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Kirsten Kukowski returns to Minnesota, after a decade on the frontlines of national GOP politics.
As the GOP added the presidency to the House and Senate in 2016 for a rare political trifecta of control in Washington, D.C., Kirsten Kukowski—a young, 10-year veteran on the GOP frontlines— seemed particularly well-suited, through experience and connections, for a White House power job.
Kukowski, a member of American Experiment’s Young Leadership Council, had worked at all levels of federal candidates: House, Senate, Presidential, and for the national party, where her boss had been Reince Priebus, no less.
Kukowski graduated from Elk River High School and double majored in political science and journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She interned in various departments at the State Republican Party in Wisconsin all through college. She spent a year working at the weekend assignment desk in the news department of Madison’s NBC affiliate, but knew she was cut out for politics. She nabbed a job in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2005, working for Green Bay-area Congressman Mark Green, who in ’06 ran for governor against Scott Walker. For the next election cycle she returned to the state party as communications director, eventually moving over to the Republican National Committee’s (RNC) Victory program in Wisconsin, organizing on behalf of the McCain-Palin presidential ticket. From there she was named a regional press secretary for the RNC’s Great Lakes/Midwest region. She acquired Senate-level experience on Mark Kirk’s successful 2010 bid to represent Illinois in the U.S. Senate. Following that she returned to D.C. for four and a half years as national press secretary under Priebus, her former boss at the Wisconsin state party.
With Priebus, she got experience in presidential politics, shuttling from D.C. to Boston to coordinate RNC activities with Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. With the presidential bug—“It’s always kind of the goal when you’re sitting there at the RNC, right?” she says—she hooked up with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s fledgling campaign, one of 17 Republicans vying for the GOP presidential nod that eventually went to Donald Trump. When Priebus became Trump’s chief of staff, she admits to some sleepless nights as she pondered the possibilities of adding White House experience to her resume.
The attraction was personal as well as political. “I am very good friends with Reince and Sean Spicer,” she says. She describes her decision as consisting of two components: “Do I believe in the principles and the policies and the person I would go and work for? Which, I think, for a lot of people that’s how they would approach it.” But then the other half is “Am I going to be able to accomplish what I want to accomplish as a communications and government official?”
She decided it was time to take an entrepreneurial leap and with Kristen Sheehan launched KK & Co, a Twin Cities-based public relations and public affairs company. “I was starting a process with Kristen of starting our business and it was a very exciting prospect for me, and I got to come back to the Midwest. So, overall it was a good decision for me.”