Only a few years into her first "grownup" job, Katharine Tinucci has seen a lot. Gov. Mark Dayton's 28-year-old press secretary has weathered an election recount (then as deputy campaign manager), a single-issue media melee (something about a football stadium?) and a government shutdown.
"Half of our office was laid off," she recalled of the latter, a Capitol calamity that occurred during her first legislative session. "There was national media attention and there were only two of us."
Welcome to the Show, kid.
It's been an exciting, unexpected ride for the personable politico who five years ago had no idea what a press secretary was. After law school in 2009, Tinucci said, she was "a bit adrift." Sifting through law books didn't sound sexy, and a postgrad internship with the Vatican at the United Nations fell through. After a summer of waiting tables at her family's Italian eatery, she signed on with the Dayton campaign -- having worked various local bids since the age of 18 -- thinking it would be "fun."
As staffers sometimes work long hours with little to no pay, it doesn't sound like much of a party to an outsider. But Tinucci relished the opportunity to work for a candidate she believed in during an open-seat election, and hey, it led to a pretty sweet gig in the governor's office. "I've tried to imagine a job half as exciting as this one and I can't," she said over the sound of e-mail notifications.
As press secretary, Tinucci is the first contact for reporters looking for the guv. She also coordinates media events, fields journalists' questions and helps plan Dayton's long-term communication strategy.
Although she had no premonition of her political PR path, Tinucci seems a natural at her unplanned post, casually touting the "people's stadium" and even jestingly plugging her boss' sons' Bachelor Farmer when asked about her favorite foodie haunts (her sister's Colossal Cafe being another). Assuming Ari Fleischer posters never graced her bedroom walls, what field did she foresee herself in?
"Oh, I was going to be an actor for sure," the theater/theology double major responded without hesitation. "I had the good sense to realize by the time I finished that I wasn't that good! So, I went to law school."
Still, she harbors no regrets, crediting her theater training with sharpening her oratory acumen. With any Broadway ambitions behind her, Tinucci says she enjoys her role at the Capitol.
"You never tire of seeing the dome when you drive up and when you leave," she said, pausing reflectively. "It's an incredible honor to come here every day, and I'm determined not to take a minute for granted."