Colorado progeny Dana Perino — in the waning days of her latest stint as White House press secretary — admits it was tough speaking for President George W. Bush as his approval ratings tanked and his administration came under fire from both sides in a bruising presidential campaign. “I stopped reading blogs about me and told my mom to stop, because it was so vitriolic,” she told The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz earlier this week.
Apparently Perino’s dad didn’t get the message, because he gives a lengthy, folksy interview to Westword’s The Latest Word blog on Wednesday. Maybe Dana will give herself and her mom a reprieve, if only in this case.
Westword’s Joe Horton got the scoop from Perino’s father, Leo, at the East Denver convenience store he runs in his retirement:
[Westword]: Certainly a phenomenal rise for her straight through Colorado all the way to the White House. Was she ever able to talk to you about that? Was she ever surprised how things seemed to work out like that?
[Leo Perino]: Well, I think if you look back on it, it is surprising in a way. But I think, you know, like I say, she’s also worked very hard to get her master’s and being interested in that, so yeah. Other ways, [it’s] being in the right place, right time, but also working towards a goal. I don’t think you ever run for press secretary [laughs] — someone names you there.
Perino — who took over in September 2007 for her former boss, Tony Snow, when he retired to fight an ultimately unsuccessful battle against colon cancer — got her start in the halls of power working in the D.C. office of former 3rd District Rep. Scott McInnis. The Ponderosa High School graduate soon took a job as press secretary for former 6th District Rep. Dan Schaefer, where she worked until his retirement. After a stint in public relations and a job as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) flak, she joined the White House press office as Tony Snow’s deputy.
Along the way, Perino earned a degree in mass communications (with a minor in Spanish) at Pueblo’s University of Southern Colorado — since reconfigured as Colorado State University-Pueblo — followed by a master’s in public affairs reporting at the University of Illinois-Springfield. Still, her father wins lauds for stimulating a young Dana with vigorous discussions around the family dinner table — a credit he modestly declines.
WW: In many articles, you are credited as the person to get her started on this track with dinner-table discussions and debates of current events topics and news when she was young. Are you able to take credit for her career here?
LP: Oh, I don’t think I’d want to take credit. She’s worked extremely hard to get to where she has. We did that because we would rather talk about events in the world and what’s going on rather than gossip about people at the dinner table. You know, Barack Obama’s up at the stand right now right now telling people right now: Turn off your TV and read to those kids. That’s basically what we were trying to do — get them to read, be interested in the world around them, locally, nationally and worldwide.
That interest in the world cultivated by the Perinos has paid off in spades. Leo Perino visited his daughter at the White House recently, attending a state dinner for the prime minister of Italy as her guest and getting the chance to hobnob with luminaries of the lame-duck administration.
WW: Obviously, she has been in this position for a while now, and you’ve clearly had time to have this sink in, but does it ever really sink in when you’re meeting all of those people in the White House?
LP: To me, I don’t want to say it wrong, but I think for the most part they’re pretty much people. And though most, obviously, like Dana, got into situations with them because of the politics of being elected or being appointed by the president, like Condoleezza Rice and the judges, but they are actually very nice people. I had met Justice Scalia here when I worked for United Airlines part-time and he was boarding a plane. He was going on a hunting trip, and we talked about hunting. And that’s kind of what we talked about the other night.