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The Ex Files

How many former state officeholders are registered to lobby in Austin? The answer: 65, or a little less than 5 percent of the 1,475 lobbyists on the rolls at the Texas Ethics Commission, according to a Texas Tribune analysis.

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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

Name Office Years
Todd A. Baxter House 2003-2005
Hugo Berlanga House 1977-1998
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
Phil Cates House 1971-1979
Eddie Cavazos House 1983-1993
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
Toby Goodman House 1991-2007
J. Tony Goolsby House 1989-2009
Clint Hackney House 1981-1989
Patrick B. Haggerty House 1989-2009
James W. "Bill" Haley House/Senate 1978-1995
Bill Hammond House 1983-1991
Talmadge L. Heflin House 1983-2005
Fred Hill House 1989-2009
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
Vilma Luna House 1993-2006
J. Parker McCollough House 1989-1993
Bob McFarland House/Senate 1977-1991
Bill Messer House 1979-1986
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
Stan Schlueter House 1977-1989
>Gerhardt Schulle Jr. House 1967-1973
A. R. "Babe" Schwartz House/Senate 1955-1981
Curtis L. Seidlits Jr. House 1987-1996
Dan Shelley House/Senate 1987-1995
David Sibley Senate 1991-2002
William E. "Bill" Siebert House 1993-2001
Barry B. Telford House 1987-2005
Russ Tidwell House 1984-1985
Michael Toomey House 1983-1988
Gerard Torres House 1995-1998
Robert R. "Bob" Turner House 1991-2003
Hector Uribe House/Senate 1978-1991
J. Corbin Van Arsdale House 2003-2008
Arlene Wohlgemuth House 1995-2005

 

"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."

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