Q&A with Denver's Leo Perino, father of the White House spokeswoman
While White House Press Secretary and former Colorado resident Dana Perino (for Michael Roberts's profile, see "New Forecast") fields hundreds of questions from a ravenous Washington press corps every day on subjects that span the globe, her father, Leo Perino, took questions from Westword during a busy day at his Lincoln Market on East 25th Avenue.
He wouldn't talk politics -- though he does give a shout-out to Barack Obama's read-to-your-children focus -- but discusses his daughter's Beltway rise and his recent visit to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for a state dinner. -- Joe Horton
Westword: How often do you get to Washington?
Leo Perino: I first went to the White House when Jimmy Carter was president...we had friends who scheduled the planes for the president, vice-president and cabinet.
WW: Has Dana been able to come out to Colorado since she's been so busy?
LP: Yeah, she was out. She was the commencement speaker for University of Southern Colorado-Pueblo [Perino graduated from Ponderosa High School in Parker and the then-University of Southern Colorado, now Colorado State University-Pueblo].
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.
And my other daughter, I'm very proud of her. She's a senior trainer for Centura Health here in Denver.
WW: With a daughter here and a daughter in Washington, maybe it speaks to those discussions to have both of your daughters active in that way. Is that something you knew from way back when that they were interested in? When did you know Dana, in particular, I suppose, would be interested in this kind of work?
LP: Oh, I don't know if we ever...Dana graduated with her master's out of Illinois and went to work for [Colorado representative] Scott McInnis at the front desk back there in D.C. And within just a very short few months, [CO Rep.] Dan Schaefer had an opening for a press secretary come open, and different people around the office were encouraging her to apply for it. She said, 'My God, I just got here.' They wanted to hire somebody from Colorado, and I think actually [Schaefer] ended up calling her, if I recall the story right, and said come see me, and she did, and he hired her and she stayed until he decided he wasn't going to run for re-election. And then she went off to California [working in the private public relations sector] and then during the first run W made, she went back and was the EPA spokesperson, or I can't remember what [title] now, and then I'm not sure which press secretary called her into the White House at that time to be Deputy Press Secretary, where she did until Tony Snow resigned and named her full Assistant to the President and Press Secretary [Perino served on a provisional basis while Snow was undergoing chemotherapy for colon cancer; she took over full duties in September 2007 as the fourth press secretary of the Bush Administration].
WW: 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?
LP: 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.
WW: You had mentioned that you went to the White House during the Carter Administration...
LP: Yeah, that was our first time.
WW: I suppose you kind of get the special tour if you go back now?
LP: No, no. Well, I did. I was back last weekend or a weekend ago for the Prime Minister of Italy coming in. I was Dana's guest at the state dinner for the prime minister.
WW: Very exciting.
LP: Got to have my photo with Dana, myself, the prime minister, President and Mrs. Bush, and then got to meet and talk to Condoleezza Rice a little bit. Rudy Giuliani was there, talked to him a little bit. Justices [Antonin] Scalia and [Samuel] Alito were both there for dinner. Got to say hi to them, shake their hands. Yeah, it was very impressive. It was a lot of fun.
WW: Obviously, she has been in this position for a while nowm 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.
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