Washington, D.C., is more than 1,000 miles from W. Louis Hengen Jr.’s home in Biloxi, Miss., yet he has never really left home.
The newest member of Balch & Bingham’s government relations group and a former high school and college student-body vice president, Hengen said politics and policy have always energized him.
“I sort of had natural instincts of enjoying politics and policy and that led me to Washington,” Hengen said. “Like a lot of people, I didn’t expect that I would be in Washington as long as I’ve been here.”
But for the 33-year-old lobbyist who began his career in the office of former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., politics and family ties run through his blood. His father worked on Lott’s first congressional campaign in 1972, and all three were members of the Sigma Nu fraternity at the University of Mississippi. Hengen said Balch & Bingham, the 91-year-old law firm and lobbying group, felt like home.
“The men and women at Balch are so tremendously talented, everybody learns from one another,” Hengen said. “I’m fortunately in a position to be part of a firm that really exemplifies all of the things that I find important in my line of work.”
Hengen first met with William F. Stiers, the firm’s Washington office managing director, in November and joined the group in June. Many of the attorneys he met over that six-month period turned out to be close personal or family friends, including one who was at his dad’s wedding.
However, Hengen’s initial plan was not to pursue a lobbying career, and he said at one point he considered running for office down the road.
“Kind of the fundamental purpose and reason for my coming to Washington was to work for [Lott],” Hengen said. “We had a very close relationship with the Lott family, and it was just a very exciting opportunity to begin a political career in Washington, not only for a home-state senator, but for a close friend.”
Hengen fundraised at night for the Republican National Committee while working for Lott before moving to the Food Products Association, which merged with the Grocery Manufacturers Association in 2007. While at the association, Hengen received a master’s degree in government from Johns Hopkins University before spending three years with Colling Swift & Hynes, a lobbying firm. It was there that Hengen began to refine his skills.
“I believe that my professional development and career took a drastic and sort of upward trajectory in the sense that I was provided a lot of autonomy,” Hengen said. “If you are asked to do this, X for example, you do X, but then you do Y and Z every time. I think it served me well in working in a close-knit environment like that to always exceed expectations.”
In June 2009, Hengen decided to begin his own firm, Hengen Group, in part because he felt he could serve his clients better. He ran the Hengen Group for four years.
“You can spend a lot of money on representation in Washington for government relations and a lot of times you’re paying for things you shouldn’t,” Hengen said. “[Someone once] told me good lobbyists don’t necessarily find clients, the clients find them, and that was true for me.”
Hengen, who will be based in Balch & Bingham’s Washington, D.C., office, said the cost of living in the city was not a shock but an “earthquake” compared to Mississippi, but he said D.C. has provided him a better contextual way of viewing issues.
Hengen will work as a political adviser and lobbyist for Congress and federal agencies.
Balch & Bingham spent more than $200,000 on lobbying in the second quarter and has spent more than $400,000 on lobbying in 2013, according to federal filings. The firm has offices in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Washington, D.C.
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