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Bush Coalition Chief Leaves; Turner Joins Law Firm

The Bush administration is losing its ambassador to K Street. Lezlee Westine, the White House’s director of public liaison, is leaving to take the top job at TechNet, a group that represents technology company chiefs. [IMGCAP(1)]

The move comes at a potentially awkward time for the White House, as Westine was charged in part with corralling business interests and coalitions. Though she leaves amid heated legislative fights on multiple fronts, several downtown sources said her exit is simply part of ordinary personnel turnover.

“She has probably stayed longer than most people do,” said Cesar Conda, a principal at the Navigators lobbying firm and, until two years ago, assistant for domestic policy to Vice President Cheney.

In her White House post, Westine served as the administration’s link to business interests and constituent groups.

“She was a facilitator, and she was very good,” said Lee Culpepper, a National Restaurant Association lobbyist who worked with Westine on tax cuts and legal reform. “You need accessibility and knowledge in that role, and she had both.”

While Westine has strong ties to some sectors of the business community, several senior lobbyists knew little of her.

“That is really weird,” a financial industry lobbyist said, “but it’s typical of this White House. They like to do everything behind the scenes.”

In her new position, Westine should prove a boon to the technology lobby in Washington.

While the industry has good connections in both chambers of Congress, it’s never “had someone at that high a level from the administration,” said Ralph Hellmann, a lobbyist for the Information Technology Industry Council. “It’s just another feather in the high-tech cap.”

Westine worked at TechNet for four years before taking the White House job. The Palo Alto, Calif.-based lobbying outfit formed in the late 1990s to give technology companies a louder voice in Washington, but it has never actually had an office here.

One of Westine’s first tasks will be to establish that office, in addition to representing her group in a number of legislative debates, including those over the Central American Free Trade Agreement, high-tech health care, patent legal reform and the expensing of stock options.

Turning a New Leaf. Former Rep. Jim Turner (D-Texas) has joined the public policy and government contracts practice at Arnold and Porter.

Turner, who spent 20 years in government including four terms in Congress, served as the ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee. His tenure in Congress also included a post on the Armed Services and the Government Reform and Oversight committees..

“Arnold and Porter is a place where I can continue to be involved in the issues I worked on in the Congress,” Turner said.

At the same time, Arnold and Porter lured Elizabeth Hurley Burks, Turner’s former chief of staff, to become a senior policy and legislative adviser. In addition to working for Turner on Capitol Hill, Burks also logged time with Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) when Lincoln was serving in the House.

Turner is banned from lobbying Members and staff in Congress for a year. But as a just-departed aide, Burks’ only restriction is that she can’t lobby Turner and his office.

Turner, whom politicos speculate could run for either governor or Senator in 2006, will become Arnold and Porter’s only former Member of Congress on staff.

A Bigger Group. The Nickles Group has been in business for only a few months, but it’s already living up to the moniker “group.”

The firm, founded earlier this year by former Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.), has hired Rachel Jones to focus on tax and health policy. She had been director of tax policy at the Senate Budget Committee, which Nickles chaired before his retirement.

The partners have had their eye on Jones since opening their doors, said Hazen Marshall, a founding partner at the firm and a onetime Budget Committee majority staff director.

“Now we’re getting busy enough that we’re happy to get her on board,” he said.

The firm has signed up General Motors, General Electric and the American Society of Anesthesiologists as clients and has established an informal strategic partnership with their next-door neighbors, Public Strategies Inc.

Marshall said the Nickles Group and PSI are in talks this week to jointly bid on a contract with the American Petroleum Institute, for whom they would be doing lobbying, grass-roots and media work on the energy bill.

Security Specialist. Karen Yeager, a former official with the Homeland Security Department and a former adviser to President Bush, has joined the lobbying firm Dutko Worldwide as a vice president.

Yeager, who will focus on homeland security lobbying, served as the department’s adviser to Undersecretary Michael Brown, external affairs coordinator and business liaison director, where she was tasked with articulating Bush’s homeland security message with business leaders.

Yeager said she joined Dutko because of its lobbying presence at the state level. “I learned from working in homeland security that you’ve got to have strong partnerships and good relationships with the state and federal level,” she said.

Yeager also previously served as deputy director of Sen. Trent Lott’s (R-Miss.) political action committee and worked on his 2000 re-election campaign. She also worked on the 2000 Florida presidential recount and the 2001 presidential inaugural committee.

Ethan Wallison contributed to this report.

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