Republicans Face Tough Job Market

Posted November 15, 2008 at 12:19pm

Correction Appended

And the procession begins.

As Members of Congress head for the exits, retiring Republican lawmakers are facing uncertain job prospects after Jan. 1, when Democrats begin painting the town completely blue for the first time in 14 years.

Job-seeking Democrats should have a far easier time than their Republican colleagues in the months ahead.

“It’s the land of Democrats,” one executive recruiter said. “If you have a ‘D’ by your name, the assumption is that you can work where you like.”

As recent high-profile GOP departures at cable provider Comcast Corp. and other local heavyweights continue to highlight new opportunities for Democrats on K Street, Republicans are less sanguine about their prospects, acknowledging that a less-than-hospitable landscape downtown awaits them.

“Let’s face it, with Democrats in control, there are going to be fewer Republicans that have opportunities,” retiring Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) said last week. “Say there are 30 Republicans who are walking out the door, maybe a third of those are going to be able to get the plum opportunities because of their experience or committees.”

He added: “It’s not going to be every one of them because of the political dynamics and because of the background of the people.”

Among those departing Republicans who are thought to have promising careers awaiting them on K Street are Reps. Tom Davis (Va.) and Jim McCrery (La.) and Sen. John Sununu (N.H.).

“Not sure” of his own next career move, LaHood said he’s more concerned about his more partisan Republican colleagues, who may have burned bridges with Democrats during recent years of tense partisanship.

“I’m seen as someone who’s bipartisan — a big, big plus” in the job market, LaHood said.

The seven-term lawmaker, who was former House Minority Leader Bob Michel’s (R-Ill.) chief of staff in the early 1990s, also said his kinship with the new White House won’t hurt his cause.

“I have a very good relationship with President-elect Obama. I’ve known him, I’ve worked with him,” LaHood said. “I’m going to have lots of opportunities.”

Still, LaHood, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, acknowledged that his immediate plans remain up in the air. He said he’s “talked superficially to some people back home” and made the rounds in downtown Washington, D.C., “but never in great detail.”

“When I leave on [Jan. 2], I’m going to really spend some time thinking about it, talking to people and trying to decide,” he said.

LaHood and other soon-to-be-unemployed Republicans may take heed from the Democrats’ experience in 1994, when then-Rep. Newt Gingrich (Ga.) and Republicans swept to power and sent more than 30 House Democrats packing, including then-freshman Rep. Marjorie Margolies- Mezvinsky (Pa.).

Margolies-Mezvinsky, a former television broadcaster, told Roll Call last week that she had “kind of a soft landing” after losing her job in what is now-Rep. Allyson Schwartz’s (D) suburban Philadelphia district. And just as she did more than a decade ago, Margolies-Mezvinsky advised departing Members to stick with what they know.

“I had a background that was different than most legislators. I’d come from the media and I’d also taught,” Margolies-Mezvinsky said. “I went back to areas that I felt comfortable in” — the nonprofit world and academia.

“Losing was tough for me because I put so many people out on the street,” she added. “I felt so bad, but every one of them found a really good job.”

At the time, Margolies-Mezvinsky’s lineup of staffers included Amy Walter, who is now the editor of the Hotline.

Retiring Rep. Tom Reynolds (N.Y.), the former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, also is staying mum on what his future entails — but it’s not for a lack of offers, he said.

“I haven’t ruled out anything, I haven’t ruled in anything,” said Reynolds, who also sits on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. “I don’t actually know what I want to do yet — that’s how free I am about it all.”

Regardless of their political stripes, recruiting firms and lobbying shops say Reynolds, LaHood and other Republicans with in-demand policy expertise should have no trouble eventually finding work. In addition to tax and other economic-policy-writing expertise, former Members with knowledge of health care, energy and environmental issues are generating the most interest.

Their expected baseline salary: $400,000.

“For Republicans, I haven’t had a lot of resistance at the firms to talking with them,” a recruiter told Roll Call. “It depends on the individual candidates and what they did in Congress.”

But it’s what some departing — and otherwise qualified — GOP Members did outside of normal working hours in Congress that may make boards of directors hesitant to make an offer.

Of the more than 40 Republican House Members who are either retiring or were defeated this cycle, at least seven potential top recruits will leave Congress with significant ethical or personal baggage: Reps. Tom Feeney (Fla.), Randy Kuhl (N.Y.), Heather Wilson (N.M.), John Doolittle (Calif.), Vito Fossella (N.Y.), Rick Renzi (Ariz.) and Jerry Weller (Ill.).

Feeney, whose 2003 trip to Scotland with jailed lobbyist Jack Abramoff contributed to his defeat at the polls, sits on the Financial Services panel, while Kuhl, who allegedly pulled two shotguns on his wife more than a decade ago, sits on the Agriculture panel.

Wilson, who sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, acknowledged asking a U.S. attorney to follow up on politically charged voter fraud cases two years ago. Meanwhile, Doolittle, whose Virginia house was raided by the FBI last year, sat on the House Appropriations panel until he was stripped of his committee assignments.

Fossella, who sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, awaits sentencing on drunken-driving charges, an arrest that also first exposed the married Member’s long-term affair and love child.

On Friday, the Justice Department lodged new charges against Renzi, who once sat on the House Financial Services Committee, for racketeering and tax fraud. Earlier this year, he was indicted on 35 additional corruption charges. And Weller, who announced his retirement in late 2007 after a local newspaper explored his questionable Central American land deals, sits on the Ways and Means panel.

But regardless of why retiring GOP Members may be slow to find work — save for incarceration — one former Member joked that they will all land on their feet.

“Republicans take care of their own,” the ex-lawmaker said.

Correction: Dec. 8, 2008

The article incorrectly stated that Jake Tapper was a staffer for Rep. Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky (D-Pa.) when she lost re-election in 1994. Tapper left Margolies-Mezvinsky’s office before the election.