Sitting in the office of Kim Kockler ’87 Lib, it’s easy to forget there’s anything special about where she works.
Her building is not a skyscraper; she only has to go down six floors to get to the front door.
Stepping out of the elevator, she doesn’t walk into an ornately decorated lobby. She doesn’t have to scramble past people hurriedly running to and fro through constantly revolving glass doors. The cafe just inside the building’s entrance may be the one thing Kockler notices as she steps out onto the sidewalk — and stares straight up at the Pennsylvania Capitol.
While Kockler’s office may sit in the shadow of the state’s capitol building, Kockler herself is right in the thick of things. The Penn State Beaver alumna is the vice president of government affairs for Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania, a position that places her in the midst of all things health care in the state.
Kockler returned to the Beaver campus to speak at the fall 2010 commencement ceremony. And while she shared some of her experiences and success in her speech, she barely had time to scratch the surface.
Kockler’s journey to Harrisburg wasn’t something she expected while a student at Penn State Beaver.
“I never really saw myself leaving the area, to be honest,” Kockler, a native of Monaca, said.
When she walked onto campus in 1983, Kockler thought she wanted to be an attorney. But after speaking with her adviser, Dr. Sid Elkin, Kockler changed her mind and began pursuing a political science degree.
After two years at Beaver, Kockler moved to Penn State University Park. Then, after graduation, she returned to Monaca to begin job hunting. The only jobs she could find, though, were in sales, an area that wouldn’t allow her to use her degree.
Ever-determined, Kockler paid a visit to then-State Representative Nick Colafella, who proposed an interesting idea to her: move to Harrisburg. Kockler was open to the idea of moving, and before long she had an interview to work in the state capitol.
A daunting prospect
Fresh out of college and only 22 years old, Kockler climbed the stone steps of the massive capitol building for the first time.
“The day I first set foot in the capitol for my interview was the day I first set foot in the capitol,” she said.
As if that weren’t intimidating enough, Kockler didn’t know anyone in Harrisburg. But the intimidation made no difference, and she was hired to work for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
“My first assignments were writing speeches and press releases for members of the House, and it was amazing,” she said.
Kockler knew she’d made the right decision in moving to Harrisburg, but she soon learned the state legislative process is much different than what she had learned about in the classroom.
“To me it was ideal. I mean, this is what it was all about. This is what you learned about in political science class: how the process works, how you write legislation, what the public agenda is,” she said, laughing. “And I can tell you that the way it works is nothing like what you learned in class.”
The work of a lobbyist
Kockler spent three years working for the House before moving over to the Senate. After spending another three years there, she took a job with a private consulting company that had a variety of clients. In working with those clients, Kockler did consulting and lobbying work in areas such as transportation and economic development.
But it was health care, Kockler said, that really grabbed her interest and led her to take a job as the director of policy management for Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania in 2000.
As a lobbyist for Blue Cross, Kockler did many of the same things she’d done in her previous consulting job. But instead of writing speeches, creating press releases, and organizing media events for a variety of clients, Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania was the only client she worked for. The company provides health insurance to approximately 500,000 people in 13 counties.
New title, same government
Kockler found success in her new position, and in 2007 she was promoted to vice president of government affairs for Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania.
“I actually am the first vice president of government affairs they ever had,” she said.
The title was unexpected. “I certainly never thought I’d be called vice president of anything,” she said.
The new position put Kockler in a unique place within the health insurance company.
“Basically, the way I like to explain it is, I’m the bridge — the bridge from the company to the state or federal government.”
Kockler says she enjoys her job because it ensures she’s always moving from one task to another.
“I think I like that it’s always different. You know, the players are different. The legislators are different. The people you deal with are different. The issues change. It’s dealing with the whole environment.”
An old friend
While the politicians Kockler has worked with are an ever-changing group, Sen. Pat Vance is a constant. Vance, who represents Cumberland County and northern York County, has been a part of the state’s Legislature since 1991. As the chair of the Senate’s Public Health and Welfare Committee and a former nurse, Vance’s career has been steeped in health care.
Articulate, wise and energetic, Vance speaks with the assuredness her senatorial position commands, but does so with the kindness and warmth of a next-door neighbor. When Kockler walked through the door of Vance’s office, the feeling of genuine friendship between the two was palpable.
“She’s always been knowledgeable and well-informed,” Vance said. “She’s as good as any (lobbyist) I’ve worked with.”
But it’s not just staying current on the health care landscape that makes Kockler so good at her job. With all of the hustle and bustle in the state capital, Vance said Kockler possesses the ability to state her case, and do it logically and succinctly.
“I do value someone who tells me their points clearly and doesn’t take three hours to do it,” Vance said.
A lasting legacy
While Kockler has found success as a lobbyist in Harrisburg, she and Vance both agree that the field has been — and in some cases still is — a challenging field for women.
“I think and I hope that I’ve helped some younger lobbyists to maybe either consider lobbying or advise them in how they proceed, and serve as a sort of mentor in a way,” Kockler said.
And while she wants to continue serving as a role model and mentor for others, her own story of success is far from over.
“I think I’ve got one more big step in me,” Kockler said. “I love having responsibility, and I love the environment I work in, and I love health care, so I’m hoping that it involves all of those things.”
Despite her success and all the challenges in the area of health care, Kockler hasn’t lost sight of why health care is so important.
“Health care is anything but a black and white issue. There’s always a story and a person.”
Originally written by Matt Jones '10 for the Penn State Beaver Nittany News, Fall 2011