By Kris Kitto - 09/08/09 10:02 PM EDT
Hometown: Tulsa, Okla.
Marital status/children: Single, “but I have a girlfriend.”
Last job: Deputy assistant secretary of State for Legislative Affairs
Most unusual job: Election observer, 1999, Nigerian presidential election. “I was taken hostage by a soldier in rural southern Nigeria, had a machine gun put to my head and paid a ransom of 150 nira ($1.80) for my freedom. Now I know what my life is worth.”
Most embarrassing moment: “The Code Pink ladies singled me out early for their ‘special treatment’ by calling me ‘Mr. Man,’ taking my photograph and telling me that I was going up on their webpage (I never checked). So every time I took State Department witnesses up to the Hill and they saw me, they would shout in the hallways, ‘Here comes Mr. Man!’ and come running to my hearing.”
Management style: “I follow Ronald Reagan’s maxim: ‘There is no limit to what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.’ ”
Number of cups of coffee you drink per day: Zero. “I am addicted to Dr. Pepper, however.”
Favorite political TV show or movie: “ ‘The Third Man,’ a 1949 British film noir thriller set in post-war occupied Vienna, Austria, starring Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton. Contains my favorite line of dialogue: ‘In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed — but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.’ ”
Most inspirational figure: “My father.”
Dream job (not including present one): U.S. ambassador to Austria. “I spent my junior year of college studying in Vienna.”
College: Westminster College, Fulton, Mo.
Graduate School: Harvard University
Passion outside work: Weedwacking
Claim to fame: Related to Oklahoma outlaw Belle Starr
Joel Starr has firsthand experience that he can apply to his new job as an Africa policy specialist for Sen. James InhofeJames InhofeFeds weigh whether carbon pollution should be measured in highway performance GOP chairman: Kids are ‘brainwashed’ on climate change Feds withdraw lesser prairie-chicken protections MORE (R-Okla.).
He was taken hostage in Nigeria while there as an observer of the 1999 presidential election.
“When you have a machine gun pointed to your temple, you basically say what they want,” he says.
Starr, a major in the U.S. Army Reserve and a JAG officer, didn’t let that experience taint his interest in international relations. He went on to work at the
U.S. Agency for International Development and the State Department, and he will serve as a foreign policy expert for Inhofe, who was appointed to the Foreign Affairs Committee in July.
But Starr says he has to do some catching up to his boss, whom he says is the most traveled sitting senator in regard to the African continent. He plans to help the senator shine light on issues they consider to be overlooked, like the child labor, child soldiering and human trafficking that take place in Africa.
Starr credits his time in the military and his junior year of college abroad in Austria for his interest in international affairs. He got his start in politics as a campaign speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush’s 1992 reelection bid, and he also worked on Africa policy for former Rep. Tom Campbell (R-Calif.).
Of his new position in Inhofe’s operation, the native Oklahoman says, “When I took my first step in the office, I felt a sense of being home.”