Minnesota deputy to first lady is leaving D.C.

  • Article by: COREY MITCHELL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 2, 2013 - 6:51 PM

WASHINGTON - As one Minnesotan assumed a powerful post in the White House's West Wing, another left an influential job in the East Wing.

The same day President Obama appointed Stillwater native Denis McDonough as his chief of staff, Crystal native Semonti Stephens left her job as deputy communications director for First Lady Michelle Obama.

Stephens witnessed history firsthand, from the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver when Obama accepted the Democratic nomination to his second inauguration.

Along the way, she helped shape the public image of the first lady, who has become one of the most recognizable women in the world and, according to polls, even more popular with Americans than her husband.

Now Stephens has left behind the East Wing for a new life on the West Coast.

"I'm taking two months off and then my husband and I are moving to San Francisco," Stephens wrote in an e-mail to the Star Tribune.

She worked as an intern for the late Sen. Paul Wellstone while a student at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter. But her formal career in politics began shortly after graduation when she landed a job as assistant press secretary on Missouri U.S. Rep. Dick Gephardt's unsuccessful presidential campaign.

From there, Stephens went on to work on Capitol Hill for four Senate Democrats, including Minnesotans Amy Klobuchar and Mark Dayton, now Minnesota's governor.

She parlayed that experience into another presidential campaign role, this time as Michelle Obama's deputy communications director during the 2008 campaign.

With President Obama's victory, Stephens stayed on with the Obamas, shifting her focus from political campaigns to political capital.

Before her promotion to deputy communications director, she served as deputy press secretary, fielding questions about the Obama daughters, the first lady's style and Bo, the family's black and white Portuguese water dog.

As the first lady advocated for military families, championed healthier lifestyles and traversed the globe as an unofficial ambassador, Stephens helped manage the daily demands for Michelle Obama's time, working behind the scenes to handle requests for public appearances, interviews and photo shoots for much of the past two years.

"I've loved working for the first lady for the past five years, but I needed to figure out what was next for me," Stephens wrote.

What that is remains to be seen.

  • Minnesota falls into mid-pack for Obama visits Through Election Day 2012, President Obama made five trips to Minnesota during his first term. That placed Minnesota in a tie for the 24th most-visited state, along with Connecticut, Georgia and Indiana, according to Brendan Doherty, a political scientist at the U.S. Naval Academy who has compiled data on presidential travel dating back to the Jimmy Carter administration. The week ahead President Obama will visit Minneapolis on Monday to tout a gun proposal he unveiled in mid-January and meet with local leaders and law enforcement officials to discuss steps they've taken to reduce gun violence. In St. Paul, the House Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee will host a series of hearings on gun violence in the State Office Building. Committee Chairman Rep. Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, hopes to assemble a Gun Violence Prevention Act that includes the best ideas culled from the hearings.
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