Raised and homeschooled on a farm near Dexter, Iowa, Brenna Findley, 37, attended Drake University and the University of Chicago Law School. Upon graduation, Findley worked as an attorney in private practice at a national law firm in its Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C. offices. She later served as Chief of Staff and Counsel to Congressman Steve King, R-Kiron. Returning to private practice with Whitaker Hagenow GBMG in Des Moines, she was her party’s nominee for attorney general in 2010. She is currently serving as Counsel to Governor Terry Branstad of Iowa.
How did you first become involved in law and politics? Did you always want to be a lawyer?
I was always interested in being involved in my community and trying to make a difference. So I started volunteering with campaigns when I was 13. My dad is a farmer. There are no lawyers in my family. Some people said I should be a lawyer, but I didn’t decide until I was a senior in college for sure.
What best prepared you to be a lawyer?
I think to work in law and politics, it’s important to have preparation so that you can think critically and analyze. Communication skills are very important. Being able to work hard, which I learned on the farm, is essential. Along the way outside of academics, you acquire the people skills that are needed in order to serve and communicate with people, to listen and understand their concerns.
Who in the political sphere has influenced you the most and how?
There are different people for different reasons. When I was 16, I was a page in the legislature, and so I watched House members and how they interacted. So I learned a lot from just watching how that worked. I learned what was good and what was bad, what was effective and what was ineffective. So that was very valuable. When I was running for [Iowa] attorney general, one of the things I did to prepare for debates was to watch some Margaret Thatcher videos. I think she is someone who’s articulate and firm, but she explained ideas in ways that were compelling. And so obviously I admire her. I read documents that were related to the founding of our country, and that was inspiring. Especially by the examples of many of the founding fathers and everything they gave up in order to serve and to help get our government on a good path right off the bat. And there are other political leaders that I worked with that I admired. Sometimes I learn as much from the people I don’t admire, as the ones that I do. I try to learn from everything.
You ran for attorney general in 2010, will you run again in the future?
I might. It’s too early to make that sort of decision. I really enjoyed running for office. I enjoyed meeting all the people and campaigning in all of Iowa’s 99 counties. And communicating a message to all of Iowans how to solve problems and how things could be better. Not just proposing things, but proposing some concrete solutions to some difficult problems. I enjoy that challenge.
What was the best part of campaigning?
Meeting all the people.
What do you like most about your current position?
It’s a wonderful opportunity to serve and make a difference. [Serving was] one of the things that I hoped for after losing the race for attorney general. There were so many things that I cared about – that I wanted to impact as attorney general – but I lost the election and wasn’t able to do that. The governor hired me as his legal counsel, and I’ve been able to work on a number of issues I care about. I get to work with a very experienced governor, and I’ve learned a lot from him. He is a great executive.
What is the best advice you could give college students trying to get into public policy?
To get into public policy, it’s important not only to have academics, but to have practical experience as well. So volunteer in whatever capacity the organization is willing to utilize you within. For campaigns, that would be door-knocking, passing out literature, answering phones, or helping get ready for events. I learned a lot by doing those sorts of things and made a difference as well. Get involved early on and try different things. I quickly found the areas that interested me and those that didn’t. Directly volunteering, being involved, and being engaged were very important.