HIRED GUNS
1 Neal T. "Buddy" Jones
HillCo Partners, Ex-State Representative, House Speaker Gib Lewis Executive Assistant
2 Mike Toomey
Texas Capitol Group, Ex-State Representative, Ex-Chief of Staff to Govs. Rick Perry and Bill Clements
3 Rusty Kelley
Blackridge, House Speaker Billy Clayton Executive Assistant
4 Bill Messer
Texas Capitol Group, Ex-State Representative, Speaker Tom Craddick Transition Team
5 Robert Miller
Locke Lord Public Law Group Chair, Ex-Houston METRO Chairman, Former State Senate Aide
6 John Pitts
Texas Star Alliance, Ex-General Counsel to Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts Twin Brother
7 Demetrius McDaniel
Greenberg Traurig, Ex-Special Assistant to Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower
8 Robert Johnson
Johnson & Johnson Law Firm, Son of late parliamentarian and Speaker Joe Straus' Chief Political Advisor's brother
9 Allen Blakemore
Blakemore & Associates, Chief Political Advisor to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Other GOP State Officials
10 Clint Hackney
Clint Hackney & Company, Ex-State Representative
11 Lara Keel
Texas Capitol Group, Ex-State Senate Aide, Red State Women President
12 Yuniedth Midence Steen
Locke Lord, Ex-Chief of Staff to State Senator John Whitmire
13 Ron Lewis
Ron Lewis & Associates, Ex-State Representative
14 James Mathis
Ex-John Sharp Campaign Manager
15 Steve Bresnen
Ex-General Counsel to Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock
16 Curt Seidlits
Focused Advocacy, Ex-State Representative
17 Galt Graydon
Graydon Group, Ex-Texas Senate Aide
18 Stan Schlueter
Schlueter Group, Ex-State Representative
19 Jay Howard
HillCo Partners, Son of Ex-State Senator
20 Chris Shields
Texas Strategy Group, Ex-Aide to Gov. Bill Clements and Secretary of State
21 Mark Vane
Gardere Wynne Sewell, Ex-Texas House Legislative Director
22 Ted & Deirdre Delisi
Delisi Communications, Ex-Texas Transportation Commission Chair, Gov. Rick Perry Chief of Staff and Campaign Manager, U.S. Senator John Cornyn Aide
23 Mark Miner
McGuireWoods, Communications Director for Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore and the RNC
24 Gardner Pate
Locke Lord, Campaign General Counsel and Director for Gov. Greg Abbott
25 Mindy Ellmer
Ex-State House and Senate Aide, Ex-Aide to Governor Bill Clements
26 Kathy Hutto
Jackson Walker, Ex-Sunset Advisory Commission Staff
27 Royce Poinsett
Baker Botts, Advisor to Gov. Rick Perry, House Speaker Tom Craddick, Gov. George W. Bush and U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison
28 Billy Phenix
Texas Capitol Group, Ex-Aide to Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock and State Senator
29 Jim Grace
Greenberg Traurig, Former Campaign Advisor, U.S. Navy Lieutenant and Afghanistan Veteran
30 David White
Public Blueprint, Campaign Advisor to Comptrollers Glenn Hegar and Susan Combs, Gov. Rick Perry Advisor and House Chief of Staff
31 Jack Erskine
K&L Gates, Ex-Corporate Lawyer for Amoco and Dupont, Oil Field Clean-up Fund Architect
32 Dean & Andrea McWilliams
Ex-Legislative Aides to Democratic and Republican Members
33 Jay Propes
Graydon Group, Ex-Congressional Aide, Ex-Trade Association Executive
34 Jay Brown
Graydon Group, Son of Ex-State Senator
35 Carl Richie
Ex-Deputy Chief of Staff to Governor Ann Richards, Ex- Texas Ethics Commission Director
36 Eric Glenn
Schlueter Group, Ex-Texas House Aide, Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute Board
37 Trey Blocker
Ex-Chief of Staff and General Counsel to State Senator Craig Estes
38 Michelle Wittenburg
Ex-General Counsel to House Speaker Tom Craddick
39 Keith Strama
Beatty Bangle Strama, Ex-Texas House Aide
40 Kathy Grant
Ex-Texas Cable Television Association Government Relations Director, Former Texas House Aide
41 Marsha Jones
HillCo Partners, Ex-Texas House and Senate Aide
41 J. McCartt
HillCo Partners, Ex-Aide to Rick Perry in the Lieutenant Governor's Office
42 Denise Davis
Davis Kaufman, Ex-Chief of Staff to Speaker Joe Straus, Ex-House Parliamentarian and General Counsel, Ex-General Counsel to Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff
43 Craig Chick
Capitol Partners Consulting, Ex-Advisor to House Speaker Joe Straus
44 Mario Martinez
Mario Martinez & Associates, Ex-Aide to State Rep. Tom Uher
45 Brad Shields
Texas Legislative Associates, Ex-Eanes School Board
46 Marc Rodriguez
Ex-City of San Antonio Intergovernmental Relations Manager, Ex-SA Chamber Executive
47 Brandon Aghamalian
Focused Advocacy, Ex-Chief of Staff to State Sen. Kim Brimer, Ex-Fort Worth Public Affairs Director
48 Sabrina Thomas Brown
Ex-Texas House aide and Appropriations Committee Clerk
49 Lisa Kaufman
Davis Kaufman, Ex-Policy Director for Speaker Joe Straus, Ex-General Counsel to State Senator Robert Duncan, Ex-Texas Civil Justice League Official
50 Mark Borskey
Ex-Deputy Legislative Director for Gov. Rick Perry, Ex-Texas House Aide
51 Nora Del Bosque
Ex-State House Aide and Appropriations Committee Clerk
52 Bill Pewitt
Bill Pewitt & Associates, Texas Computer Industy Council Founder
53 Eric Wright
Congress Avenue Partners, Ex-Chief of Staff to Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff
54 Gilbert Turrieta
Ex-Houston Chamber, TMA Official and LBB Examiner
55 Wayne Hamilton
San Jacinto Public Affairs, Ex-Advisor to Gov. Rick Perry, Ex-Texas Republican Party Executive Director
56 Michael Grimes
Imperium Public Affairs, Ex-Chief of Staff to State Senator Chris Harris, Ex-Gov. George W. Bush Aide
57 Trent Townsend
Imperium Public Affairs, Ex-Chief of Staff to State Senator Kirk Watson, Ex-Legislative Director for State Senator Kim Brimer
58 Jim Dow
Cross Oak Group, Ex-Texas 20/20 PAC Director, Ex-Texas House Aide, Ex-Obama White House Office of Public Engagement
59 Shayne Woodard
Ex-Chief of Staff to Railroad Commissioner Barry Williamson, Ex-Aide to State Senator Bill Sims and State Rep. David Counts
60 Frank Santos
Santos Alliances, Ex-National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators Consultant, Ex-House Aide
61 Jody Richardson
Allen Boone Humphries Robinson, Ex-TV Reporter
62 Snapper Carr
Focused Advocacy General Counsel, Ex-Texas Municipal League Counsel
63 Deborah Ingersoll
Legislative Solutions, Key Fundraiser
64 Joe Garcia
Texas Capitol Group, Ex- Chief of Staff to State Senator Eddie Lucio
65 Chris Hosek
Texas Star Alliance, Ex-Chief of Staff to Elizabeth Ames Jones at the Texas Railroad Commission and Texas House
66 Gavin Massingill
Ex-Chief of Staff to State Representative Charlie Geren
67 Carol McGarah
Blackridge, Ex-Texas Senate Aide
68 Michael Johnson
Ex-Blackridge, Brother of Major GOP Consultant Rob Johnson
69 Tristan “Tris” Castañeda
Longbow Partners, Ex-Asst. Attorney General, Ex-Aide to SA Mayor Henry Cisneros
70 Shannon Swan
Graydon Group, Ex-Texas House Chief of Staff
71 Eric Woomer
Congress Avenue Partners, Ex-Chief of Staff to State Senators Kel Seliger, Teel Bivins and Mario Gallegos, Ex-U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison Advisor
72 Nancy Fisher
Ex-Chief of Staff to Speaker Tom Craddick, Ex-Texas Racing Commission Executive Director
73 Kwame Walker
McGuireWoods, Ex-Legislative Director and General Counsel to State Senator Royce West
74 Eddie Solis
HillCo Partners, Ex-Special Assistant at the Texas Comptroller's Office, Ex-Texas Municipal Retirement System Official
75 Mignon McGarry
Ex-State Senate Aide
76 Curtis Fuelberg
Ex-Texas Association of Realtors Official, Ex-Aide to Speaker Gus Mutscher
77 Joey Bennett
Ex-Public Strategies Lobbyist
78 Mike Meroney
Meroney Public Affairs, Ex-U.S. Senate Aide and Congressional Campaign Staffer
79 Jennifer Rodriguez
McGuireWoods, Daughter of Ex-State Legislator and Gubernatorial Advisor
80 Richard Evans
Texas Lobby Solutions, Ex- Deputy Legislative Director for Gov. George Bush, Ex-State Senate Chief of Staff
81 Drew Campbell
Ex-Dallas Automobile Dealers Association Official
82 Stephen Koebele
Texas Counsel, Ex-General Counsel to Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, Ex-Assistant General Counsel to Gov. George W. Bush
83 Susan Ross
Ex-Texas Dental Association Public Affairs Director
84 James Clark
Ex-John Sharp Campaign Manager and Jim Mattox Campaign Aide
85 Robert Culley
Ex-Legislative Aide
86 Shannon Phillips Meroney
Meroney Public Affairs, Ex-Aetna Lobbyist, Ex-Trade Association President
87 Stephanie Gibson
Texas Legislative Associates, Ex-Texas Retailers Association Vice President
88 Wayne Hamilton
San Jacinto Public Affairs, Ex-Advisor to Gov. Rick Perry, Ex-Texas Republican Party Executive Director
89 Ron Hinkle
Ex-Texas Department of Economic Development Official, Ex-Texas House Sergeant at Arms
90 Chuck Rice
Chuck Rice Group, Ex-State Senate Aide and Texas Hospital Association Official
91 Jack Roberts
Ex-Deputy Comptroller
92 Scott Gilmore
GovBizPartners, Ex-Texas House Chief of Staff, Senate and Congress Aide and House Sergeant at Arms
93 Robert Howden
Ex-Texas Tax Reform Commission Staff Director, Ex-Communications Director for Gov. Rick Perry
94 Michael Jewell
Stratus Policy Group, Corporate Lawyer and Legislative Lobbyist
95 Marshall Kenderdine
Ex-House Appropriations Committee Analyst, Ex-Texas House Campaign Manager and Senate Aide
96 Robert Peeler
Longbow Partners, Ex-State Senate Chief of Staff and Aide to Gov. George Bush
97 Brett Findley
Longbow Partners,Ex-State Senate Chief of Staff
98 Chris Heckman
Ex-Deputy Chief of Staff to Gov. Rick Perry
99 Will Yarnell
Ex-Chief Advisor to Texas House Democrat
100 Gerald Valdez
Ex-Texas Department of Economic Development Official

Texas Lobby Rising Stars Texas Lobby Teams
Former Texas Legislators Law Firm Lobby Shops
Texas Political Consultants Private Sector Associations
Former State Agency Heads Public Sector Associations
Corporate In-House Lobby Nonprofit Organizations
Causes & Issues Lobbyists League of Their Own

 

February 3, 2015

Leadership Shakeup Could Fuel Clout Shuffle
at Pink Granite Statehouse with Tea Party Tint

Professional Advocacy Association of Texas

Allen Blakemore routinely tells people that he's "living the dream" when they began conversations with the standard questions about how the world is treating him and what he's been doing. But the veteran Houston political strategist probably has been having to pinch himself quite a bit lately to be certain that the dream that's been under way for the past several months is for real.

Blakemore is one in a sizeable group of Republican campaign consultants who've been moonlighting as lobbyists in between election years since the GOP completed its Lone Star State takeover by capturing a Texas House majority a dozen years ago for the first time in more than a century. But Blakemore should be finding his services to be in record demand now as a seasonal public affairs advocate as a result of the close relationship that he has with Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick after guiding him to victory at the polls last year in a race that he'd entered as a significant underdog.

At a time when the Austin lobby is experiencing an unprecedented infusion of new talent in the wake of the biggest turnover ever here among elected state officials, Blakemore has skyrocketed into the upper echelon of the hired guns list on the Capitol Inside Texas Lobby Power Rankings for 2015. While Blakemore is the only newcomer in the top 10 on the list of contract lobbyists at the statehouse in the early stages of the 84th regular session, he's the only member of that elite club whose rating is based on future power potential as opposed to established reputation and record of success. But Blakemore is the prime example of a much larger group of public affairs professionals who can expect a substantial bump in sway thanks to connections with newly-minted Governor Greg Abbott, Patrick and the other members in a statewide leadership lineup that's been overhauled completely for the first time in Texas in two dozen years.

The higher stock values that experienced and neophyte lobbyists with ties to the state's top two new leaders will enjoy as 2015 unfolds will come at some expense to the lobby professionals who've been the biggest beneficiaries of Republican Rick Perry's historic run as the longest-serving governor in Texas history.

Lobbyists who'd prospered considerably as allies of Perry or Patrick's predecessor or both face the challenge of adapting to the new dynamics that will be at play with the passing of the torches inside a beltway where everything had seemed to be constantly changing except the leadership hierarchy and the lock that Republicans in general have had on state government for more than a decade. The election season from which the new governor and lieutenant governor emerged triumphantly also produced a more conservative Legislature that will complicate the business of lobbying for the professional advocates who'd been at their best when Democrats were still running the show.

The regular session that got under way about three weeks ago will be a test of adjustment and survival skills for the lobbyists who've relied heavily on Rolodexes that are suddenly obsolete. The current political climate at the same time appears to be more ripe than ever for lobby members with tea party friends and conservative credentials that they are hoping to parlay into business profits as long as the winds are blowing their way. Lobbyists with partisan Republican backgrounds like Wayne Hamilton, Jordan Berry and Stephen Koebele will be in position to try to step up their games with the shift to the right that the Legislature and leadership has taken. The Senate in particular could be a gold mine with Patrick in the dais and the largest tea party delegation ever in the Capitol's east wing. Koebele has been a personal Patrick friend who's been on board the bandwagon from the start. Hamilton is a former Texas GOP executive director who'd been an advisor to Perry in an ill-fated White House bid three years ago when he served as the point person on religious rallies and organizational support. Hamilton went on to become Abbott's campaign manager - and that experience has landed him in a very small group of political consultants who are ranked on the hired guns list for the first time like Blakemore and veteran GOP strategist Ted Delisi. The most imposing potential obstacles that lobbyists who've been in the middle of internal party warfare could encounter are ill feelings and grudges that some legislators and leaders may still harbor after being the target of attacks that their candidate clients initiated in primary battles. You can ask Republicans like State Senator Joan Huffman and new Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton about that.

While close ties to politicos who are at the top of their game like Patrick and Abbott could be a cure-all for bad blood and lingering wounds, connections alone won't be a ticket for long-term success in a business that's destined to be more intensely competitive here this year than it's been in recent memory. The lobbyists who hope to still be standing when the curtain goes down on the 2015 session or sessions better be bringing their A-games to a workplace where the evolution of the hired gun lobbyist with multiple clients began more than 30 years ago in a trend that has transformed a midlife speciality career into a full-fledged industry. The number of registered lobbyists here was up by more than 2 percent at the end of December compared to the same point in time before the last regular session kicked off in 2013 - and the total will likely grow exponentially after rookies who are still setting up shops or meeting the partners at boutique firms where they'll be cutting their teeth start adding their names to the rolls at the Texas Ethics Commission.

On top of the challenge that a rapidly swelling competitor pool will pose for the youngsters who are still very green and the grizzled veterans alike, the job of lobbying at the Texas Capitol in 2015 will be complicated substantially more by inherent uncertainty at a place where the dynamics will be changing in a potentially dramatic and direct correlation to the political complexion of the Legislature and the leadership. The state House that's always been the more raucous and unpredictable of the two chambers will be about the only part of the building that offers anything remotely close to stability as far as the ways of doing things are done this time around. While the state's first new governor in the past 14 years seems poised for a first term that doesn't feature the wild gyrations and fluctuations that marked the record-shattering tenue of predecessor Rick Perry, Abbott doesn't appear to be the kind of leader who'll depend as much on the lobby as typical politicians do or be as suseptible to its persuasive powers. The Senate - on the other hand - will be the real wild card in an east wing that features the most conservative freshmen class that's ever converged on any legislative chamber in any state, an unrivaled lack of overall experience in key leadership stations and a presiding officer who's the first tea party icon to ever occupy a statewide office that high on the pecking order here.

That's one of the main reasons why Blakemore has a golden opportunity to cash in on the spoils of the victory that Patrick may have found difficult if not impossible to obtain without his advice and strategy expertise in a field that included two down-ballot statewide officials, a wealthy incumbent who he unseated in a primary runoff and a Democratic colleague in the fall. Blakemore already represented a number of House and Senate Republicans - and a victory for client Ryan Sitton in an open Texas Railroad Commission contest was definitely gravy. But Blakemore will have direct access to the throne east of the rotunda - and there's speculation in some of the lobby's highest circles that he's lining up clients quickly as the word spreads about the headline entry on his Rolodex.

But Blakemore won't be the only registered lobbyist who could be in line for a banner year as a direct result of tea party tide that swept through the GOP primary and crushed every Democrat that got in its way in statewide races that Republicans swept in 2014 just like they had in every election here in the past 18 years. Others who've labored in the lobby trenches as a full-time profession while Blakemore designed campaign game plans will be hoping to capitalize on a decidely more conservative Legislature in 2015.

Koebele is a prime case in point as a lobbyist lawyer who's plied his trade under the radar for the most part since making his exit from the public arena where he'd been somewhat of a lightning rod. Koebele, who been a top legal advisor to George W. Bush's gubernatorial campaign and Carole Keeton Strayhorn in the comptroller's office, had been one of Patrick's original supporters when he launched a belated bid for lieutenant governor almost two years ago in the face of low odds in a field with more accomplished candidates on paper. Koebele came to Patrick's defense as a personal friend and political backer when the heat during the campaign had reached boiling points. While the big special interests who'd supported incumbent Republican David Dewhurst had packed the late train long before Patrick beat Democrat Leticia Van de Putte in November, Koebele had never wavered with a show of support and loyalty that already appears to be paying major dividends for a lobbyist who'd labored in relative obscurity compared to bigger lobby names since he left public service in the midst of a furor that he'd created.

Strayhorn had given Koebele the boot from his job as the comptroller's general counsel in 1999 after the Texas Democratic Party discovered that he'd been secretly taping telephone conversations at work. Koebele resurfaced on the lobby registration rolls in 2003 after the GOP had seized a Texas House majority that had been the final piece to a state government monopoly - and he's off to an auspicious start in 2015 with almost two dozen clients including the Midland oil company that's run by conservative activist donor Tim Dunn. While Koebele second most potentially valuable lobby contract this year is the one he has with Dunn's CrownQuest Operating, the association with the West Texan could make the lobbyist radioactive as far as House leaders are concerned. Dunn after all has been bankrolling a revolt against House Speaker Joe Straus by tea party conservaitves. But Koebele's connections across the rotunda have secured him a spot for the first time on the list of hired guns in the biennial assessment of lobby clout at the Capitol.

The power rankings include groups that are gauged separately as lobby teams, law firm lobby practices and organizations that represent private professionals, public employees and officials and non-profit interests as well. The individual categories are divided among former legislators and state agency leaders who are full-time lobbyists now along with corporate executives who represent full-time employers exclusively and political consultants who tend to concentrate more time on campaigns than working the halls of the statehouse.

Some names - like Blakemore and Hamilton - appear on multiple lists. But Blakemore wouldn't be on the list this year at all if a flurry of post-election rumors about his professional options had been on the mark. One of the hottest lines of speculation on the Capitol grapevine after the general election had been that Blakemore might be joining Patrick's team in the lieutenant governor's as a high-ranking official like chief of staff or communications director. We never bought into that particular piece of conjecture, however, based on the field of relatively unplowed clover that Blakemore seemed far more likely to pursue as a political pro who's done quite well for himself as an independent entrepreneur. Blakemore is a political consultant and lobbyist second for the time being anyway - even though it's possible that could change if he does as well in Austin during the next few months in his part-time job as he appears to have an opportunity to do.

 


 

Skaters Reverse - Lobby Revolving Door
Spins Counter-Clockwise for Select Few

When the Austin brother duo Gordon Johnson and Robert Johnson received the green light to beef up the Texas Capitol lobby team they were leading for the city of Houston in 2005, they recruited a high-powered cadre of professional peers that featured Walter Fisher and Randy Erben at the top of the list.

No one at the time could have imagined that Erben, Fisher and one of the Johnsons would have been willing to put thriving lobby practices on hold in exchange for roles they have now as the chief advisors to the state's newly-designed Republican leadership triad as the regular session gets off the ground in 2015. While Gordon Johnson is still a member of the private sector as the political director for Texas House Speaker Joe Straus for the past six years, Erben and Fisher are the latest examples of lobbyists who've re-entered the revolving door in reverse as the legislative director and senior advisor to Governor Greg Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick respectively. The state's first new governor in the past 14 years also turned to the Texas Capital City's version of K Street when he hired Luis Saenz to be his appointments director.

The lobbyists who Abbott and Patrick have enlisted for high-ranking roles on their new Capitol staffs are especially valuable as a result of the multi-dimensional perspective they bring as political professionals who had critical experience in state government before they crossed the line into the private sector. But they're going clearly against the grain by taking the call of public service at a time when a record number of potential future competitors are heading in the opposite direction with visions of becoming as successful in their careers as private practioneers as Fisher, Erben and Saenz had been at theirs and probably will be again at some point.

The Austin lobby headhunter excursion that Abbott and Patrick undertook has shaped up to be a win-win situation nonetheless within a profession where the competition will be more intense than ever this year in the wake of the biggest turnover in statewide executive offices in Texas in two dozen years.

The exodus of the trio who are now working for the state's two top new leaders - for starters - has freed up several spots in the highest echelons of the hired gun list on the Capitol Inside Texas Lobby Power Rankings in 2015. It also means that there ostensibily will be more money to be made by the veteran and up-and-coming lobbyists whose ranks are being flooded with an infusion of new talent that's hungry and armed with major league connections. While the lobbyists who've taken sabaticals with jobs on the Abbott and Patrick staffs will be losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in income for the time being as state employees, they can expect their stock to be off-the-charts when they return to the industry eventually.

Based on a cumulative review of lobby records at the Texas Ethics Commission, the number of registered lobbyists in Austin could be slightly if not significantly higher in 2015 than it's been in the current century here if not ever. The TEC had a grand total of 1,606 individuals on the official lobby rolls by the end of last year compared to 1,570 when the curtain fell on 2012 a few weeks before the last regular legislative session here got under way. The registered lobby count at the state ethics agency has typically gone up by about 300 in odd-numbered years when regular legislative sessions were held here.

But the TEC totals include a countless number of lawyers and other professionals who register to lobby even they will be doing so on a limited basis if and when clients have business that require trips to the Capitol for meetings with legislators or telephone conversations with them on occasional matters. The state agency doesn't break out the number of lobbyists who are professional public advocates on a full-time basis regardless of whether the Legislature is open for business or taking time off for campaigns every other year. The folks who you see packed outside the House and Senate chambers between January and May and quite possibly during part or all of the summer are the ones who qualify for consideration for the biennial ratings that we present to you proudly day in a wide-range of categories that reflect the systematical evolution of an Austin lobby that's become increasingly layered in the past several decades.

In terms of head counts, Texas had almost twice as many registered lobbyists than California up until the Golden State expanded reporting requirements four years ago in a move that inflated its lobby totals dramatically. Names and numbers alone, however, can't measure the enormous amount of influence that the Texas lobbyists who ply their trade here 12 months a year can expect to wield over the course of the next five months at the mammoth pink granite building that crowns a hill near the north end of Congress Avenue in the nation's 11th largest city.

There will be more full-time lobbyists working the halls of the statehouse here this year as a consequence of shakeups high on the organizational charts at every state agency that's headed by an elected statewide official here. Every single statewide office in Texas has a new boss in the wake of the first complete and total turnover at that level at the ballot box here since 1991 when Democrats Ann Richards and Bob Bullock took over in the jobs that Abbott and Patrick have now. But even though public service has proven to be an ideal and common training ground for an ever-increasing number of lobbyists who've been elected officials in Texas or worked for them, the number who've made the transition back to the government payroll after working on both sides of the line like the high-level advisors that the state's top two new leaders brought into their Capitol shops is a drop in the bucket comparatively.

The relatively positive reception that Abbott and Patrick received with the lobby hires seems to be a sign that perceptions about the associations between lobbyists and political leaders have changed in the past couple of decades. Republican George W. Bush gave his critics an opportunity to howl when he hired a pair of prominent lobbyists who'd bounced between the public and private sectors before he ousted Richards in the battle for governor here in 1994. Bush, who'd never served in an elected office until that time, apparently felt that the vast pool of institutional knowledge and experience in the trenches that Reggie Bashur and Cliff Johnson would bring to his administration in the early stages was worth whatever heat their enlistment might bring. Bashur had been the press secretary for Bill Clements during a second term in the late 1980s as the state's first Republican governor since Reconstruction. Johnson had served in the Texas House as a conservative Democrat during that time. While both would eventually return to the lobby as planned, they continued to advise some of the state's top leaders after parting ways with the Bush administration.

Perry piqued the suspicions of his detractors as well when he named Johnson and several other influential lobbyists to major positions in his first few year as Bush's successor. While Johnson was a likeable figure who'd served in the House with the state's third GOP governor in more than a century when both were rural Democrats, Perry found his hiring of a former Republican House colleague who'd become a successful lobbyist to be a far more controversial choice. Mike Toomey, the ex-legislation in question, had been one of the most outspoken and aggressive conservatives in a lower chamber that Democrats still ruled before he stepped down from the elected post to become Clements' chief of staff when Bashur was in charge of the press office. But Toomey - unlike the lion's share of lobbyists who became political independents for the most part as a function of occupational necessity - had bolstered his credentials as a partisan Republican as a behind-the-scenes architect of the Texas House takeover 12 years ago that gave Republicans their first majority and speaker in the Capitol's west wing in more than 130 years. While Toomey's tenure as one of Perry's first chiefs of staff in the governor's office was tumultuous at times, he seemed to fare as well if not better after his return to the Austin lobby world where he's been one of the most powerful members ever since.

In a business where lobbyists are often viewed in an unflattering light like lawyers, journalists and politicians themselves, Abbott couldn't be certain what the public reaction might be to the decision that he'd made to bring Erben and Saenz on board in the infant stages of a gubernatorial stint that began about two weeks ago. The Abbott lobby hires had the potential to draw the ire of Democrats based on similar political backgrounds as former assistant secretaries of state under separate Republican governors. That wouldn't bode that well for an incoming GOP governor who started his new job with a vow to be a bipartisan leader. But Patrick played his hand first when he announced the hiring of Fisher in a move that business establishment Republicans and Democrats had to find refreshing for a new lieutenant governor who'd run farther to the right than anyone who'd held the job before him. Fisher alternated between the public and private sectors over the course of a long career that included stints as the Texas Municipal League's chief lobbyist before serving as the state Senate parliamentarian under Bullock the Democrat and the three Republicans who followed him in the lieutenant governor's office. Fisher - an affable personality with an enclyopedic understanding of legislative procedure - was widely viewed as a sign that Patrick wanted to keep his adminstration from going too far off the tracks after unprecedented conservative posturing as a candidate and during his first two weeks on the new job.

As far as the hundreds of other public advocates who are full-time lobbyists at the Capitol go, their average individual worth and combined value should be higher than ever as the 2015 regular session progresses in large part as a result of the uncertainty that the leadership changes have created. The Legislature as a whole and the Senate in particular are substantially more conservative on paper now than they've been at any point in the GOP era here. All of the true Senate freshmen and quite a few first-term House Republicans won tickets to Austin on the strength of the support they'd secured from tea party conservatives who've made big special interests a popular target for criticism. Business forces will be keeping their fingers crossed on Patrick as a new leader who they are regarding as unpredictable at best in the early going. That in turn will make the job more challenging for lobbyists who'd become accustomed to relatively moderate rule at the Capitol under both of the political parties that have controlled the place. But the added competition could make the lobby profession here more complicated as well as young cougars battle old lions for a piece of a pie that's always limited no matter how big it becomes.

 


 

Hired Guns

The lobby is one of the most difficult professions to enter with any realistic hopes of success - and the political professionals who are able to actually make real livings as lobbyists are often former lawmakers and other elected officials who've been trained for the job as the targets of lobbying. Most of the lobbyists who've never held elected office have usually worked in high-level capacities for bosses who have. Government experience is an abolute prerequisite - and connections that are gleaned from it are necessary tools of the trade for those who hope to survive.

Breaking into the business in the Texas Capital City is complicated all the more by the fact that the turnover is minimal at best - and that helps explain why the lion's share of names on the Capitol Inside hired guns contract lobbyist list might seem mighty familiar. to the specialized audience that's reading this.

The lobby quartet that crowns the hired gun list - Neal T. "Buddy" Jones, Mike Toomey, Rusty Kelley and Bill Messer - have all been ranked among the top four for an entire decade. The only thing that's changed on the top rungs of the ladder is the order in which those four have been listed in the biennial rankings that had been published on an annual basis in the early stages.

Jones - an attorney who served in the Texas House in the early 1980s as a conservative Democrat from Hillsboro - is ranked first this time around just like he was two years ago for a couple of very simple reasons. A former Baylor University board of regents chairman, Jones is the captain of the number one lobby team at the statehouse in terms of cumulative talent, client lists and the coordination of individual skills and specialty expertise in a group with a core base that's remained intact essentially longer than almost if not all of the competitor firms have been in business. The folks who hire Jones like Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and H.E.B. boss Charles Butt get HillCo Partners as part of the package.

Toomey and Messer, who both happen to be former state representatives with law degrees as well, have been working in tandem and separately for most of the past decade as the biggest names in a prize collection of political professionals that's more loosely connected than the competition at HillCo. The Texas Lobby Group that they conceived a dozen years ago has been the unofficial centerpiece for the Texas Capitol Group that includes several more lobbyists and communications experts who aren't registered to lobby. Toomey and Messer have both been ranked first on the hired guns list at times in the past due in significant part to the close relationships they had with Rick Perry and Tom Craddick respectively when they were serving as the governor and Texas House speaker.

While the curtain dropped last month on Perry's historic stint as the longest-serving governor in Texas history, Toomey hasn't appeared to lose any of the competitive edge or clout that he wields as a lobbyst thanks to a significant degree to his longtime association with the Texans for Lawsuit Reform. But the closest thing that Toomey has had to a liability in the lobby has been an image as a partisan Republican who had a major role in the overthrow of Democrats from power in the Texas House where he'd served as a member of the minority part in the late 1980s. And there are times when that's probably proven to be more of an asset than an obstacle based on the success he's enjoyed as a public affairs advocate off and on for the past 20 years or more. Jones - on the other hand - has been the ultimate bipartisan lobbyist extraordinare at a Capitol where he's had the same high level of sway regardless of the party in power. The HillCo boss has a slight edge over Toomey as a result in the competition for the pinnacle spot on the hired guns chart.

Blakemore, the Dan Patrick campaign advisor, is the only newcomer among the 10 highest-raniked hired guns - and the verdict is still out on whether he will be able to stay there until and after the current lieutenant governor has moved on. Almost all of the other contract lobbyists who are ranked in among the top 25 have been there before - and that's a testament to how difficult it is to achieve a rating that high in the first place.

Some of the most notable A-list additions are people who graduated from the rising stars list in 2013 to relatively lofty hired gun status this time around. That group includes Mark Miner and David White - pair of Republican operatives who'd had major roles at the Capitol and on the campaign trail for some of the state's highest-ranking current and former statewide officials. White - a top advisor to Susan Combs in her roles as the state comptroller and as candidate for the post - served as Republican Glenn Hegar's campaign manager during his successful bid for the job in 2014.

Miner was in the news on a regular basis for several years as Perry's press secretary at times and campaign spokesperson in races for governor and president. Miner's stock as a lobbyist had been on the upswing before it received an additional bump when Abbott hired his main lobby partner, Luis Saenz, to be his first appointments director in the governor's office.

The hired gun list for the first time features a couple of other former Perry advisors - Ted Delisi and Deirdre Delisi - who are listed together in a high spot on the list as a result of the common bonds they share as a husband and wife who are lobby partners as well. The female half of the Delisi duo had served as a chief of state for Perry before he appointed her to the Texas Transportation Commission that she ended up chairing throughout her tenure on it.

Austin attorney Gardner Pate - a member of the lobby team at the Locke Lord law firm - has made the leap from a rising star to a hired gun whose value has soared as well in light of his role as a director and chief legal advisor for Abbott's winning gubernatorial campaign in 2014.

The list of hired gun lobbyists who've vaulted the highest from their positions on the chart two years ago includes Mindy Ellmer, a veteran statehouse professional who's had a close personal relationship for years with the powerful chairman of the Texas House Administration Committee. The committee boss in question - Republican State Rep. Charlie Geren of Fort Worth - has been one of Speaker Joe Straus' top lieutenants since he and several other GOP colleagues put him in position to win the leadership post eight years ago.

Some of the other hired guns whose value also has jumped considerably in the new rankings installment include the Gardere law firm duo of Mark Vane and Royce Poinsett, Graydon Group members Jay Propes and Jay Brown and other contract lobbyists like Trey Blocker, Keith Strama, Kathy Grant, Mario Martinez, Michael Grimes and Trent Townsend.

 

Rising Stars

The list of lobby rookies with star potential may be more loaded with talent and relevant experience in 2015 than it's been in the past. But the unprecedented diversity that the rising stars chart features this time around is arguably its most intriguing and significant aspect in terms of a potential barometer for the future of the lobby here.

An unprecedented turnover in statewide and legislative offices combined has all but guaranteed that the competition will be at a record level in terms of both quality and quantity. But the rising stars list in 2015 better reflects the state's overall population than the lobby here has in years past as an industry that's been dominated by white males. Nine of the 10 highest-ranked lobby newcomers on the rising stars list are either women or Hispanic or members of ethnic minorities or both. The list's complexion mirrors the state's overall for the most part with three Hispanics and one African-American ranked in the top 10. Eleven of the 20 rising stars this year are females.

The rising stars list begins with Carrie Simmons and Amy Maxwell - a pair of former Capitol aides who have embarked in budding lobby careers on different paths. Simmons has been deeply involved in statehouse political warring as recent former executive director of the Texas House Republican Caucus and a charter officer for the pro-GOP group that sprouted up last year under the banner of Red State Women. A former aide to State Senator Larry Taylor, a Friendswood Republican who's chairing the Senate Education Committee this year for the first time, Simmons will have a hall-of-fame level lobbyist as a mentor in her new profession as a new member of Mike Toomey's team at the Texas Lobby Group. Simmons' affiliation with the firm that Bill Messer and Toomey co-founded also will give her a chance to learn the ropes of the trade from Lara Keel, a highly-respected lobbyist who's one of the group's charter members and doubling as the Red State Women's president as well.

Maxwell - the original chief of staff for Texas Railroad Commissioner David Porter - is operating independently as someone who plans to represent clients in the oil and gas industry as a lobbyist and lawyer as well. Maxwell picked up some valuable experience several years ago during a fairly brief stint with the Locke Lord law firm's lobby shop. But she'd focussed primarily on public service as a former aide to Republicans David Dewhurst and Carole Keeton Strayhorn in the lieutenant governor's office and comptroller's office respectively before helping Porter make the transition to state government as the manager of his staff at the agency that regulates the energy industry here. Maxwell decided to specialize as a lobbyist in an area that she's been around most of her life as a Kilgore native whose father, grandfather and great-grandfathers all made their livings in the East Texas Oil Field.

The up-and-comers list includes Micah Rodriguez - a former state Senate aide who'll have five-star tutelage as well as a new member of the Blackridge lobby shop that Rusty Kelley runs. Kelley has been one of the most successful lobbyists when it comes to bipartisan persuasion and long-lasting success that hasn't been affected by the Capitol conversion from Democrat to Republican. Rodriguez, a former Senate Hispanic Caucus executive director who worked for Democrats Carlos Uresti and John Whitmire in the upper chamber, appears to have what it will take to work both sides of the partisan dividing line as a lobbyist.

Colin Parrish ranks high on the list of rising lobby stars as well as a former Rick Perry policy advisor in the governor's office after stints as a Texas Transportation Commission official and chief of staff to GOP State Rep. Wayne Smith. Jamie Dudensing and Amy DeWeese, who worked as top aides to Dewhurst and Republican State Rep. Kenneth Sheets respectively, are rated in the top third of the lobby freshmen class as well in 2015 as representatives exclusively at the Capitol for the Texas Association of Health Plans and Atmos Energy respectively.

A,J. Bingham - who advised the Texas House State Affairs Committee before entering the lobby - is one of two African-Americans on the rising stars list this year along with Locke Lord law firm member Jeri Brooks of Houston.

 

Former Legislators & Agency Officials

The most prominent new names on the list of ex-state lawmakers who've entered the lobby profession in recent months include former Texas Senators Ken Armbrister and Todd Staples and former lead House budget writer Jim Pitts.

Staples, who served two terms as the state agriculture commissioner after a dozen years in the Senate and House combined, signed on as the chief lobbyist for the Texas Oil & Gas Association after an unsuccessful bid for lieutenant governor in 2014. Staples has taken over as the group's president at a time when the industry has been in a state of roller-coaster fluctuations that have been drivien most recently by a sharp drop in oil prices.

Pitts - the twin brother of Texas Star Alliance lobby group leader John Pitts - is teaming with former House Appropriations Committee director Amy Peterson in a public affairs firm that's just getting off the ground. A Republican who served in the House for 22 years before opting against a re-election bid in 2014, Pitts chaired the budget panel in the lower chamber during four out of the past five regular sessions. He'd been GOP Speaker Joe Straus' most powerful ally in the Capitol's west wing before the transition back to the private sector.

Armbrister - in a move that shows how small the Texas lobby world can be at times - has gone to work at John Pitts' firm at the start of a career as a lobbyist that seems long overdue considering the fact that he stepped down from the Senate the same year that Staples took over as the state farm chief in 2007.

Armbrister, who served in the Legislature two years longer than Jim Pitts, is launching a lobby stint belatedly after taking a detour for eight years as Perry's legislative director in the governor's office. Very few lobbyists from Austin to Washington and every state capital in between seemed to be cut out for the job more than Armbrister in terms of personality, experience and institutional knowledge as someone who'd arguably been one of the most effective legislators here ever.

Most of the other former lawmakers on the list had a few years of experience as lobbyists under their belts by the time the 2015 regular session opened for business last month.

Two of the highest-ranking former state agency officials who lobby - Tom Suehs and Robert Scott - are members of the Texas Star Alliance firm that's ranked among the top five lobby teams. Suehs and Scott served as the state's health and education commissioners respectively before beginning lobby careers.

Dan Pearson - a former deputy comptroller who led the state agency that oversees enviornmental issues - has been a perennial figure high on the list of lobbyist who'd headed governmental agencies in Texas. Pearson is a veteran lobbyist at the number one ranked lobby team HillCo Partners.

 

Teams & Groups

The lobbyist teams and law firm lobby shop lists haven't changed much at or near the top in the past few years. It's no coincidence that the three top lobby teams - HillCo, the Texas Lobby Group (on which the Texas Capitol Group revolves) and the smaller but potent firm Blackridge - are all led by the same lobbyists who've ranked among the top four on the hired guns list throughout the past decade.

The top-ranked law firm lobby practice at Houston-based Locke Lord is still crowning the particular list that it's topped for most if not all of the past 10 years. The Austin lobby team at the Gardere law firm has strengthened its hold on the second spot on this list after adding some muscle with the enlistment of Royce Poinsett. Veteran Gardere lobbyist Mark Vane and Poinsett both appear relatively high on the hired guns list as well.

The Texas Capitol team at the international law firm Greenberg Traurig ranks a very close third after adding Houston lawyer Jim Grace to its ranks in the past year. Grace and Poinsett had both worked as lobbyists for the Baker Botts firm before it decided to get out of the lobbying business at the state level in Texas.

Robert Miller, who leads the Locke Lord lobby group at the Capitol here, is the highest ranked hired gun lobbyist who's a member of a law firm with a team that maintains a high presence at the statehouse in Austin. Miller has stressed the teamwork approach more than other leaders of law firm lobby groups whose members tend to work more independently and autonomously even though they have the same employer and share office space.

The Locke Lord team can expect to flex more muscle than ever this year in light of a key role that Miller played in new Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick's fundraising efforts and lobby colleague Gardner Pate's recent experience as the chief outside legal advisor for Governor Greg Abbott's campaign in 2014.

The McGuire Woods team in Austin remains high on the law firm lobby shop list despite the temporary exit that Luis Saenz has made with a decision to sign as Abbott's first appointments director in the governor's office. But Mark Miner will be moving into the lead role at McGuire Woods, which lost a key leader but gained an extremely valuable connection with Saenz's shift to the public sector in a move that will make the firm's group here even stronger if and when he returns eventually as expected.

 

Private Sector Professionals

Two of the most notable revisions on the list of lobbyists who are full-time corporate employees are the elevations of Kellie Duhr and Dya Campos into high spots on the chart as in-house representatives here for Walmart and the San Antonio-based H.E.B. grocery chain respectively.

But while the Austin-based lobbyists for AT&T and CenterPoint Energy remain in their familiar spots as the two highest-ranked corporate in-house advocates, Karen Steakley is making a whopping debut on this particular list in the number three slot as the point person here for the maverick car maker Tesla.

With Tesla launching a full-court press to change Texas law that it sees as an obstacle here, the company that's making vehicles that run on electricity or battery power has assembled a high-powered team of Austin lobbyists as formidable reinforcemets for Steakley.

As a result of the battle that's shaping up over the Tesla offensive and separate fights that erupted two years ago between car manufacturers and the businesses that sell the finished goods, the Texas Automobile Dealers Association has moved up into the higher realms of the list of professional organizations that lobby at the statehouse here.

With the energy industry expected to seek legislative help amid a downturn brought on by the oil price decline, the Texas Oil & Gas Association that's commonly referred to as TXOGA and the Texas Independent Producers & Royalty Owners group that's called TIPRO for short have jumped to higher spots on the professional association rankings for 2015. TXOGA's hiring of former Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples as its new president should be a momentum-booster for the group at a critical time for the industry.

 

The Best of the Rest that We Missed

As a project that was published initially on the same day in early 2003 that Capitol Inside made its debut on the Internet, the lobby rankings has mushroomed into a monstrous undertaking during the past 12 years. Accidental omissions are inevitable - as a consequence - and we apologize in advance for failing to include everyone who's worthy of mention here. That would be less likely to occur, however, if we'd known about the individuals and groups who deserved to be ranked but haven't been. So this is a two-way street - and please feel free to call it to our attention if you think you've been unjustly left out.

Micah Rodriguez
Carrie Simmons Micah Rodriguez
A.J. Bingham
Amy Maxwell A.J. Bingham
Mindy Ellmer
Mindy Ellmer Keith Strama
Ken Armbrister
Trey Blocker Ken Armbrister

 

 

THE LONGEST SHADOW

No registered Austin lobbyist can expect to have impact in 2015 like fire-breathing conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan has had at the Capitol so far this year. MQS has already been indirectly responsible for a knee-jerk crackdown on press cxredentials and a vote on a Texas House speaker's race that the challenger he supported had no chance whatsoever to win. Sullivan has been spearheading a charge to oust Speaker Joe Straus since his first term with the gavel in 2009 - and he's claimed that a complaint at the Texas Ethics Commission against him was blatant political payback for that. The agency board slapped MQS with a hefty fine last year after ruling that he'd violated state law by failing to register as a lobbyist in 2010 and 2011. While Sullivan had signed up officially to lobby during every session from 2001 to 2009, he argued that he'd no longer been required to do so on the grounds that he's exempt as a journalist. Instead of conceding defeat and getting back on the registered lobby rolls, MQS is fighting the TEC order in a state district court in a suit that he filed initially in Travis County before shifting it to Denton amid the assertion that he'd relocated there. Whatever the official occupation and residence might be, the former Texas Public Policy Foundation official has the undivided attention of those who hate him and love him and either owe him a debt of gratitude or wish that he'd take the voting record scorecard that's been a key weapon and shove it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Walter Fisher

Reverse Revolving Door
Top Aides to Major State Officials Who Had Been in Public Service Before Lobby Sints Liisted in Alphabetical Order


Reggie Bashur
Governors George W. Bush
& Bill Clements Advisor
Randy Erben
Governor Greg Abbott
Legislative Director
Nancy Fisher
Texas House Speaker
Tom Craddick Chief of Staff
Walter Fisher
Lieutenant Governor Dan
Patrick Senior Advisor
Cliff Johnson
Governors Rick Perry
& George W. Bush Advisor
Robert Howden
Governor Rick Perry Advisor
Luis Saenz
Governor Greg Abbott
Appointments Director
Dan Shelley
Governor Rick Perry
Legislative Director
Patricia Shipton
Governor Rick Perry
Legislative Director
Mike Toomey
Governors Rick Perry & Bill
Clements Chief of Staff

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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