The following is a special alumni profile sampled from the latest edition of Libertas, the official publication of Young America’s Foundation
Leah Campos: I saw an ad for Young America’s Foundation’s summer conference in National Review (this was before the internet). I had never traveled alone, and my parents were pretty strict, but they were very supportive of me taking the trip.
I had a summer job at an avionics testing facility (where the U.S. Air Force and the defense industry tested jet avionics systems), and my boss was a Knight of Columbus. When he learned I was going to try to fly out to Washington, D.C., to go to the conference, he surprised me by awarding me a small scholarship from the Knights of Columbus to offset the cost of the trip. That was very humbling.
L: You interned with the Foundation in the early 1990s. What did you most enjoy about that experience?
LC: The experience was great! The Foundation’s staff was a “who’s who” of great conservative minds, and I was able to learn from them: Kate Obenshain, Cecilia Kirk, Peter Schweizer, Marc Short, and of course, Ron Robinson.
I was surrounded by proud conservatives who believed strongly in promoting and defending the principles upon which our country was founded.
L: You also attended the foundation’s National Conservative Student Conference in the early 1990s. What was most memorable from your time at these programs?
LC: My first conference in 1990 was an amazing experience because I realized that there were so many young people around the country who understood their conservative views and were able to defend them.
At the time, I was living with my family on a remote Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert in California, and I was such an outlier with my strong interest in public policy and my unabashed conservative views! Attending the conference made me realize that I definitely wasn’t alone, and it reinforced my interest in conservative thought, specifically.
L: You had a lengthy career with the CIA as an operations officer in the National Clandestine Service. What led you to this career?
LC: I always knew I wanted to serve my country somehow. As a military brat—my dad served in the Air Force and my two brothers were U.S. Marine Corps officers—I figured I would join the USMC after college.
My mentor as an undergrad was a former OSS officer (the OSS is the precursor of the CIA). We would
chat often about my interest in the intelligence business and about his experience serving our country during WWII. We spoke often about the importance of strategic intelligence, and that led me to pursue a career with the CIA.
L: What advice would you give to a young person considering a career in the CIA or similar agencies?
LC: There is no glamour or massive paycheck when you serve in the Clandestine Service, but it is vital work in defense of our country. Good intelligence is our first line of defense! Travel, learn foreign languages, and be well-rounded. That is the best advice I can give. Intellectual curiosity and a deep love of our great country are a must, too.
L: During your time with the CIA, you worked in Western Europe and Latin America where statist governments and economies, like that of Venezuela, are imploding. What are some of your key takeaways from working in these countries?
LC: I saw the real effects of statism living and traveling around the world. As Margaret Thatcher once said, “The trouble with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.”
I saw that borne out in many countries. Statist governments make false promises—just like Bernie Sanders—free everything! Labor laws discourage work ethic, and entrepreneurship is strangled by the over-regulation of an over-bearing state.
I saw how these policies sap young people’s drive as they expect to be given everything, and they never experience the great feeling of earning and building their own success.
L: How has the Obama administration’s approach to foreign policy (or lack thereof) affected these nations in particular?
LC: I am not in favor of us getting involved in every corner of the world unless it is in our vital national interests. But, I also recognize the importance and value of the United States’ leadership in the world.
I’ve been completely disappointed by President Obama’s approach to foreign policy because it has been guided by political correctness and an unwillingness to accept our leadership role in the world. Even worse, this administration has not taken seriously the threats that confront us, and this has emboldened terrorists and disappointed our allies.
L: Today, you are a senior advisor on the House Committee on foreign affairs. Can you share a little bit about your day-to-day work on Capitol Hill?
LC: I keep up with everything going on in the Western Hemisphere and advise Committee Chairman Ed Royce, helping him conduct oversight of the administration’s foreign policy activity in the region. Right now, I am working with Chairman Royce to challenge and expose the Administration’s reckless policy regarding Guantanamo detainees. Obama’s political goal to close the detention center down is putting American lives at risk by sending these terrorists to countries that cannot ensure they don’t return to the terrorist fight.
L: Your father is an American of Mexican descent and your mother is an immigrant from Spain. How did their experiences influence you and your siblings?
LC: My parents are the most patriotic people I know. They raised my siblings and me to be proud Americans. It is no surprise that my brothers were both Marines and that we all found a way to serve our country. My parents wouldn’t have had it any other way.
L: You and your sister, Rachel Campos Duffy, are both active in promoting your values and ideas to a wider audience. What do you think conservatives should be doing to reach more minorities, particularly young Hispanics?
LC: Hispanics are generally very conservative, and Hispanics in this country start small businesses at three times the rate of any other demographic. Those who are recent immigrants know how great this country is because they saw the alternative in their native countries. Hispanics tend to be pro- family, pro-life, and pro-business.
We need to figure out a way to reach out to them, because the liberals have used their “community organizing” to get into Hispanic communities and convince them that big government is the key.
My sister, Rachel, is national spokesperson for a group called The LIBRE Initiative, which seeks to reach out to Hispanics across the country and explain the big government lie and how it is affecting their ability to open businesses and earn their success.
L: You ran for Congress in Arizona in 2012. Do you have any plans to run for public office down the road?
LC: I won’t rule it out, but right now I’m focused on the scary reality that two of my children are in high school—Christian (16) and Isabela (14)—and the other two—Soledad (12) and Xavier (9)—will follow before I know it!
I hope they will be future Young America’s Foundation conference attendees!
L: What one book would you recommend to a student interested in learning more about conservative ideas?
LC: While a student attending a YAF conference in 1990, I received Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot. I found this to be a very important first read in understanding conservative thought and philosophy.
L: What is the most interesting place you have visited?
LC: This is a tough question, since I’ve traveled so much and have seen so many wonderful places. As a child I lived in Turkey, and we visited Ephesus and the last home where the Virgin Mary lived, and that was truly amazing. I love vibrant cities. Madrid and Buenos Aires stand out to me. My fourth child was born in Buenos Aires, so that city has a special place in my heart.