People in Politics: Jen Waldref

Jen Waldref is a happy person. She surely has her moments, but in the time I have known her, she has been extremely proactive about living the life she wants to live. Jen has a successful career in politics and a writing life outside of her day job that allows her to pursue her creative side.

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Jen Waldref enjoys some Washington sunshine. The outdoors are important in Jen’s life and in her work. Photo courtesy: Jen Waldref.

She manages to do all of this while raising three children, too. Her children have all attended the Olympia Waldorf School, a place she loves dearly. She has always wanted them to have the opportunity to explore their creative sides as well. She is pretty busy, too, but we met at Vic’s Pizzeria is West Olympia between working and picking up kids one evening to discuss politics and writing, two of her favorite subjects.

Jen grew up in Grays Harbor, and she can trace her interest in politics at least as far back as her time as a page in the legislature when Booth Gardner was Washington’s governor. Jen loves the page program, where young people, between the ages of 14 and 17 from across the state, spend a week in Olympia, working in the legislature and gaining a civic and legislative education. While you might think that in the age of technology pages are not needed to do legislative errands anymore, she says there is still work to do, and it is worth it for the civic education that is hard to get almost any other way. Besides, you never know if the program will spark a desire for a career in public service like it did with her.

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Jen Waldref poses with other pages and Governor Booth Gardner during her time as a legislative page. Photo courtesy: Jen Waldref.

Jen was a freelance writer before she got started in politics. She joined the communications team at the House Democratic Caucus (HDC) where she wrote speeches, newsletters and press releases for Democratic representatives. She also helped with town halls and served as a media contact for reporters looking to be in touch with members. Jen joined Governor Inslee’s office as the governor’s speechwriter not long into his first term and stayed almost four years.

Jen says that a lot of folks wonder why she left Inslee’s office; however, the answer is pretty simple. Her longevity in the position was unusual; what’s universally known among speechwriters is that it is a tough job. The strict deadlines and constantly changing situations create a high burnout factor regardless of who is in office.

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Jen Waldref gets a high five from Governor Jay Inslee. Jen served as Governor Inslee’s speechwriter for four years. Photo credit: Anna Bukowski.

“My time there speaks well of this governor and the team he assembled. Four years is a long time, and I could have gone on, but I wanted to leave at a good time. I didn’t want to leave burnt out. We were approaching the transition to the second term, and that seemed perfect,” Jen explained.

Jen says that there are infamous stories of speechwriters who have left under less than ideal circumstances. She felt lucky to have four years with good people and in a good situation. Her old job at the HDC was open again, and when the opportunity surfaced, she really did not have to think about it. She was ready not to have a steep learning curve, and she loves the work that is done in the legislature. It is stressful, but it does not feel like labor to her.

She believes the work that is accomplished there makes a difference in the lives of Washingtonians. It was like going home again, but the work was still new because a lot of change happened while she was gone. Clearly, it was the same job, yet new and exciting.

Jen Waldref has collaborated with Stacy Hirsch to create a local writing and meditation retreat. Photo credit: Emma Margraf.

Jen has been at the legislature for eleven years now. She loves that writing is a part of her day job because it has always been a portion of who she is. However, it does not fulfill the part of her that loves creative writing. So a few years ago she started attending writers’ retreats and exploring that creative side.

At the same time Jen was developing a close friendship with fellow Waldorf parent, Stacy Hirsch, and eventually they began discussing the idea of organizing their own writing retreat. Jen knew she could not organize a retreat all on her own, and she came to the conclusion that she wanted to incorporate more than writing. Jen decided to include meditation, which was an aspect of almost every writing retreat she had been to previously. Stacy leads drop-in meditation as part of her personal growth and life-coaching work at Life Takes Practice, so together Jen and Stacy formed what Jen refers to as a super easy partnership.

Thus began Cultivate, a writing and mediation retreat for women. The first retreat sold out. They recruited a group of women who were all in some kind of transition in their lives, and they bonded right away and formed a cohesive group. Jen says some of the most wonderful writing she has heard came out of the weekend, and she cannot wait to do the next one. In the meantime, she will have her hands full at the HDC, the other work she loves so much.

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