DEBORAH TREFTS – STAFF WRITER
The Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and the subdued inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris focused all eyes on Washington, D.C. this winter. The heightened security around the Capitol Building and White House dampened the allure of this city, built to inspire awe.
For Chautauquans Krista and Paul Ritacco, who reside within the 64-mile Capital Beltway that surrounds Washington, D.C., its appeal has not waned. At 9:15 a.m. on Tuesday, July 27 in the tent on the Chautauqua Women’s Club’s front lawn, they will share personal “Tales of Washington.” (The rain date is Wednesday at the same time and place.)
“This will be the first time we’ve spoken about Washington together,” Krista said. “We will basically be trying to lift a veil on what life is really like working in Washington. There are a lot of misperceptions, like in Hollywood. What is it really like in the White House and on Capitol Hill?”
The couple met while they were both working for Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., who represented the district in which Krista grew up. She had recently earned her bachelor of arts in history from the University of Colorado at Boulder; Paul was an alumnus of Georgetown University, class of 1986.
“I’m a local boy, born and raised,” Paul said.
Krista said most of the office was from Southern California.
“I married the one from D.C.,” she said. “It was my first job in Washington.”
After interning for Calvert, Krista went to work for The Stuart Stevens Group, a political consulting firm that developed strategy for Republican political campaigns.
“(The year) 1994 was when we didn’t lose a race, including Tom Ridge’s, from Erie, Pennsylvania,” Krista said. “It was an exciting job seeing politics from a different angle than from the federal government side.”
Based in San Diego, her hometown, she helped run the Republican National Convention in August 1996.
“Things change every two years in Congress,” Krista said. “There’s a lot of transition. Stuart Stevens was on the election cycle, so it was time to move on. I did lobbying in a law firm and saw another side.”
Because the opportunities for non-lawyers were not as great as for lawyers, Krista said she left the Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease Law Firm and joined the American Continental Group, a lobbying and consulting firm, as business manager.
“I didn’t go to Austin, (Texas) and volunteer for (George W.) Bush,” Krista continued. “But he chose to have his transition office in D.C., so I had an opportunity to volunteer, and took some time off from my job. It was the best decision I made. … I started with the new administration on the first day.”
In the Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development at the U.S. Department of Education, Krista served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Evaluation.
As the director of the White House Counselor’s Office, she was involved with all aspects of the president’s strategic communications planning, as well as policy formulation and implementation in the service of his agenda. This entailed coordination with the White House Press Office, and offices that dealt with communications, media affairs, and global communications. She also established and managed the White House’s speechwriting operation.
“The responsibility is what I really enjoyed,” Krista said. “In communications and speechwriting, every day was different and exciting. Even if you knew what the day would be like, the world had other plans. It was a dream job.”
Paul described his career in government and business as “eclectic.” In 1989, through Georgetown University’s program at the Warsaw School of Economics, he studied with the economist and statesman, Leszek Balcerwicz, whom he said was “the architect of Poland’s reforms.”
“When I studied abroad, I studied in Communist Poland because I’m half Polish, and quite frankly, it was different,” Paul said. “It was absolutely fascinating. I can tell you it was one of the seminal experiences in my life. … Now we’ve been able to go back. I’ve lectured at the Warsaw School of Economics and Jagiellonian University in Krakow. (Pope) John Paul II studied there. It’s one of the oldest universities in the world.”
During President George H. W. Bush’s trip to Poland in the summer of 1989, he worked with ABC News in Warsaw. According to Paul, his experience in Poland cemented his “interest in government and political science after previously pursuing a career in medicine.”
That said, when he was 22 years old he began working with Discovery – known then as The Discovery Channel.
“We were the largest running vendor,” Paul said. “So when you watch Discovery and see Morgan Freeman, I basically created the rate structure for narrators. … It hadn’t been addressed. … As Discovery grew, I stuck with it.”
Because his work with Discovery and National Geographic necessitated contracts, nine years later he entered Georgetown University Law Center, where he earned his juris doctor degree.
Although Paul said he is a businessman first and foremost, having launched “multiple enterprises in the political and entertainment arenas over the past 30 years,” recently he “completed 23 years of government service having been a chief of staff and senior adviser to more than 30 members of the U.S. Congress.”
He began his congressional work in 1991 as a legislative aide for the House Republican Caucus.
Paul said he “shared doing multiple work for a number of members,” having “worked in both the traditional congressional office as well as leadership offices within the U.S. Congress.”
In addition to working for Calvert, for instance, he served as the chief of staff for Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., a supporter of term limits who in 2017 was succeeded by his brother, Brian Fitzpatrick, for whom Paul worked as a senior adviser. He also advised “numerous committee chairmen,” as well as Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. when McCarthy was the House Majority Leader.
Among Paul’s responsibilities were foreign policy, the Helsinki Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, terror financing, PFAS (chemical substance) issues, defense, financial services, campaign finance and the budget.
“I’ve really done a lot of stuff on national security and the military,” Paul said. “That, and the process. Especially overseas, they don’t understand our process, so I share it, and (in doing so) learn more about our process.”
As part of various Congressional Study Groups, he has traveled to Germany, Belgium, France, China, Japan and other countries. And he has worked with the U.S. military throughout the Pacific and Atlantic.
Currently Paul is the president of Campaign Financial Services, which advises on and manages campaign compliance for senior U.S. political leadership.
According to its website, Campaign Financial Services is a “campaign finance and consulting firm that specializes in providing a full range of financial services for federal campaigns, political action committees and party committees.”
Separately, CFS manages entertainment projects with major companies, including National Geographic and Discovery International.
“We do a lot of stuff with narratives,” Paul said. “We saw some opportunities. We do a lot of work on political ads for political consulting firms. There are two separate divisions — entertainment and politics. We meet in Washington.”
Having himself run as a Republican candidate for Congress, Paul has gained a unique perspective on strengths and weaknesses of the U.S. federal government. Krista’s experience as a former lobbyist, political campaigner and White House staffer will enable this Washington couple to present a fairly comprehensive picture — from the Republican vantage point — of what it’s really been like to work in D.C. over the past three decades.