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Outsiders Choose Hill Professionals

File Photo
"Mr. Outsider" Rep. Billy Long (above) hired Joe Lillis as his chief of staff. Lillis has been legislative director to Rep. Lynn Westmoreland since 2005, and before that, he worked for former Rep. Mac Collins and former Sen. Gordon Smith.

After hiring former lobbyist Eric Burgeson, whose clients included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Rep. Robert Dold (R-Ill.) instituted a policy that “my entire staff may not work on matters of substance with former clients, and all substantive inquiries from former clients must be referred to a nonaffiliated staff member for consideration.”

Still, lobbyists can be extremely helpful, bringing a robust Rolodex into the Congressional office, said Brad Fitch of the Congressional Management Foundation, a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to increasing efficiency on the Hill.

And no matter the background, Members need someone who knows how to request a Government Accountability Office report, send franked mail and fill other staff positions, he said.

“Members should avoid the height of hypocrisy but at the same time recognize without seasoned veterans working on your staff, you’re less likely to succeed. That’s the golden rule,” Fitch said. Fear of sending an insider message “fades pretty quickly when you can’t get the mail done.”

That’s not to say all Members opted for a Washington veteran. Twenty-three new chiefs come to the Capitol with no discernible D.C. experience. They range from campaign managers or state legislative chiefs of staff to county party chairmen and former state legislators. There are also a few unusual picks, including a dentist and a mechanical engineer. 

As of press time, Rep. Hansen Clarke (D-Mich.) was the only Member who declined to announce his chief of staff.

Scott Yeldell, newly appointed chief of staff to Rep. Francisco “Quico” Canseco (R-Texas), said his boss hired him to bring “fresh blood” to the staff. Yeldell was Canseco’s campaign manager and has limited national political experience.

“Quico just really felt that what was really important was bringing someone who understood the district. He campaigned on the concept of citizen legislators and bringing in people who are coming in to get a job done and not coming in to have a career,” Yeldell said. “I’m not coming in to make a career out of Washington, necessarily.”

Jackie Kucinich contributed to this report.

Correction: Jan. 7, 2011

The article incorrectly stated that Rep. Ron Kind (Wis.) is a member of the Blue Dog Coalition. He is a member of the New Democrat Coalition.

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