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AIA Uncertainty

Fully nine months after he announced his intention to retire, and a month after he said he would be gone, Robert Vagley is still serving as president of the American Insurance Association.

What gives? [IMGCAP(1)]

While headhunters vet potential successors, the AIA search committee so far hasn’t found what they are looking for, several sources close to the situation said.

“Maybe the perfect person isn’t out there,” a Capitol Hill source said on the condition of anonymity.

Four industry lobbyists confirmed that executives of member insurance firms have been gunning for a “big name” to replace Vagley, such as retiring Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge.

“They really, really wanted Ridge,” said a lobbyist familiar with some of the people who have been interviewed for the post. “They deliberately waited until after the election to try to get him, but he made it clear he wasn’t interested.”

With the association’s focus on extending terrorism risk insurance, Ridge’s homeland security background would have made him an ideal fit, several lobbyists said.

But the AIA has also looked within the ranks of their industry.

Robert Rusbuldt, CEO of the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America, was on the short list, several lobbyists said, until he signed a new contract with his own group.

Meanwhile, Vagley agreed to stay on until the end of March to give the association more time to find a replacement. After 19 years with the group, he has risen to become one of the highest-paid trade association heads in Washington, pulling down $1.25 million in 2002, according to the most recent salary survey by National Journal.

Dennis Kelly, a spokesman for the AIA, confirmed that the search for Vagley’s successor continues.

“We have a search firm, and they have been interviewing candidates,” he said. “When we have something to announce in terms of a selection, we’ll make it public at that time.”

Turn, Turn, Turn. Washington Council Ernst & Young continues to test the 360-degree motion of the revolving door between the White House and K Street.

The White House recently announced it had tapped Candi Wolff, a partner at the firm, to head up its legislative affairs operation. And the administration raided Washington Council for a second partner last week, announcing it would also be grabbing Brian Conklin to lead the charge for President Bush in the House.

“We’re flattered,” said Washington Council partner Bruce Gates, who conceded the moves present a “workload issue” for those remaining with the firm.

He said the firm is not looking to hire replacements for Wolff and Conklin right away. Instead, Gates said, the firm’s team approach to client work will allow the remaining staff to absorb the workload without too much disruption.

“That’s part of the reason we set up the firm this way,” he said. “It makes things easier when we’re trying to take vacations.”

The two personnel losses for the firm come on top of two others in recent years.

Doug Badger left the firm two years ago to serve as the president’s top health care adviser. Last week, President Bush polished off a shuffle of his lobbying team by naming Badger as the operation’s “inside” deputy, managing negotiations between the administration and Congress.

Mark Weinberger left Ernst & Young LLP in 2001 to become the president’s first assistant Treasury secretary for tax policy, then later returned. This month, it has been widely rumored that Weinberger will be invited back to the administration to lobby for Bush’s planned overhauls of Social Security and the tax code.

Targeting Hispanics. Seeking to tap the growing political power of the Hispanic community, the Raben Group is launching LATINStrategies, a new division of the lobbying firm that will focus on “Hispanic-related services” for their clients.

To head up the practice, the firm has hired Laura Rodriguez, the former chief of staff to Rep. Hilda Solis (D-Calif.), and Estuardo Rodriguez, a media specialist.

Arts Advocates Flex. Washington-area arts advocates are teaming up with former Clinton administration officials to form Americans for the Arts Action Fund, a group that will lobby for arts funding and education.

The fund has already made a splashy debut with a print ad campaign declaring, “When people think Louis Armstrong was the first person to walk on the moon, there’s not enough arts in our schools.” It has also rated Members according to their voting records on arts issues, according to ARTnews magazine.

The group is looking to form a PAC soon so it can push for more art in public schools and higher public funding of arts organizations.

K Street Moves. James Jochum, a senior trade official with the Bush administration, is joining the Washington office of Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw as a partner in the government and global trade group. … The American Farm Bureau Federation has hired Paul Schlegel, an aide to former Rep. Jennifer Dunn (R-Wash.), as a director of public policy. … Ted Hollingsworth, former chief of staff to Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), is joining Compass Consulting Group, a new lobbying firm, as managing partner. … Larry Russell, who managed the Bush-Cheney ’04 campaign’s field operations in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, is going to work for the American Road and Transportation Builders Association. Russell will be located in a regional office, handling fundraising and grass-roots activities in the Western United States.

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