Welcome

I am a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I received by B.A. from the University of Nebraska in 2008 and my J.D. from The George Washington University Law School in 2011. My research and teaching interests focus on American political institutions, particularly how our legislative, administrative, and legal systems shape the policymaking process.

My dissertation investigates “policy investment” in the U.S. House of Representatives. Lawmaking is, as per the Constitution, the defining function of representatives, and members of Congress ceaselessly praise the merits of doing “the people’s work” and addressing issues that face their districts and the nation. However, despite the strong normative appeal of legislators making law, in reality, many members are relatively inactive, unfocused, and inconsistent in their policymaking. This may be because strategies like district service, distributive politics, or seeking positions of partisan leadership are less risky and offer more immediate career or electoral payoffs. Yet without “policy investors,” Congress would be missing an important group of problem solvers, a set of members who specify the policy alternatives from which leaders and, ultimately, citizens choose. Given the current, serious concerns about congressional effectiveness, understanding the factors that shape this behavior should be at the forefront of scholarship in American political institutions.

Perhaps surprisingly, political scientists know relatively little about why some members of Congress focus on policymaking. In response, my dissertation analyzes the precursors and consequences of policy investment in the House of Representatives. I theorize that developing an active, focused, and sustained policy agenda can benefit legislators by burnishing their professional reputations on the Hill, providing desired policies to key constituencies, or simply satisfying an internal interest in generating good public policy. However, investing in policy is costly, taking up valuable time and presenting members with opportunity costs from foregoing other activities. As a result, only some members, some of the time will be positioned to direct their energies towards policymaking projects. I expect that members’ decisions to invest in policy will rest on their assessments of factors like their electoral security, the likelihood of their bills moving through the legislative process, and whether their efforts will yield opportunities for intra-party advancement. To test my expectations, I draw on members’ bill introductions between the 101st and 110th congresses (1989-2009) to identify three main components of policy investment: intensity, specialization, and consistency. I define policy investors as members who score highly on all three dimensions. My results show that approximately 25% of members are “invested” during their tenures in Congress, and my empirical chapters explore how this profile of behavior is related to individual and contextual factors such as prior political experience, electoral security, and constituency characteristics.

Prior to graduate school, I served as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer from 2011-2013 in the Civic Engagement Office at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa. There, I worked to coordinate campus-wide civic engagement, direct service, and service learning programs. I also developed pre-professional and career exploration programs related to the non-profit sector.

For additional details, please see my CV.