June 23, 2003

Queen of the Hill

By Michael Terrazas

Cameron Taylor has her dream job. Imagine loving an institution unequivocally, then spending the workday learning more about that institution and trying to convince people how vital and necessary and important and valuable and just all around great it is. And getting paid for it.

As Emory’s new Washington-based director of federal affairs, that’s exactly what Taylor does.

“I’m the ultimate cheerleader,” said Taylor, who essentially serves as the University’s chief lobbyist on Capitol Hill. “My favorite thing is that I get to be what I enjoy more than anything, and that is a cheerleader and an advocate—that’s what I like to do. I enjoy talking about what I love.”

There is no question Taylor loves Emory. A 1990 graduate of Emory College (sociology and ecology), she sits on the University’s Board of Governors and served for 10 years on the executive board of the Washington-area alumni organization. She recently resigned as vice president because of another big change in her life: the birth of her 5-month-old daughter, Kylie.

In fact, Emory has Kylie to thank for bringing Taylor into the personnel ranks of her alma mater. Many women, when they became mothers, decide to slow down and take some time off from work; for Taylor, switching to a 40-hour-per-week job is slowing down.

Ever since finishing her master’s in resource policy and administration at the University of Michigan in 1993, Taylor has worked in government. She started in the Office of Technology Assessment, advising congressional committees on resource policy issues, before moving to the staff of Rep. Tim Holden (D–Pa.) in 1996.

Two years later she become legislative director for the bipartisan Northeast-Midwest Senate Coalition, researching issues of relevance to that region for senators of both parties. And in June 2001, Taylor joined the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, managing legislative strategy, markups, Senate floor action and conference with the House.

All that added up to a lot of 60- and 70-hour workweeks for a self-confessed politics junkie who’s married to someone just like her; Taylor’s husband, Gordon, also is an Emory alum (’90C) and serves as chief of staff for Rep. Christopher John (D–La.). After years of spending her days cajoling politicans by day and connecting with Washington-area Emory alumni by night, Taylor wondered whether it might be possible to combine the two.

“Every major medical research university has a D.C. presence,” she said. “Over the years several alums and I have recommended that Emory follow suit—to have that constant presence, that face-to-face interaction, is so important in Washington, to have a person who has strong contacts not only to maintain Emory’s current relationships but also cultivate new ones.”

When former federal affairs director Courtenay Dusenbury (who was based in Atlanta) left the position in January, Senior Associate Vice President for Governmental and Community Affairs Betty Willis realized the time was right to recruit someone who could stay close to the action on The Hill.

“By being ‘on the ground’ in Washington, Cameron will be able to expand and develop even stronger relationships with our congressional delegation, key committee staff and federal agencies,” Willis said. “Another advantage is she will be able to strengthen liaisons and influence with key organizations representing health, medical research and institutions of higher learning to which Emory belongs. Presently our travel budget precludes us from participating in these organizations with the regular frequency other universities with Washington-based staff have able to maintain.”

Basically, Taylor’s main task is to heighten Emory’s visibility in Washington, and by her own estimation, she has some work to do.

“When I told people [about the new job], several people asked me, ‘Where is Emory?’” Taylor said. “So that was an eye-opener. People just need to be educated about all the incredible things Emory is doing. We haven’t been out there enough promoting ourselves and advocating for ourselves.”

Taylor will tackle this job not only by staying in close contact with Georgia’s congressional delegation—Reps. Denise Majette (D–4th) and Johnny Isakson (R–6th) have been particularly receptive to Emory input, she said—but by reaching out to Emory alums on other members’ staffs, by calling upon Emory expertise for congressional committees and task forces and by simply making sure people know the good things the University is doing.

For example, in 1999 while working for the Northeast-Midwest Senate Coalition, Taylor helped create the Senate Smart Growth Task Force and played a big role in the task force’s holding a field hearing at Emory that was attended by then-Sen. Max Cleland and then-Gov. Roy Barnes. Taylor moderated the event.

“Here Emory was doing all this work on pedestrian-friendly campuses, electric cars, electric buses—we should be showcasing that in Washington, especially at a time when there is so much interest in those issues,” she said. “That was the first and most successful field hearing the task force did. I was very proud of that.”

“Cameron has a comprehensive knowledge of the legislative process, a thorough understanding of the issues of major importance to Emory and excellent relationships with key committee and congressional staff,” Willis said. “She and her husband Gordon have been very helpful to us over the years and are always looking for opportunities to advance Emory on Capitol Hill. It could not be a more perfect fit.”

Other policy arenas in which Taylor plans to play up Emory include health care (naturally); transit and transportation issues (the University continues to seek a MARTA rail line connecting the Clifton Corridor to the Lindbergh station); student grant and aid programs; increasing federal funds for granting agencies in health, science, the arts and humanities; tackling the Medicare funding problems that have severely affected hospitals nationwide; and increasing funding for bioterrorism and homeland security programs in which Emory already is involved.

If Taylor is daunted, she doesn’t show it. In fact, she is positively gleeful, both over working for her alma mater and over Kylie, whom she and her husband will take to Scotland this summer to be christened.

The Taylors own a cottage in Dunure, a fishing village on the country’s southwestern coast. Gordon’s family is from Scotland, and the couple travels there whenever they can.

“His grandmother is there, his uncle and his two cousins, who are both commercial fishermen,” Taylor said. “Talk about a hard job. Politics and business don’t seem very hard when you talk to them—they work for a living.”

True, but both vocations call for dealing with sharks, and Cameron Taylor seems quite at ease in the water.