Lobbyists Cross the Aisle to Find Match

Posted April 16, 2004 at 5:43pm

Looking for that special someone? Try the other side of the aisle.

It worked for Richard and Linda Tarplin, the bipartisan duo who have joined James Carville and Mary Matalin as one of the most unlikely couples on K Street.

But unlike Carville and Matalin — real-life political consultants from different parties who played high-powered lobbyists on HBO’s docudrama “K Street” — the Tarplins are the real thing.

Linda is a founding member of the OBC Group. Rich is a managing partner at Timmons and Company. Linda, a Republican, worked in the first Bush administration. Rich, a Democrat, worked in the Clinton administration.

And while both of the made-for-television characters played by Carville and Matalin and their actual personas strike many as over the top, the real-life Tarplin’s are a bit more subdued.

“We don’t talk politics now,” Rich Tarplin said. “We are used to keeping our views to ourselves.”

Linda added: “You have sort of a different life. I have my events, he has his events.”

Still, reality often provides its own drama, and the Tarplins have faced some odd moments squaring off at their day jobs.

In fact, the couple met in the late 1980s because they were working against each other.

Rich worked for Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) while Linda served in the Department of Health and Human Services in the Reagan and Bush administrations.

Since Dodd worked with the department often, Linda and Rich formed a relationship. Hours of talks and negotiations helped form a friendship.

“It’s imperative you talk to both sides,” Linda said. “We really had a really good working relationship.”

“She was smart and interesting and funny,” Rich said. “I admired the assertiveness and toughness she brought to her work.”

After about a year together, the pair got engaged.

“I think we took some good-natured ribbing,” Rich said. “I was very surprised people saw that love conquers all and supported us.”

But even their marriage didn’t bring an end to their backroom battles.

Even as they swapped wedding vows in 1990, the pair was facing off over a bill to establish the first grant program for childcare. In fact, the day after they got married, they returned to work to continue talks for the bill.

It was only after Congress approved the bill a few weeks after their wedding that the Tarplins were able to go on their honeymoon.

Still, their most intense battle would be over negotiations for the Family Medical Leave Act about a year later. By this time, Linda was working in the White House.

“Initially our jobs were to make each other lose,” Linda said. “We didn’t bring our work home.”

“At that point, it was really head-to-head,” Rich added. “The stakes were very high.”

Still, the duo managed not to bring politics home. During this period, the couple could not talk about work because they did not want to give the “opposition any information.”

“It enables you to leave work at the office,” Rich said.

In the end, Bush vetoed the bill — twice — but it was eventually signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993.

The change in administrations offered Rich an opportunity to serve at HHS, where Linda had worked previously.

“We have often found that when the door closes for one person, [it] opens for another,” he said.

After President Clinton took office, Linda entered the private sector and helped form the OBC Group. Richard joined Timmons and Co. after Clinton’s term ended in 2000.

Now that they are in the private sector, the couple said they don’t interact professionally as much as they did when they worked in government. None of their current corporate clients overlap.

Linda Tarplin represents American Airlines, United Parcel Service, Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association and General Motors, among others.

Rich spends his time toiling for a host of clients including the National Association of Manufacturers, Visa and Napster.

Both said their ability to appreciate the views of the other political party has played a part in the success of their relationship. Linda added that she thinks their story is not one of a kind.

“I assume we can’t be unique,” she said. “There’s got to be more cross-pollination.”