Doing What No One Else Will: Ashbrook Alumna Challenges Local Favorite for Congress

December 24, 2020

In 1997, Casey (Miller) Lucius was a senior Ashbrook Scholar with big ambitions. She had sped through a heavy course load to graduate in three years, maximizing the funds her stepfather had cashed out of his retirement account so that she could attend Ashland University. She’d proved her way into the Scholar program, entering it as a sophomore after excelling at her freshman courses and was now was explaining her career plans to then Ashbrook Director Peter Schramm.

She would work as a policy planner in the Pentagon, she announced. Dr. Schramm shook his head. “You’re not going to do that as a recent college graduate. If you want to be extraordinary, do what no one else is willing to do.”

Lucius left Schramm’s office disappointed. Meanwhile, her Ashbrook mentor arranged an interview that led to her first job out of college, as a legislative assistant in the Ohio House. From there, Lucius went into the Navy, attracted by the opportunity to travel and learn.

Finishing training in Naval intelligence, she and other new officers were presented with a list of posts and told to “decide who’s going where.” Most of the positions were at naval bases, but one was aboard a large aircraft carrier, the USS Stennis. None of the new intelligence officers wanted to actually go to sea. Lucius heard Schramm’s advice replaying in her head. She took the post on the ship.

This choice launched a career that took her around the world.  She deployed to the Middle East and traveled throughout Asia.  She was sent to the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) in Monterey, CA, to earn a Masters at the Navy’s expense. Posted to Hawaii, she used the GI Bill to begin PhD work in political science. She took the overnight intelligence watch that no one else wanted, then did PhD work during the day. Sent next to Vietnam, she served as Chief of Staff to the US ambassador. This position allowed her to observe Vietnamese government officials’ policy choices at closer range, providing research for her dissertation on political decision-making. Her study was later published as a book.

While in Vietnam, she shouldered additional responsibilities, including being the escort for First Lady Laura Bush. She also served on the Pearl S. Buck Foundation board, promoting its work with orphaned children.

Invited back to NPS to teach national security studies at the branch of the Naval War College there, she implemented a teaching practice she’d learned from Ashbrook Professor Jeff Sikkenga: assigning short reading passages but insisting students read them three or four times. Students don’t want to do this; as an Ashbrook Scholar, she had at first refused. Then in class she realized that she could not answer the first question Sikkenga posed. Now, as a professor herself, she explained to students that only after “the third or fourth reading do you start to understand what’s there.”

Lucius and her husband bought a home in Pacific Grove and had a child. Again, she sought extra service opportunities, this time on a range of community governance boards. Elected to city council, she plunged into local policy-making, learning about the many demands agriculture and tourism make on the Monterey peninsula’s scarce water supply, limited low-skilled labor force, and beautiful but fragile coastal environment. She also learned negotiation skills: “To pass any ordinance, you have to work with others.”

Increasingly, however, she found herself “thinking about ISIS and Syria more than about what color to paint the library.” So she announced as a 2016 Republican candidate for her district’s open Congressional seat.

In the left-leaning 20th District, this was a challenge no other conservative sought—especially since the son of former Congressman and White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta had also decided to run. Lucius felt her public service and deep grasp of national security issues made her the better candidate. She resigned her professorship and campaigned full time. Yet Panetta, a deputy prosecutor and Naval reservist who had served one tour in Afghanistan, won by a large margin.

Lucius admits some over-confidence. “I thought that hard work and intellect could overcome money and a name.” Although she scoured her contacts for campaign funds, Panetta raised three times as much. A poll Lucius ran one month before the general election showed that, despite news coverage, TV ads, campaign signs, and volunteers making rounds, “30% of district voters had never heard of me.” Lucius concluded, “It’s not voter apathy. People are so busy managing their lives, balancing work and childcare duties” that they have little time to stay informed on politics.

She finds hope in the electoral gains Republicans made outside of California, giving them “a great opportunity to pass legislation that will benefit the American people, strengthen our economy, and renew our credibility in the world. Yet we could blow it by not collaborating with the other party.” Lucius told voters she would work across party lines. Noting resentment on the right when Democrats passed the Affordable Care Act in 2010 without any Republican votes, she worries that Republicans may now try to govern the same way. Representative government can reach lasting solutions only through compromise, she feels.

Still intent on serving the country, Lucius is applying for public and private sector jobs in national security. She always planned do big things. Years ago, “the Ashbrook program provided a pathway from my vision of myself to reality.” Shouldering tasks others avoid, she will find a way forward.