When the political blog Talking Points Memo recently tallied the number of former federal lawmakers who lobby in Washington, its list contained 170 names, including 17 onetime U.S. congressmen from Texas — the most of any state. That got us wondering: How many former state officeholders are registered to lobby in Austin?
The answer: 65, or just under 5 percent of the 1,475 lobbyists on the rolls at the Texas Ethics Commission, according to a Texas Tribune analysis of lobby registrations. The list — which includes such marquee names as former House Speakers Pete Laney, Gib Lewis and Gus Mutscher and Sens. Bill Ratliff and Buster Brown alongside legislative one-termers like Russ Tidwell and Neal "Buddy" Jones — draws more on House than Senate alumni (there are simply more members of the House, 150 versus 31, and therefore more exes). Men overwhelmingly outnumber women on the list, 61-4. But what they mostly have in common is a certain set of skills unique to those who have walked the halls of the pink granite Capitol: how to pass bills, to kill them, whom to talk to, which clerks are friendly, whose birthdays are coming up — all the inside stuff that makes the government machine whir.
Finishing School: From Public Official to Registered Lobbyist
|Todd A. Baxter||House||2003-2005|
|J. E. Buster Brown||Senate||1981-2002|
|David H. Cain||House/Senate||1977-2003|
|Frank W. Calhoun||House||1967-1975|
|Jaime Capelo Jr.||House||1998-2005|
|Geoffrey S. Connor||SOS||2003-2005|
|Robert "Robby" Cook III||House||1997-2009|
|Will D. Davis||SBOE||1989-2001
|David A. Dean||SOS||1981-1983|
|Dianne W. Delisi||House||1991-2008|
|Charles W. Evans||House||1973-1987|
|John Fainter Jr.||SOS||1983-1984|
|Benjamin Bruce Gibson||House||1981-1992|
|J. Tony Goolsby||House||1989-2009|
|Patrick B. Haggerty||House||1989-2009|
|James W. "Bill" Haley||House/Senate||1978-1995|
|Talmadge L. Heflin||House||1983-2005|
|Gerald W. Hill||House||1977-1984|
|Steve G. Holzheauser||House||1987-1999|
|Kyle L. Janek||House/Senate||1995-2008|
|John "Cliff" Johnson Jr.||House||1985-1988|
|Neal T. "Buddy" Jones Jr.||House||1981-1983|
|Michael "Mike" Krusee||House||1993-2009|
|James E. "Pete" Laney||House (speaker)||1973-2007|
|Ron E. Lewis||House||1985-2002|
|Gibson D. Lewis||House (speaker)||1971-1993|
|Albert III Luna||House||1980-1991|
|J. Parker McCollough||House||1989-1993|
|Michael D. Millsap||House||1977-1979, 1983-1989|
|Gus F. Mutscher||House (speaker)||1961-1973|
|Joseph Lynn Nabers||House||1969-1983|
|Mary Scott Nabers||RRC||1993-1994|
|William "Keith" Oakley||House||1985-1999|
|Carl A. Parker||House/Senate||1962-1995|
|Thomas R. Phillips||TSC (chief justice)||1988-2004|
|William R. "Bill" Ratliff||Senate||1989-2004|
|N. J. "Buzz" Robnett||House||1979-1993|
|Jim D. Rudd||House||1977-1995|
|Paul L. Sadler||House||1991-2003|
|>Gerhardt Schulle Jr.||House||1967-1973|
|A. R. "Babe" Schwartz||House/Senate||1955-1981|
|Curtis L. Seidlits Jr.||House||1987-1996|
|William E. "Bill" Siebert||House||1993-2001|
|Barry B. Telford||House||1987-2005|
|Robert R. "Bob" Turner||House||1991-2003|
|J. Corbin Van Arsdale||House||2003-2008|
"It's all about process and personalities, and there's just no substitute for that kind of training," says former House member Arlene Wohlgemuth, a Burleson Republican who lobbied for the likes of the Texas Hospital Association and Time Warner Telecom before becoming the executive director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation in Austin. "It's not a must. It's just an advantage. It's like a college degree; you don't have to have a college degree to do a lot of jobs, but it's an advantage."
Cliff Johnson, a former Democratic state representative from Palestine, in East Texas, agrees that it can take years to figure out the mechanics of state government, whereas people on the inside already know how things move. "When you have somebody who's more than 50 feet from the Capitol, they don't know what's going on in there," says Johnson, who has lobbied for the cities of Austin and Houston and GTech Corp., among others. "There's not a guide dog that can do it. You have to hire somebody to get through the administrative minefield."
For some lawmakers, it can be a difficult transition. Many get into the lobby and don't stay for long. Others find it hard to get work; calls don't come back as easily once the title and State Official license plates and the office in the Capitol are gone. And moving from potentate to supplicant is hard on some egos. Lobbyists can make a lot of money, but the care and feeding of members on one side and clients on the other doesn't suit everyone.
"You have to have a knack to be able to ask for stuff," Johnson says. "Sometimes it can be demeaning."
A former senator who's done some lobbying says it's harder on officials who only served in the upper chamber of the Legislature. "When you're a senator, you get treated like a prima donna, and you get used to it," he says. "I don't mean this disparagingly, but the House members get treated like shit already. They're used to it."
Wohlgemuth, a former House member, and Patterson, a former senator, more or less agree with that assessment. All of them have some variation, too, on what it takes to succeed. It's harder than it looks from a seat in the Lege. "I think a lot of legislators just see the eating out and the occasional visits to their offices, and think it's just the life of Riley," Wohlgemuth says.
It can be a blot on a résumé, too, as former state Sen. David Sibley, of Waco, is currently finding out. He joined the lobby after leaving the Senate but is now in a special-election runoff to regain his old seat. One of the chief criticisms from his opponent, Brian Birdwell, is that Sibley is a lobbyist. Yet others haven't let time in the lobby thwart their comeback plans. Jerry Patterson left the Senate, lobbied for a few years and then ran successfully for land commissioner, a job he'd like to keep for another term. Todd Hunter of Corpus Christi left the House to spend more time with his family, registered as a lobbyist and, 12 years later, returned to the House, where he's now a committee chairman.
Sibley's taking flak for it, but Patterson says his occupation wasn't really an issue when he ran in 2002. "I lobbied for some gun dealers, an esoteric oil and gas issue, for the Red Cross, and I lobbied for HMOs," he says. "I had had a choice between Nazi war criminals and HMOs, and I wanted to take on something that was challenging. … The only thing that was mentioned was that my wife was working for a major law firm and lobbying on taxes, but it wasn't mentioned very often."
Some former officeholders are very successful as lobbyists, but there are other, possibly better pathways to the top of the special interest pile. "Former membership in the Legislature is overrated as an entrée to the lobby," Patterson says. "There are a lot of members who think they're going to jump to the lobby and be a great success and find they're not doing squat. It's a very cutthroat environment. If you're a former member who was respected and got along with people, you're fine."
He and others note that the legislators and former officeholders in the lobby are greatly outnumbered by former legislative and agency staffers. "A former committee clerk for a big committee or a chief of staff for a member who's got an important committee is probably more valuable [to clients]," Patterson says.
The idea of the state government as a finishing school for the special interests seeking favor there doesn't sit well with some people. Johnson says lobbyists are a necessary part of the legislative and administrative machinery and that government's the best training ground. "The people who get into the business are the ones who know the business," he says. "I don't know hardly anyone [in the lobby] who wasn't somehow involved in the process."