If you want to be a chief of staff, first get a job with Rep. Lynn Westmoreland.
Three of the Georgia Republican’s Washington, D.C., employees will be chiefs of staff to new Members of the House next year. And a fourth has taken a gig as deputy chief of staff for communications to Georgia Gov.-elect Nathan Deal (R).
That’s a track record no other Member can match this year.
“He seems to be some sort of chief-maker,” said Justin Stokes, Westmoreland’s former press secretary who left to manage Rep.-elect Richard Hanna’s campaign. Stokes was recently hired as the New York Republican’s chief of staff.
“He’s having a pretty good year farming people out,” Stokes added. “He also sees it as a great opportunity for all of us to move up in our careers in Capitol Hill and take on new challenges.”
Westmoreland, the National Republican Congressional Committee’s vice chairman for redistricting, said he was asked to let Stokes work on Hanna’s campaign. “Justin wanted to go so we let him go,” he said. “When the time comes that they can better themselves, I want to be there to help them.”
Stokes joins Joe Lillis, Westmoreland’s former legislative director, and Jim Hayes, who helped the Congressman run a House GOP task force on the census, in getting new positions as chiefs of staff.
Westmoreland credited his former staffers with earning their own opportunities, but he did offer that he feels like a “proud parent.”
“I don’t think anybody wants to see a good staffer leave, but you got to remember there’s only so high they can go in your office,” he said. “If you want to go up, you’ve got to switch elevators.”
It seems Hayes and Lillis found adjacent elevators; they’ve taken jobs with Republicans whose districts share a border at the Southeastern corner of Missouri. Hayes will help Rep.-elect Vicky Hartzler represent the 4th district and Lillis will guide Rep.-elect Billy Long, who represent’s the state’s 7th district.
Westmoreland said he hit it off with Long through his NRCC work and recommended Lillis to head his new office.
“I was asked by Billy Long, ‘If Joe is so good, why are you going to get rid of him?’” Westmoreland said. “I said, ‘Billy, that’s the point: I don’t want to get rid of him. But he wants to be a chief of staff, Billy, and I think he’d be a good fit for you.’”
A former Census Bureau employee, Hayes could use his experience to help make sure the one Congressional district Missouri is slated to lose isn’t that of his new boss, Westmoreland said.
Brian Robinson, Westmoreland’s former press secretary, said a change was inevitable. Though he loved the office, Robinson said he and his colleagues had been on Westmoreland’s staff for longer than usual because of a poor job climate for Republicans.
“He sort of served as a homeless shelter manager for us,” Robinson said. “A pool of latent talent accumulated in Lynn’s office, and he just happened to get a lot of great folks there who were lucky to have a place to hang their hats for a few years because Republican jobs disappeared amidst Obama-mania.”
Robinson left the office in March and joked that the other three who left “couldn’t bear to stay in the office with my memory.”
But he added that Westmoreland told his staffers at the beginning of the 111th Congress that if they want to move on, he’d help them do it.
So when Robinson suggested that he wanted to work on Deal’s gubernatorial campaign, Westmoreland made it happen.
“Congressman Westmoreland was thoughtful enough to go to Congressman Deal and suggest me for the campaign and then kind of gave me a safety net as well,” Robinson said. “He said ‘We’ll do without a press secretary for a while so if the primary doesn’t go how you want it to, you can come back to your job.’”
And Westmoreland, who Robinson called a “political animal,” kept up with him.
“I would hear word back from people,” Robinson said. “They would say, ‘Oh, Lynn was bragging on you. Lynn’s so proud of how the campaign is going.’”
That’s not to say there’s nothing in it for the “proud parent.” A shrewd politician, Westmoreland now has the ear of three new Members and his state’s governor, who also happens to be a friend. Georgia is set to gain one seat in redistricting.
“With this being a redistricting year, Congressman Westmoreland is going to be in our ear,” Robinson said. “I expect to hear a lot from Congressman Westmoreland on his views on how the districts should be drawn.”