When Sandy Libby came back to her native Georgia in 1975 after getting her master's degree in political science from Wichita State University, she landed a job at Road Atlanta, a raceway.
"But I wanted to use my political science training and I knew there had to be a Jimmy Carter headquarters somewhere around," she said. In short order, Sandy Libby, had been hired as a $40-a-week campaign aide.
Politics is a great escalator, and today the 26-year-old Libby is ensconced at the Democratic National Committee office on Massachusetts Avenue, where she serves, in a real sense, as President Carter's link to the one-third of America that lies between the Mississippi River and the Rockies.
As one of the regional desk people in the national committee's field operations division, Sandy Libby is, in the official jargon "responsible for . . . communications between Washington and the political leaders of the Democratic Party outside the Washington."
The essence of her job is suggested by the photo of Carter over her desk to which she has attached a button reading: "Keep in Touch."
"Keeping in touch" for Libby means watching the buttons on her desk-top telephone and pouncing more quickly than her nine regional-desk colleagues when one of the four WATS (wide area telephone service) lines they share becomes avialable.
Libby has one of the tougher as signments in the group. The Presient only one of her 10 states last fall (Missouri), and his patronage and water project decisions these past few months have created fresh problems with Democratic officials in the area.
In addition, the White House has ordered her and her colleagues to mobilize party support for an energy program that, in part at least, creates serious problems for the Western states.
A visitor who spent a day last week with Sandy Libby came away with a vivid impression of how tricky political communications can be for a contemporary President.
Libby arrives about 9:30 a.m. at the small office she shares with Paul Sheehan, a former aide to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy who has similar duties for the Northeast Sheehan had taken advantage of the time-zone diference to get in some early calls to New Hampshire before the WATS lines were jammed.
She has barely arrived when the phone rings. It's a Democratic leader from the Virginia Islands, an offbeat assignment by Libby inherited from her days as a delegate-counter in the Carter pre-convention "boiler room" when she was tracking the Virginia Islands delegation.
Her end of the conversation goes like this: "I don't think they've moved on it yet, so we're okay . . . That makes it really tough for him to get anything . . . Did you-all have any other folks? . . . I haven't yet but I'll let you know as soon as I hear."
The patronage matter finished she asks about reaction to the Carter energy package and scribbles furiously as her caller talks. Later, she explains to a visitor that people in the Virgin Islands "are real concerned about the customs directors. They're not pleased with the person who's there and they prefer someone from the islands." As for energy she says "it's getting a good response so far, and they think it will mean expansion of the Hess refinery."
In rapid succession, she talks to officials in Utah about a visit from national chairman Kenneth B. Curtis, in South Dakota about an invitation to Secretary of the Interior Cecil D. Andrus, and in Missouri about plans for a Midwest Democratic conference this fall.
When the WATS line is available again, she calls two Carter campaign leaders in Colorado, asking each if he has received the 28-page explanation of the energy program that was mailed from the national committee last week. "Well, if it doesn't come in two days let me know and I'll send you another one," she says.
"Can you believe that?" she asks, turning to Sheehan as she puts down the phone. "In Colorado, they say people would prefer strict rationing. They think that's the only fair way."
A half hour later, she is talking to the former Carter chairman in Kansas and runs into a complaint about someone suggested for membership on the sercening committee that will recommand judges for the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
"No" she says, "that name must have come from Griffith Bell. It didn't come from here . . . The League of Women Voters? I doubt they'd be making recommendations to Griffin Bell . . . It's kind of rough, but I'll try to find out . . . Now, listen, I've got some names of people who are being considered for regional positions . . .No. I don't know what agencies. They just send the names over. Can I read them to you and see if you have any problems with any of them?"
Lunch provides a pleasant break in the routing this day. Two early Carter workers from Missouri are in town and Libby has been invisited to join them for lunch at the White House mess with the President's son Chip.
After lunch there is more good news. Phillip Chicola, assistant to the director of the division, has brought in slips on two appointees. Libby checks the first name, a U.S. attorney for South Dakota, in her loose-lead notebook of applicants from her region and says. "Good, he was the consensus candidate. Everyone should be pleased."
"Now," she says, waiting for the WATS line. "I just hope he hasn't already been in the papers there."
Luck is with her. She calls her contact in the office of Democratic Gov. Richard F. Kenip. "Hi, Dan. Sandy, I've got an appointment for you . . . Yes, that's right. It'll be announced in the next couple days. I knew you'd be pleased."
Another call informs the South Dakota Democratic Party executive director, and Libby volunteers some information helpful to another South Dakota job-seeker. This man wants the post of regional office director of housing and urban development. Libby notes that several states in the same region have no candidates of their own for the post and suggests that their congressional delegations might be willing to support the South Dakota contender.
In return, she learns that high-level South Dakota Democrts, have scheduled a private meeting next month to discuss a successor to retiring Democratic Sen. James Abourezk.
The last item is useful, because such bits of political intelligence are prized for the daily memo the field operations division sends to the White House political team headed by Hamilton Jordan.
In addition to reporting reaction to the energy package, recent memos have flagged a number of potential trouble spots: repercussions in Texas from a leaked White House memo; opposition in North Carolina to a pending Justice Department appointment: a Southwestern governor who is upset about the "casual treatment" of his patronage recommendations.
"A lot of the information that goes over there [to the White House] is negative," says field operations director David E.Dunn. "but they haven't shot the messenger. It's awfully important, because it's the only way the President can stay in touch with what's going on."
Mark Siegel, a deputy to Jordan on the White House political staff, says "sometimes the memo information is very useful and sometimes it duplicates what we already know." But he adds, "I'm glad they're staying in touch with the people out there, because often they can gauge the intensity of a problem better than we can."
Back in her office, Libby is making calls on the second jon announcement, a U.S. marshal for Wyoming, telling those who are pleased that "Hamilton worked on this one himself."
There are other problems, however. A national committee member from one of her states tells her that a defeated Democratic congressional candidate had a series of very good interviews for an administration job, "but then the process just stopped." suggesting some kind of political veto.
Libby promises to pass the word that "even though he wasn't an early Carter person, he and his staff were super-helpful in the campaign."
And so it goes, right up until quiting time.
Does it work? At the last meeting of the Democratic National Committee there were loud complaints about lack of consultation and notification on patronage. One of the most vocal critics was Richard Ista, state chairman of North Dakota and Libby's responsibility.
She concedes, sheepishly, that "North Dakota still hasn't gotten an appointment of a Democrat from this administration. There've been several Republicans."
But not everyone is unhappy. Monte Pascoe, the just-retired Colorado chairman, says Libby is "very friendly and pleasant and obviously is trying to maintain a good level of communication. That's no small plus." His only regret, he says, is that the national committee officials "don't have the authority to deal with the serious things the regional directorships and U.S. attorneys."
Don Anselmi, the Wymong chairman says, "They have really opened up the communications - for whatever it's worth. I have great rapport with my governor and my congressman, so the party doesn't really need help in this state. But they certainly want to be helpful."
Libby says, "I think we're succeeding, but it takes time to built rapport with people who don't know you and don't trust the Democratic National Committee 'cause they've never heard from it before. Itjust takes a lot of time."
From Carter's point of view, 1980 will be soon enough.