Former Rep. Alan Wheat, D-Mo., out of office since 1995, does not appear to be slowing down anytime soon.
The Polsinelli Law Firm, named by The American Lawyer as the “fastest growing law firm in America for the past five years,” brought Wheat on as a senior policy adviser in its Washington office earlier this month. And on Nov. 1, Wheat will become the chairman of the firm’s national public policy practice while also contributing to the health care practice at its new location in Franklin Square.
“I was elected to Congress at a very young age, so I never looked at it as the last thing I would do in my career,” Wheat told CQ Roll Call. “It served as a great base for some of the other things I’ve done, but it wasn’t the end.”
Wheat’s peers have called him a strong political leader and coalition builder. He was the first African-American in Missouri to win a party’s nomination for the Senate and the youngest member to serve on the House Rules Committee.
A native-born Texan, Wheat graduated from Grinnell College in 1972 with a Bachelor of Arts in economics. Following college, he worked as an economist for the Department of Housing and Urban Development in Kansas City, Mo., and later accepted a position with the Mid-America Regional Council.
After three years, he became an aide to the Jackson County executive in Missouri. Wheat decided to pursue a political career after learning the ins and outs of a state-level office. By 1977, he had successfully secured a spot in the Missouri House, where he served three terms.
When then-Rep. Richard Bolling announced his retirement in 1982, Wheat and six other Democrats announced their bids for the open seat. Wheat, the only African-American candidate, won that election and five more. During his service, his district remained an overwhelmingly white one, and he became well versed in reaching out to a range of political interests.
Wheat cites his work on the Rules Committee as the home of some of his most influential service, crediting it with his developing relationships with members from both sides of the aisle.
“It was a lot to learn. Fortunately, there were great mentors including Claude Pepper who became chairman of the Rules Committee, Dick Bolling, the former member of Congress and Martin Frost, who I believe was also appointed to the Rules Committee,” Wheat said.
By the time Wheat announced a bid for the Senate in 1994, when Sen. John Danforth, R-Mo., announced his retirement, he had earned acclaim as a bridge builder, a reputation that has continued to this day.
Wheat successfully made it through the Democratic primary, becoming the first African-American ever nominated by either party to a Missouri state office. He lost the general election to Republican John Ashcroft, the sitting governor at the time. The year following his Senate loss, Wheat became vice president of public policy and government relations for the CARE Foundation, a leading humanitarian organization known for its agenda to fight global poverty.
In 1996, he was a deputy campaign manager for the Clinton/Gore presidential re-election campaign. After the 1996 campaign, Wheat created his own lobbying group, Wheat Government Relations. The company focused on representing clients with issues related to health care, financial services and technology.
Wheat left the CARE Foundation to become vice president for federal relations at pharmaceutical firm SmithKline Beecham (now GlaxoSmithKline).
His new position with Polsinelli will allow him to work with other former House members, including Frost and ex-Rep. Kenny Hulshof, R-Mo. Hulshof will be Polsinelli’s public policy practice’s vice chairman.
And although it looks like he’s got his hands full, Wheat said he hasn’t entirely ruled out some kind of bid for future public office, if the right situation came around.
“All of us who leave Congress consider it; especially after an unsuccessful race, we consider running again.”
CQ Roll Call’s Life After Congress is designed to answer the question “Where are they now?” If that’s something you’ve asked yourself about a former member or members, drop us a line. We’ll do our best to track them down.