Some Republicans Feeling the Love, Too

Posted May 8, 2009 at 6:19pm

It still may seem like the winter of discontent for Republicans looking for lobbying slots, but the job chill for many K Street GOPers has begun to thaw.

“Firms realize they’re not going to get the Democrats they wanted,— said one contract Republican lobbyist.

“It’s starting to loosen up. People are starting to land a little better than they were in January or March,— the lobbyist added.

Republicans might not command the top salaries they did three years ago, but that doesn’t mean their dream jobs are out of reach.

Just last week, Richard Hunt, a former top aide to one-time Ways and Means Chairman Jim McCrery (R-La.), announced he was going to the Consumer Bankers Association as the group’s new president. Former Bush administration Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Chris Padilla became a top lobbyist at IBM.

And plenty of one-time Republican Members have secured private-sector gigs this year.

Former Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), a moderate in his party, went to Covington & Burling, while retired Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio) landed at the firm Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice along with her former Chief of Staff Lori Salley.

Republican ex-Reps. Jon Porter (Nev.) went to Akerman Senterfitt, Phil English (Pa.) landed at Arent Fox, Jim Walsh (N.Y.) went to K&L Gates and Tom Davis (Va.) works at Deloitte, among others.

K Street headhunter Ivan Adler of the McCormick Group said ex-lawmakers have had an easier go of it than mere mortals.

“It’s been a lot easier for King Kong than it’s been for cheetah,— Adler said.

But it isn’t just former Members or lobbying rock stars who have found positions downtown.

When the Financial Services Roundtable went looking for a replacement earlier this year for insurance lobbyist Andrew Barbour, a Democrat, the group tapped Republican Peter Freeman, Pryce’s former deputy chief of staff.

And in recent weeks, Smith’s former top aide, John Easton, set up shop at Van Heuvelen Strategies as the boutique’s first Republican, while Michael McHugh, another former Smith staff member, joined Venn Strategies.

“We look at these opportunities one by one,— said Rod De Arment, a Republican who heads the lobbying practice at Covington, the firm that hired Smith. The former Senator “has good relationships with Democrats, too. He worked across the aisle pretty effectively.—

De Arment said Covington is always on the lookout for talent, no matter the party in power. For example, he noted, the firm hired Eric Holder, a Democrat who is now attorney general, when Washington was firmly under the grip of GOP control.

“When you have a chance to scoop up a talented person, sometimes the wave is going the other way, but talent is talent,— De Arment argued.

Adler said the search process “has been elongated for Republicans,— but added that as corporations and associations feel the pain of some of the Democrats’ legislative proposals, business has picked up.

Democrat Bob Van Heuvelen, who started his own firm in 2007 after leaving the Hill as chief of staff to Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), said his recent hire of Easton makes business sense.

“The fact that he’s a Republican, I frankly think that is an advantage,— Van Heuvelen said.

“Some of my Democratic colleagues think it’s going to be the next 40 years of Democrats in control in Washington.

“I simply don’t believe that, but even if I did believe that, the reputation that John brings to the dialogue is one of a serious student and pragmatic person,— he added. “There are too many times when a problem comes up that is not easily solved by an ideological answer.—

Some Republicans say their job searches have taken longer than they would have liked, but Easton puts a positive spin on his months off at the beginning of this year. “It was decompression time, family time and soul-searching,— Easton said. “I did not want to rush into anything, but at the same time, I also wanted to get back moving again. So it was about right for me.—

It’s not just Republicans who have noticed a change for GOP prospects, however.

Democratic lobbyists have noticed it, too, and don’t necessarily think it’s for the best. Many say hiring a Republican for a major corporate or trade association job is simply a bad business decision.

“Do you think it matters to Henry Waxman if Billy Tauzin is there or not?— asks one longtime Democratic lobbyist, referring to the Democratic House Energy and Commerce chairman from California and the former GOP Member from Louisiana, who heads the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. “Of course it matters.—

And while others note that there is a limit to the number of qualified — and available — Democrats in town, there often appears to be a generalized denial of the new world order.

“There are some people in the corporate world who just don’t understand the political dynamic and don’t understand that Democrats are going to be in control for a long time and don’t understand that their case may be better made by Democrats,— said a Democratic contract lobbyist.

Another Democratic lobbyist, who is in-house at a corporation, said that while his party is reticent to be seen pushing aside viable candidates simply because they are Republican — a Democratic version of the K Street Project — some hires are nonetheless seen as too partisan.

“Republicans did an excellent job of mapping out the top jobs and feeding their people into the openings when they came up,— said this in-house lobbyist.

“I don’t think anybody wants a return to the K Street Project, but when it comes to [Richard Hunt], he’s as partisan as they come, and I don’t think that serves an association very well.—

Tracey Mills, spokeswoman for the CBA, said Hunt’s hire was not about partisanship. “This is about what the retail banking industry needs to help the country to emerge from this economic crisis,— she said.

Freeman, the former aide to Pryce who took over the insurance lobbying portfolio at the Financial Services Roundtable, strikes a bipartisan tone and says he lobbies both sides of the aisle.

“I feel that having worked for a boss who was not seen as a lightning rod on the Republican side, helped,— he said, adding: “I have good relationships with a lot of Democrats both downtown and on the Hill.—