The Ronald Reagan historian and author’s roots in the conservative movement reach back to walking door to door for Barry Goldwater’s campaign with his parents, who were active in the Conservative Party of New York. He graduated from Springfield College in Massachusetts and became director of communications for the National Conservative Political Action Committee before founding the public relations firm, which typically works for 25 clients at any time and reports close to $2 million in annual billings.
Shirley and his wife, Zorine, have been married for nearly 32 years. They met during the 1980 campaign season, when Reagan won the presidency by a landslide. Zorine later ran campaign schools for the National Conservative Foundation and was director of the Conservative Political Action Conference for four years. (People are always asking about her ethnic heritage, Shirley volunteers in a subsequent e-mail. “Her father is from Pakistan but his ancestry is Iranian. He is Parsi Zoroastrian. Zorine’s mother was part Mexican, Basque and Scottish.”)
Banister grew up on a wheat farm in eastern Colorado, where everyone she knew was conservative. The only talk-radio station that reached her small town skewed liberal, and she would yell at the radio. After attending Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma, she made her way to California, where she campaigned for Pat Buchanan in 1992 and 1996. Banister, who is not married, joined Shirley’s firm 16 years ago and now runs the day-to-day operations.
The banter between the two longtime partners is practically spousal.
“I’m retired,” Shirley says.
“Don’t say that,” Banister chides.
“She runs the firm,” he insists.
“He’s always on e-mail. He’s throwing out ideas,” she inserts.
“You know what I am? I am a visiting fireman. I jump in.”
“She’s going to put this in the story.”
‘We aren’t of the Beltway’
The firm has been a Washington institution among conservatives for some 29 years, yet Banister argues that “even though we are inside the Beltway, we aren’t of the Beltway.”
That’s a tough sell.
The office is filled with maroon leather chairs, forest-green carpeting and the requisite D.C. ego wall. There are photos with Reagan, former vice president Dick Cheney and “Hardball’s” Chris Matthews, another MSNBC and Washington personality. Two of Shirley’s four children are working in the office. One answers the phone; his second-oldest is in an upstairs office doing research for Shirley’s coming book on Gingrich’s politics, called “Citizen Newt.”
The shelves are lined with the works of Andrew Breitbart, William F. Buckley, John Bolton, Sarah Palin and Rick Perry — all one-time clients. Shirley & Banister and friendly Alexandria-based rival CRC Public Relations are the firms that very conservative figures use to pitch their messages to the media.