by Colleen Kropp

Thousands of miles away from home, David Lopez looks out on his new surroundings at the smoky haze of the Northern California wildfires, sharing his thoughts about the fortuitous path that brought him to Menlo Park, where he has lived for the last seven months working for the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit that conducts health policy analysis, journalism and polling.  

A 2013 Temple graduate with a degree in political science, Lopez started his career in politics well before he even entered college. He recalls his early political beginnings working for three months as an intern during his senior year of high school in Arlington, Virginia, for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign.

Subsequent internships brought him back to Washington and forged the connections that would eventually bring to the White House full-time. Lopez served as Temple’s student body president from 2012 to 2013 and he considers his student government service to be the springboard to a career he loves. His time in the White House working for the Obama administration gave him the tools and knowledge he needed to land his current gig, where he continues to share his passion and expertise for increasing public awareness of important social issues.

So, you were in DC just prior to going out to California?

Correct. After I graduated I started my job at the White House on July 2, 2013. My first job there was in operations, and then in 2014, I moved over to the policy side. I worked for the Deputy Chief of Staff for Implementations, where I started off doing administrative work. Then I moved over to be Policy Advisor to Deputy Chief of Staff in the later half of my time there. I stayed there until the very end —my last day was Jan. 18 —two days before inauguration day. After that, I took a little vacation before I started with the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Where did you go on vacation?

Oh I went all over the place —got together with a group of friends and we took a little road trip. I’m on a mission to get to all fifty states before I reach thirty and I’m almost there. Knocked a couple off my list. I did Denver, Salt Lake City, drove down to Bryce Canyon, Zion, hit the Grand Canyon, the Hoover Dam, and ended in Las Vegas. It was pretty cool. I am less than 12 states from my goal.

Temple was the road to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for me --- it’s what connected me to that address.

That’s pretty impressive. What were you doing policy-wise at the White House that led you over to Kaiser?

A vast majority of the work we did on the policy side of things was mostly health care related. You know, the Affordable Care Act, and just trying to ensure that there was an open enrollment period that went smoothly. Healthcare.gov was a really big issue at the beginning of the administration and I was not there during that time, but in a way it comes down to lessons learned and how you can prevent those problems from happening again. Our office also focused a lot on veteran affairs. Immigration reform was part of it. So was cyber security. Basically, most of the issues that became problematic and needed to be addressed immediately and put on a proper course. My boss was very efficient at doing that — righting the wrong by putting things on a trajectory where they could eventually get a bigger resolution.

So how did your knowledge of working within the realm of health care and policy lead you to your next stop at Kaiser?

A lot of people don’t realize that the Kaiser Family Foundation has no affiliation whatsoever with Kaiser Permanente. I always like to make that caveat.

The foundation is a place where we rely heavily on information from when I worked for the administration. At the end of the day, we see things a lot through partisan lenses and we see that now, especially, all throughout the country. But Kaiser is one of the few places where that lens is not always apparent and its for the right reasons — to ensure people are getting raw data, raw information, the way it should be delivered to them, and I know that’s part of what drew me into working with Kaiser post-administration.

It helped that it was based in California, too. That I didn’t mind.

Was that a big desire for you, to move out to the West Coast, even if briefly?

Yea, I think I was ready for something a little different. The four years of federal government service, working almost 80 hours a week, I think that was a lot. I was looking for something a little less demanding, but also perhaps a change in scenery. That’s kind of why I was hoping for California. I wouldn’t say that was a big motivation behind it, but it helped for sure.

What role you are playing out there?

My job title is Advisor to the President and CEO, Director of our Special Projects. It’s not dissimilar to my previous job. I work on assignments that could vary in relation to one another, vary in the amount of work they require, and the special projects could include something such as Puerto Rico — trying to coordinate the work we are doing under one umbrella, to make sure they all synchronize what we are doing with one another in response to Puerto Rico recovery efforts. It could include things on the operational side, like coordinating a multimillion dollar office move from one station —we are based in Menlo Park right now but will be moving to San Francisco — assisting with that regard.

It’s also external communications, working with key partners, as strategically and respectfully as we possibly can, because we want to ensure that they are well informed of the work we are doing. Part of it has been keeping my eye on the policy debate for the past couple of month. That’s been key, having come from the world of politics: understanding the thinking and the potential changes and the narratives being put forth by members of congress. So, staying on top of the political component has been important here for me to be valuable to the people I work with.

When you think back on your time at Temple, how did Temple prepare you for everything you are doing now?

I will say that’s what led me to the White House, first and foremost. There’s no doubt about that. Temple was the road to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for me --- it’s what connected me to that address. As an undergrad, I spent a lot of time focusing my attention on how to best use my summers for my internship experiences. I was very strategic about those.

Is there anything specific that you accomplished through TSG that stands out to you … even now?

Yea, I think one of the big things was the fight we put up in regards to getting the expiration dates on Temple IDs so students could use it as a form of identification. Across the state, we were seeing issues with people not being able to vote because they didn’t have a valid form of ID, and what did this mean for college students. Being a part of that narrative was great. We saw resolution, and ultimately people were then able to use their IDs as a form of identification to go to their polling place and cast their vote. That was one of the biggest advocacy things that we did. Partisan lines aside, it’s a matter of people’s ability to vote, and students, especially, should have the ability to vote. It was well worth the battle to put a couple of extra digits on an ID when you get them printed.

That’s great. One of the tidbits I was told about you before we spoke is that you really love Hillary Clinton.

That’s funny and that’s not false. I think Hillary Clinton was a big part of the reason why I sought my degree in political science. My infatuation level with her was quite high back in the day when I worked as an intern on her 2008 presidential campaign and it kind of spun out from there. She’s one of the many political figures who was transformative in my life, as well Barack Obam. To have the pleasure to work for the President was by far one of the most rewarding, amazing experiences I could have ever asked for. So I kind of see it from that angle of I will never be able to cast doubt or refute the fact that Clinton was a huge part of getting me where I am today or wherever I will go in the future.

You’re dealing with a lot of heavy topics on an everyday basis. What music do you listen to while you’re going through your day?

[Laughs].  That’s a great question. With my type A personality, even my musical interest is kind of ridiculous. So, I have a tendency these days to create monthly playlists. I just created my October 2017 playlist, and that includes a series of new songs I heard on the radio or Pandora and I throw them on there and then I usually include a selection of songs from the previous month, but not the ones I’m sick of listening to because I’ve listened to them far too much. Is there a specific genre? No, I will listen to anything and everything—Rap, Pop, Hip Hop. But truth be told I’m really big on the NPR life these days because my commute to and from work is an hour and thirty minutes, so there’s only so much of that whiney music you can take. And sometimes you’re like, “NPR, I can’t take you anymore, you’re too depressing, so I’m just going to listen to this new Pink song for the 15th time today.” So yea, there are trade offs.

Well, at least Pink’s a Philly girl, so you got that.

Yeah…the Philly connection never really goes away.

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