asset for any politico on a job hunt. “If you actually want to win the campaign, you go to GSPM,” he says. “Thinking about the types of classes offered you can really get a specialized education in various disciplines in politics. It’s the single best place to gain knowledge from practitioners.”

Meierling added that the longevity of the school is a key asset for anyone looking to work in Washington. “There are 5,000 alumni in the school, and about 2,000 in the DC area. There aren’t 2,000 corporate offices in DC so think about how many organizations where there is a GSPMer. Virtually every one.”

Taylor McCarty, a current student and Communications Strategist at DDC, echoed that sentiment. “I stay in touch with the students and several professors and it’s benefited me personally and professionally,” she said. “It’s a great way to find a mentor and make new friends. You never know who may lend a helping hand down the road.”

The Graduate School of Political Management is proud to announce its newest fellows and Alumni Achievement Award winners.

Our fellows are leaders in politics and advocacy chosen by the school to serve 18 month terms contributing as adjunct professors, guest lecturers, panel speakers, and case study contributors. They serve an invaluable role in helping us give our students the best education in applied politics, communications, and advocacy. Previous fellows include U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., former U.S. Senator Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and Amy Walter, National Editor at the Cook Political Report.

Our current fellows:

Former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.: Cantor’s career in politics has stretched over two decades, serving in the United States House of Representatives and the Virginia House of Delegates. Cantor was a member of the House Republican leadership team for 11 years, starting as Chief Deputy Whip and ending as House Majority Leader after the historic 2010 midterm election cycle. Cantor currently serves as Vice Chair and Managing Director at Moelis & Company, a leading global independent investment bank.

Sarah Chamberlain: Chamberlain serves as the President and CEO of the Republican Main Street Partnership, which she helped to establish and grow into a thriving organization with more than seventy members of Congress as part of its network. A leading advocate for women in politics, Chamberlain established the Women2Women Conversations Tour in 2014 to spark dialogue between legislators and everyday citizens. Chamberlain is the only woman in the country who serves as the CEO of a major Republican organization. Prior to joining the partnership she served as the first Executive Director of the John Quincy Adams Society.

Former Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA): Landrieu continued her family’s tradition of public service as a three-term United States Senator following terms as Louisiana State Treasurer and State Representative. Landrieu made history with her 1996 Senate election, becoming the first woman from Louisiana to serve a full term in the chamber. A strong advocate for her state, Sen. Landrieu played a key role in helping Louisiana recover from Hurricane Katrina and shepherded passage of the RESTORE Act, which was designed to help the Gulf Coast region recover from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Landrieu now serves as a Senior Policy Advisor at Van Ness Feldman.

Our Alumni Achievement Award winners represent the best of GSPM. They exemplify our values through their career accomplishments, contributions to their communities, GSPM, or GW.

Our 2017 Alumni Achievement Award winners:

Lindsey Schuh Cortés: Cortés is the CEO of BlueLabs, a data and analytics strategy consulting firm in Washington, DC. Prior to joining BlueLabs, she served as Director of Strategic Partnerships and Deputy Political Director at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

Barrett Karr: Karr serves as Chief of Staff for House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. In addition to other legislative roles, Karr has extensive executive branch experience as well working as the Deputy Assistant for Legislative Affairs for President George W. Bush.

Liz Reicherts: Reicherts is the head of U.S. Government Affairs at Siemens, leading its strategy on U.S. policy and international affairs and managing the U.S. Government Affairs team. Prior to Siemens, Reicherts enjoyed a 22-year career at BP, with a decade spent advocating for its international businesses.

We thank both our fellows and our award winners for their contributions to the school and we look forward to their continued involvement and counsel.








The ECHO is the newest component of our PEORIA Project social media monitoring and analysis research. With The ECHO, we're tracking the weekly ebb and flow of trending topics and individuals in politics.

This week our lead PEORIA Project researcher Prof. Michael Cohen found that Twitter was focused on the United States Capitol writing

The center of political discussion on Twitter moved to Capitol Hill this week as members passed a deal struck by the president and Democratic congressional leaders to extend the debt limit for three months and fund hurricane relief efforts for Hurricane Harvey (492,148 tweets) and ahead of Hurricane Irma (4,641,783 tweets). In the wake of the hurricanes, tweets about climate change were up 75 percent (721,677 tweets).

The shift in activity down Pennsylvania Avenue is reflected in the volume of tweets: President Donald Trump was down 47 percent while the tweets about the U.S. Senate (163 percent) and the House (229 percent) were both up by triple-digit percentages.

Check out the other insights at U.S News & World Report.

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