Lott Staffers Move Into New Jobs

Posted January 28, 2008 at 6:52pm

While former Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) settles into his new role in the private sector after 35 years on Capitol Hill, his team of staffers also is readjusting to life after Lott.

Lott’s retirement announcement, which came one year after a sweeping re-election and his ascent to Minority Whip status, left nearly two dozen staffers — some of them with decades of service — scrambling for new jobs.

Although not everyone from Lott’s sizable staff has landed just yet, many said they had little difficulty during their unexpected job search. The quick turnover of Lott staffers also has benefited at least a handful of Members who now employ the Republican’s protégés.

Hugh Gamble, Lott’s chief counsel for the past three years, now holds the same position in the office of Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.). Gamble said he never thought about leaving Capitol Hill during his six-week job search.

“I will obviously miss the job that I had, but I wanted to spend more time on the Hill,” he said.

Noting the fluid nature of Capitol Hill, Gamble said Lott’s announcement “gave everyone a kick in the pants to figure out where they wanted to go next.”

Although Gamble holds the same title and is still working for a Mississippi lawmaker, he said his new position “is not an exact replica of what I had.” While Lott’s priorities kept Gamble focused on matters within the jurisdiction of the Judiciary, Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, and Environment and Public Works committees, he has spent his first weeks with Cochran, ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, becoming more acquainted with the appropriations process.

Meanwhile, Nick Simpson served as Lott’s press secretary for just three years when the Senator announced his retirement, but the younger Mississippian was almost immediately picked up by House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). Simpson’s move mirrors that of his former boss — Lott was the first, and so far only, Republican to be elected Whip in both chambers.

Simpson noted he had a “bit of a learning curve” moving from one Whip’s office to another and getting adjusted to the faster pace on the House floor and different legislative procedures. Still, after spending the past year in bicameral Republican Whip meetings with both Lott and Blunt while he worked in the Senator’s office, Simpson said he was well-groomed for the change.

“The faces and legislative rules may have changed, but the goals are all the same,” Simpson said. “The House wasn’t a completely foreign body to me.”

While Simpson moved to the House, many of his former colleagues remain in the Senate. New Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) inherited a handful of staffers for that office, including Manny Rossman, Lott’s most recent chief of staff. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), another Lott protégé who worked for the then-Congressman in 1980 and was appointed as his successor, has hired at least a half-dozen veteran aides for his policy shop.

“It’s a Lott-esque move, so to speak,” said Bret Boyles, the Senator’s chief of staff before Rossman, of the staffers who have stayed on the Hill. “Lott always instilled a great sense of loyalty to his staff, whether to the state of Mississippi, a particular issue or the institution. For some staffers, they feel like their job isn’t over yet and they have more to give to the process.”

Boyles, who joined Lott’s office in 1995 and eventually became his chief of staff, said employees at every level asked themselves similar questions when the retirement announcement came.

“So many of us were from Mississippi, and we had to figure out if we wanted to stay in Washington or go home,” said Boyles, a Hattiesburg, Miss., native.

Boyles chose to stay in Washington and join the Breaux Lott Leadership Group, the lobbying firm recently launched by Lott and former Sen. John Breaux (D-La.). The University of Southern Mississippi graduate said his experience working for a lawmaker noted for his leadership and negotiating skills will serve him well in the private sector.

“Serving our clients now is not much different than the constituent services operation in the Senate office,” Boyles said. “You simply must be proactive and a strong advocate for their needs.”

Many of the former Lott staffers who were interviewed agreed that a general education in Congressional affairs was a hallmark of their tenure with Lott. John Green, who like his former boss has a gregarious demeanor and penchant for banter, said many of Lott’s employees exude the charm and ability of the one-time Majority Leader.

“There are at least 20 or 30 people downtown who used to work for [Lott],” said Green, who left Lott’s office in 1999 to launch the Federalist Group, which later became Ogilvy Government Relations. “Because we learned under him as staffers, hopefully we are all better at reading Members, counting votes on critical issues and connecting with people.”

That farm team of staffers, many of them Ole Miss graduates like their former boss, will make Lott’s transition from legislation to lobbying an easy one, Green said. “He doesn’t need any training wheels, but I think he’ll seek advice.”