Rising Stars: Cassidy Denny, Legislative Director for Sen. Angelique Ashby

Cassidy Denny, image by Scott Duncan Photography

As the Legislative Director to Senator Angelique Ashby (D-Sacramento), Cassidy Denny has achieved a career that she could only dream of just five years ago.

Denny grew up in Sacramento, but she did not envision joining the policy world when she was recruited to Colorado State University to play volleyball as an undergraduate. In fact, she pursued a degree in Business Management and Finance because she was good at math and knew that it could open the right doors.

It wasn’t until Denny learned about the policies behind slavery and other tragedies involving Black history on a learn and serve trip to Ghana that Denny realized that she wanted to pursue a career in justice.

“I’ve always been the most opinionated friend in my friend groups and the loudest one who’s like, ‘that’s not how this should be’ or ‘I don’t like this’, or very strong willed, as my mom will say,” said Denny. “The media doesn’t paint politics to be the nicest place, but you do have to be loud and strong willed and have a passion for something.”

Denny is an only child, raised for most of her childhood by a single mother in Sacramento, and for most of her life, Denny has placed a lot of pressure on herself to achieve perfection in the eyes of the world around her.

After a gap year of traveling the world following her graduation from Colorado State, Denny was selected into the Senate Fellowship program, where she worked under Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco).

Despite having spent much of her college experience immersed in the worlds of volleyball and finance, Denny hit the ground running, working on a bill that would allow incarcerated people to be housed on the basis of their gender identity rather than their assigned sex at birth.

“It’s really cool when my members trust me to do a relatively big policy change for the state of California and I just try my best not to let that imposter syndrome take over,” said Denny. “If they trust me, then I trust me.”

Senator Wiener’s office exposed Denny to progressive policies, and she explained that “being a mixed Black woman in the world has its own sets of challenges and opportunities that come with it, so being seen for my true self and valued for my opinion was something that I was able to experience in the fellowship, and that set the standard for where I want to work from now on.”

It has now been five years since Denny’s fellowship, and in the years following, she worked in the lobbying sector, as a legislative aide for Senator Wiener, and as a legislative aide for Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Oakland).

“It’s really cool when my members trust me to do a relatively big policy change for the state of California and I just try my best not to let that imposter syndrome take over….If they trust me, then I trust me.”

“I am impressed and inspired by how quickly she’s moved up the ranks from legislative fellow to legislative director – and that she’s done so because of her fierce work ethic, her curiosity and resourcefulness, and through a real determination to learn,” said Jennifer Fearing, founder of Fearless Advocacy, Inc. “She has a poise and professional demeanor that is obvious as soon as you meet her.”

At the end of 2022, Sen. Ashby asked Denny to interview for the legislative director position. Denny said that they immediately clicked, as Ashby leads a team of strong women and she works with foster youth and anti-recidivism, two of Denny’s main areas of policy interest.

Denny has continued to build communities that align with her identities since her fellowship in Senator Wiener’s office, and to advocate for greater representation of women and people of color in the Capitol.

“Cassidy has already established herself as a leader among the disappointingly small number of black staffers in the Senate,” said Fearing. “She chairs the California Legislative Black Staffers Association and has really thoughtful ideas about how to support and mentor others and is passionate about growing the pipeline to create more opportunities for young black Californians to serve as legislative interns and staff.”

As chair of the California Legislative Black Staff Association, Denny’s goal is to increase the number of Black staffers in the building, and to bring more accessibility and visibility into the Capitol.

“I want to leave the world better than I came into it, and you don’t really do that by saying no to opportunities to make the world better,” said Denny.

Denny explained that she needs to say “no” more often, but it is difficult to turn down activities that she is passionate about, from her side passion projects with work to her ultimate frisbee team or her volleyball coaching gig.

An athlete at heart, Denny spends most mornings boxing to relieve her stress and anxiety before going to work.

After a morning of boxing, Denny’s responsibilities include managing her legislative team, delegating bills and policy areas, in addition to staffing bills herself and working in issue areas. Denny also meets with lobbyists on the bills that she staffs, works directly with the Senator to provide appropriate information, and ensures that all timelines are met that the calendar has set. The rest of her job involves networking with people outside of the office and ensuring proper training and communication.

Denny always asks her office to take the Harry Potter House quiz, which she swears by as a personality test to learn quickly about coworkers. Denny describes herself as a kid at heart, which helps with the heaviness of her job. (Denny is a Ravenclaw, for those curious readers out there).

While Denny has achieved quite the impressive career at the age of 28, this accomplishment is not met without challenges. Most of them are internal, as Denny described second guessing herself as the only Black woman in many spaces she enters in the Capitol.

“I want to leave the world better than I came into it, and you don’t really do that by saying no to opportunities to make the world better.”

“It’s an immense amount of pressure I put on myself to be nice and kind and smart and witty, but also firm and strong and not a pushover and make sure I look presentable, but should I actually have to do that? It’s these mental gymnastics of ‘I am good enough to be in this space, period.’”

Denny has worked hard to overcome these challenges, especially as they revisit the surface with each new role that she undertakes. She has worked to show up unapologetically herself and to not say sorry for things that she doesn’t need to apologize for.

“I would tell a younger version of myself that you’re never taking up too much space, and the people that think that aren’t your people anyways. There’s never a time that you should not be yourself.”

Denny’s work for each Senator over the past five years has been nothing short of impressive. This year alone, Denny staffed a successful bill that allows foster youth to attend college for free.

Jumping from Senate Fellow to Legislative Director in the span of five years has been a milestone career accomplishment for Denny. What next? seems to be the obvious question. A next step could be Chief of Staff or jumping into the child welfare sector, but for now Denny is perfectly happy with where she is.

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