Wisconsin Department of Commerce Newsletter
Meet Commerce's New EA
Not many couples can live through putting up wallpaper together, let alone ride 3,400 miles across the U.S. on a tandem bicycle in 54 days without some serious issues – but they aren't Chandra Miller Fienen and her husband Michael. To hear Chandra, the new Executive Assistant at the Department of Commerce, tell it, the trip was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But let's back up a bit…
Chandra and Michael met in calculus class at Macalester College in Minnesota where they were both undergrads. Finding a soul mate in each other – both, she says, are passionate outdoors people, and, she laughs, "nerds!" The couple married "in jeans at the city hall" in Japan where Chandra had gone after graduation to teach English for two years. "I had always wanted to know more about my grandmother's country," she explains.
A year later, on their first anniversary, they re-tied the knot in a traditional ceremony in Madison and then headed out to California where she attended law school at University of California–Berkeley and practiced civil litigation at a San Francisco law firm.
In 2004, after more than a dozen years in San Francisco, the couple decided move back to the Midwest once Michael completed his doctorate in Environmental Engineering at Stanford.
Chandra made a dual-purpose reconnaissance trip that year - to check out the possibilities for a move home and to manage her father's—then Representative Mark Miller—campaign for State Senate.
Politics, it seems, runs in the Miller family blood. Her first "job" in politics, she laughs, was that of "cute baby!" when she accompanied her parents (Mark, then a pilot in the National Guard, and Josephine "Jo" Oyama-Miller, who later ran CAC's "It's My Business" program) on "lit drops" for her grandmother, former state representative and Wisconsin political icon, Marjorie "Midge" Miller.
When she toddled out of the "cute baby' phase, Chandra was "promoted" to "envelope stuffer" and "stamp-licker" as she recalls that her grandmother's campaigns were always family affairs. Given the fact that her father is one of nine children and her mother, one of ten, there was never a lack of volunteers. She watched, she listened, and learned a thing or two about winning campaigns.
Consequently, the 2004 trip was a success on both counts. With her father elected to the State Senate, Chandra returned to California, but ready to move back to Wisconsin. Fortunately, Michael agreed. Hence, the aforementioned bike trip…
While Chandra concedes that the two could have packed everything into a U-Haul and made the cross country trek in the conventional way, how much better, they thought, to take the time for a once-in-a-life adventure. Why not make the trip on a bicycle built for two?
So, on May 9th, the pair cycled over the Golden Gate Bridge and bid "adieu" to their adopted city. By the time they reached Madison, they figured, they would be so happy to be there that there would be no looking back!
"We planned the trip so we could camp most of the way," said Chandra, "but every three to four days we would stay with friends or at a hotel – so we could charge our cells phones, etc."
After arriving in Madison on July 1, 2006, Chandra worked on Governor Jim Doyle's re-election campaign, while Mike completed his Ph.D. and started his postdoc at U.S. Geological Survey in Middleton. Chandra planned to take the Wisconsin bar and return to practicing law.
However, during the campaign she made the acquaintance of Aaron Olver and Jason Helgerson, two fellow Doyle campaign staffers who ended up on the Governor's transition team. They wondered if she had ever considered being an Executive Assistant (EA).
Well, no, she hadn't – nor did she really have any idea what an EA did. However, after she listened to Aaron's great sales pitch, she realized that the job paralleled her legal skills (helping with policy initiatives, responsibility to constituents, etc.) while offering new challenges and opportunities.
Since coming on board, she says that her main focus will be "to ensure that the work and goals of the department and the secretary is communicated accurately to the public, the Governor and the Legislature."
Chandra hopes to help alleviate the workload of new Deputy Secretary Aaron Olver, who has been juggling the deputy's job with his previous role as the EA.
In conclusion, she's optimistic that both her recent move and her new job have been great choices and has no plans to peddle back to California!
-- Barbro McGinn
The newsletter is issued electronically every other month.
Please send comments or questions to Barbro McGinn, editor.