No Chamber Left Behind

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By Judy Sarasohn
Thursday, August 31, 2006

Several years ago, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wasn't particularly active in the No Child Left Behind legislative effort. But education is now one of its top issues, and the chamber is getting involved in a big way.

And to help it develop a strong position and be a major player on the reauthorization of the law next year, the chamber has turned to Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld . Akin Gump is one of the legal and lobbying powerhouses in town, but perhaps more important, it is home to Sandy Kress , a former senior adviser to President Bush who helped craft the president's No Child Left Behind initiative and get Democratic support for it.

Kress, a Democrat and former president of the board of trustees of the Dallas school system -- he works out of Akin Gump's Austin office -- recently registered to lobby on behalf of the chamber on No Child Left Behind and other education issues, such as the math and science initiative pending in Congress.

Also on the Akin Gump team: Beth Ann Bryan , a senior adviser to then-education secretary Roderick Paige and adviser to Bush when he was governor of Texas; and Krisann Pearce , a former teacher and deputy director of education and human resources policy for the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

Arthur J. Rothkopf , senior vice president of the chamber, said the organization chose Akin Gump for its strong education expertise and particularly because of Kress. The chamber generally believes in a rigorous curriculum and more accountability to ensure that the nation has a workforce that is prepared to compete, Rothkopf said.

"We're very concerned about the state of K through 12 because of its impact on U.S. competitiveness," Rothkopf said. "We now think it's crucial. You can't compete unless you have an educated workforce."

Rothkopf, a former president of Lafayette College, noted that the chamber also will be using its in-house lobbyists as well as getting assistance from lobbyist D'Arcy G. Philps of Van Scoyoc Associates . Philps is also a former Education and the Workforce staffer.

Kress, who is also advising the Business Roundtable on education issues, noted that the reauthorization next year is for the entire Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which includes No Child Left Behind provisions.

At this point, he said the Akin Gump team is advising the chamber on education policies it might consider. "The happy news is we share a lot of views. . . . I believe we see the world the same way," Kress said.

Navigation for Civilians

Lobbyists and observers of the industry often say a lawmaker's constituent -- be it a "civilian" or a corporate executive -- can be the best kind of lobbyist, having more influence than a hired gun with a member of Congress. But what if that amateur lobbyist doesn't know how to get his message across to the media?

That's where the specialty of "media training" comes in -- teaching the un-media-savvy how to behave and stay on message with the media. DC Navigators , a lobby, issue-advertising, public relations and grass-roots shop, has entered a "strategic partnership" with Vest Communications to bring in that kind of capability.

" Ken [ Vest ] knows how the Washington and national media work. His training programs have been especially helpful for top executives who must deal with the media in times of crisis with little time to prepare," Phil Anderson , one of Navigators' founders, said in a statement.

Anderson and Vest, who left Powell Tate six years ago to set up his own shop, worked together in the late 1990s at the American Council of Life Insurers under former South Carolina governor Carroll Campbell Jr.

Vest has done work for Prudential Financial and other financial services companies. Navigators' clients have included Mass Mutual, the American International Group, New York Life Insurance Co., Wal-Mart Stores and a host of Republican candidates, including California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Among Navigators' partners are Republican strategist Mike Murphy and Jim Pitts , former executive director of the Financial Services Coordinating Council.

Getting the Business

Chet Lott of Lott & Associates -- and, by the way, son of Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) -- filed with Congress recently for some lobbying business. He registered to lobby on behalf of Secondary Life Capital on insurance-related issues and for Five Star Financial Consulting on charitable insurance and fundraising for charities concerns. For the Perry Institute for Marine Science of Jupiter, Fla., Lott said the specific lobbying issues involve marine fisheries research funding.

Here and There

William R. Nordwind , counsel and policy coordinator for the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on telecommunications and the Internet and a Capitol Hill denizen for 15 years, is joining Venable on Sept. 7 as a partner in the law firm's legislative and government affairs group. Much of the time on the Hill, he worked for Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the subcommittee, and he also served as legislative director for Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio).


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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