Revolutionaries of ’94 Found a Home on K St.
If you’re wondering whatever happened to the Republican revolution of 1994, it seems it has shuffled over to K Street.
Many of the key Members and staffers who helped usher in more than a decade of GOP control over the House of Representatives have set up shop in the lobbying business. Many of these lobbyists say their experience on Capitol Hill was the pinnacle of their professional lives. But at the same time, these “revolutionaries” have put their mark on the Washington, D.C., lobbying scene.
Three key Republican Members who helped author the 1994 “Contract with America” eventually decamped for K Street: Former Majority Leader Dick Armey (Texas) has a practice at the firm DLA Piper; former Rep. Robert Walker (Pa.) is now chief executive officer at Wexler & Walker Public Policy Associates; and one-time Rep. Bill Paxon (N.Y.) represents clients at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.
“I think for all of us, what we learned in the course of many years that finally came to a culmination in 1994, was that public policy is a long-term enterprise and that you need building blocks that ultimately get you to success,” Walker said. “That is certainly something that has been a part of my developing relationships with clients, since I have been in the lobbying world. It’s important for clients to know at times that there are not instantaneous solutions to complex problems.”
Walker said he is working with clients that are developing hydrogen fuel technology that could perhaps one day power homes, businesses and cars. “What we’re doing is building that issue to the point where there can be more commercial activities,” said Walker, who served as chairman of the Science Committee when Republicans took over Congress in 1995. But Walker was best known for helping chart former Rep. Newt Gingrich’s (R-Ga.) path to the Speakership, only to lose his own leadership race to then-Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) after the 1994 elections.
Paxon said that “in the blur of kids running around the house and summer vacation, through all the fog,” he recalls “an incredible time” beginning with 1994.
“I spent almost 40 years involved in politics, and that without a doubt was the most significant political moment that I have experienced,” Paxon said. “It was the culmination of an interest in sweeping policy changes that are forming today the cornerstone of government at the local, state and federal level.” Paxon, whom Gingrich appointed as chairman of the House Republican leadership, later resigned from Congress after a failed coup attempt aimed at removing the Speaker.
Paxon said the impact of the 1994 GOP revolution has not subsided — even though his party lost control of the House and Senate in last year’s midterm elections — but instead has accelerated. And he has continued those same policies in his lobbying work at Akin Gump.
“What happened in 1994, and for many years after that, the policy changes that resulted have an impact on every client we have every day,” Paxon said. “The type of focus that resulted — tax relief or welfare reform, regulatory reform, domestic and international policy — all have an impact on our clients and on everyone who has an interest in what goes on in Washington.”
Along with those former Members, dozens of one-time top Republican staffers from the “revolutionary” days also have made a mark on K Street. Among them are Arne Christenson of American Express; Jack Howard, who is at Wexler & Walker; Peter Davidson, a lobbyist for Verizon; Kerry Knott at Comcast; and Dean Clancy at Sidley Austin.
In addition, longtime GOP lobbyists Edward Gillespie, who co-founded Quinn Gillespie & Associates, and Dan Meyer, who lobbied at Duberstein Group, both recently left plum jobs on K Street for the Bush administration.
Edward Kutler, now a lobbyist at Clark & Weinstock, served as a senior policy adviser to then-Speaker Gingrich. He left the Hill in 1997.
“It really was one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences, going from the minority to the majority,” Kutler recalled. “Newt is a brilliant and dynamic leader, and all of us on staff learned a lot from him about policy and policymaking, about the legislative process, about seeing the field, understanding the interaction between policy and politics.”
One thing Kutler and his then-Republican revolution colleagues remember well is the crushing pace. “It was fun despite the brutal hours, but the adrenaline rush kept you on your toes,” he said. “In jobs like that, your adrenaline rush is your staple that you can rely on. Downtown, it comes on select policy engagements, but on the Hill it is much more the norm.”
Len Swinehart, who joined Johnson, Madigan, Peck, Boland, & Stewart at the beginning of 1999, worked closely with Kutler, Meyer and others during the Republican revolution. In the runup to the 1994 elections that swept Republicans into power, Swinehart said he and his colleagues often worked 18-hour days seven days a week.
“The day [Gingrich] was sworn in as Speaker, I was sitting on the steps right around the Speaker on the dais,” Swinehart recalled. “At that point, I thought, ‘This is something else. All of this really paid off.’”
That feeling has remained, he said, when Swinehart considers welfare reform and other legacies of the time he spent on the Hill.
In 1999, when Swinehart joined the lobbying firm where he works now, he found that his experience on the House floor helped him make contacts and build relationships that continue today.
“You can go back and look at almost all the floor assistants of either party, if you’re in one of the key positions, you’re going to see the Members all the time, you’re going to build personal relationships, build professional relations, build a few enemies along the way,” he said.
Lisa Nelson, Visa’s senior vice president and director of government relations, was executive director of the Republican political action committee GOPAC in 1994 — a job that helped her build a wide roster of contracts. GOPAC, Nelson recalled, participated in announcing the Contract with America in September 1994. And after Republicans set up shop in the majority, Nelson moved inside government to serve as public affairs liaison for Gingrich’s office.
That contract, she said, “gave us a platform to run on. But once we did in fact take the majority, it enabled us to have an agenda that was proactive and positive and responsive to the electorate.”
Nelson said that when she was with GOPAC or on the Hill, she was not working to become a lobbyist.
“I personally have never been somebody who had the five-year master plan,” Nelson said. “Each of my jobs has come to me as a result of the last one.”
Missy Jenkins, senior vice president of federal affairs at the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, said that if it wasn’t for her old boss Gingrich, she wouldn’t be where she is today.
“I credit former Speaker Newt Gingrich with much of my success in my career because working for him for six years teaches you how to think strategically,” she said. “He could read a memo I worked on for two days, and in about two minutes he could pull out every important and relevant question about the issue.”
When first considering a job in Gingrich’s personal office in early 1994, before that year’s election, Jenkins said, a former colleague asked her only half-jokingly, “Why would you want to work for somebody that much smarter than you?”
Like Jenkins, the other former Republican revolutionaries still find a way to keep plugged in, even from the outside.
“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t talk to a House or Senate Member or candidate, or state or local official, who doesn’t continue to have much of their focus on the kind of reforms that were brought about as a result of the Republican takeover,” Paxon said. “It’s a living, breathing revolution that continues today.”