Heard on the Hill

Jeff Flake’s Ex-Chief on What to Do When It’s Time to Go

‘To say that folks sometimes disagreed with positions my former boss had is a bit of an understatement’

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., talks with Chandler Morse during a Senate Judiciary Committee markup session in May 2013. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

If your boss retires, resigns or loses an election, there is no clinging to your job in Congress. Your job will cease to exist.

That’s not always a bad thing. Chandler Morse got to cook dinner in the middle of the week for the first time in his 11-year-old child’s life because Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake decided to retire.

He had worked for Flake for 13 years — most recently as chief of staff — when the senator announced in October 2017 he wouldn’t seek re-election. Morse thought it over until January. By then, he knew he didn’t want to stick out the term.

“Some folks are able to stay to the end and ‘turn the lights out.’ That wasn’t in the cards for me. I have a wife, a son and a daughter and am the primary breadwinner for our family, and the senator understood,” said Morse, 46.

Diving into another job at the Capitol didn’t seem like the right call. It felt like the end of an era.

“Thanks to the opportunities [Flake] provided, my wife and I were able to consider her staying home when our kids were very young, which I am tremendously grateful for,” he said. “But Capitol Hill jobs can also be tough on families, and I didn’t know if would be possible to match the kind of experience I’d had working for a member as long I had again.”

He left the Hill in August. A few days later, he started as director of U.S. public policy at Workday, an enterprise management software company. It’s a job that draws on his tech portfolio.

“What stood out to me about Workday ... is the company’s focus on core values and prioritizing culture,” he said.

Even when a lawmaker loses on election day, the staff still has some time to find what’s next. To be exact, House aides have until January and Senate aides have a full two months after the new Congress takes over.

What can you do with that time? Morse said to use it. Think about what you actually want.

“Once you know the direction, then it seems more often than not it’s a game of being in the right place at the right time when an opportunity that could fit comes available,” he said. “And that’s where having a good network comes in.”

Patience is important, especially when it comes to the hiring process in the private sector, which can be long. Morse also had to prepare for a new pace off the Hill.

“Not better or worse, but just a different tempo,” he said.

He started on Capitol Hill in 2003 as a legislative assistant for Flake when he was in the House, after working at the National Association of Home Builders in their regulatory group.

From there, Morse rose to legislative director and deputy chief of staff — and then legislative director and chief on the Senate side.

“While a lot of capitalizing on opportunity has to do with luck, I think there are things you can do as a Hill staffer that put yourself in good stead when an opportunity does opens up,” he said.

First off, be responsive.

“To say that folks sometimes disagreed with positions my former boss had is a bit of an understatement, but we always had a goal to be upfront about where he stood,” Morse said. “Similarly, we tried as best we could to get back to people, whether back in the state or on the Hill and regardless of party, as quickly as we could.”

Second, flexibility goes a long way.

“Not a single legislative process I worked on over the years was a straight line from A to B, and they all required creativity,” he said.

Lastly, honesty is the best policy.

“In the end, it’s the people I’ve gotten to work with and the relationships I’ve gotten to build — on and off the Hill and on both sides of the aisle — that have been the high point. Your word should mean something,” he said.

Watch: Jeff Flake, Chris Coons Talk Supreme Court Future at Atlantic Festival

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