Marshall’s state speech champ now governor’s deputy press secretary
MARSHALL — Girls and boys — participate in speech in high school, you never know where it will take you. Winning a state speech contest may have taken Marshall High School graduate class of 2014 Jessica Oaxaca to the state Capitol.
Oaxaca is the deputy press secretary for Governor Tim Walz and Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan.
After graduating from MHS, she attended the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, majoring in political science with a minor in international politics and a minor in business law. She intended to go on to law school.
But when she applied for a Senate internship program — one that was geared toward upperclassmen — she was surprised when she learned she got the position, being only a freshman.
“I think it was because I won the state speech tournament in high school,” Oaxaca said. “They were impressed that I won state speech. They were blown away by that.”
After interning for Sen. Melisa Franzen, DFL-Edina, for two years, Franzen asked Oaxaca if she wanted to work for her as a legislative assistant. At one point she was working full-time and going to school full-time. She took a semester off of college during the legislative session and still managed to graduate in just three years.
Taking college-credit courses in high school helped.
“I took a couple AP (Advanced Placement) classes and a CIS, College in the School, class that helped me graduate sooner,” she said.
After working for Franzen, Oaxaca worked for the Walz campaign team in August of 2018.
“I started late on the campaign,” she said. “I was a press assistant when I joined their team. We worked really hard.”
After Walz was elected, Oaxaca was offered a temporary job from November to January on the transition team, helping build the administration and set up the office.
She then was offered a job with the administration as deputy press secretary. She said she has gotten to know both Walz and Flanagan and can say they are “normal people.” They don’t have one personality in public and another “behind closed doors.”
Oaxaca said her job is “a lot of fun.” While she doesn’t travel all the time, she has gotten the opportunity to visit many cities over the last year with Walz and/or Flanagan.
“They are super active so they’re constantly traveling across the state,” she said. “I’ve gone to at minimum 50 different cities with them.”
Among her duties are writing press releases and speeches, setting up press conferences and preparing media advisories — “helping with communication strategies for the governor, the lieutenant governor and the first lady.
“If we haven’t been in say, southeast Minnesota for awhile, I’ll set up something with the local radio, a call-in interview,” she said. She makes sure the press has access and attends events that the governor or lieutenant governor are at. She also takes photos and videos for social media and the Flickr page, which is where the photos are kept from all the events.
Much of her job, she said, is about “building relationships” with reporters from all over the state and being a resource for reporters or others who need information or referrals.
Oaxaca said Marshall Public Schools provided a good foundation for her career. In addition to her studies, she was active in speech where she won the state championship for extemporaneous reading as a junior and came in eighth in the state for drama and qualified to go to Nationals for competition in Kansas. She also was in marching band, volleyball and track and field.
Oaxaca is now a married woman. She and fellow MHS 2014 grad Dan West tied the knot Nov. 8, 2019. The two started dating in high school and attended the University of Minnesota together.
West owns two businesses — Dan West Films which videotapes weddings and Blue Key Media, which is geared toward corporate video marketing. West started his wedding video company while he was still in high school in Marshall.
Growing up in a rural community and then attending college and working in an urban setting has given Oaxaca insight into many aspects of Minnesota.
“I get to see all of the other communities — up north, central, southeast — it’s really been eye-opening to see all the other communities in Minnesota,” she said.