A Rising Star in the Hold-Your-Nose Industries

An Exxon station in West Hollywood, Calif., shows the cost of gas marching toward $5 a gallon.
An Exxon station in West Hollywood, Calif., shows the cost of gas marching toward $5 a gallon. (By David Mcnew -- Getty Images)
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By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Jack N. Gerard is about to become the most hated man in Washington. Gerard, 50, will take over this fall as president of the American Petroleum Institute. That will make him chief spokesman for the oil and gas industry, the delightful folks who brought us $4-a-gallon gasoline.

Thanks for nothin', Jack.

Unless something changes drastically between now and then, Gerard will spend most of his time begging a Democratic Congress not to raise his members' taxes by billions of dollars -- or something even worse.

"Jack has the toughest job in Washington," said R. Skip Horvath, president of the Natural Gas Supply Association. "Whether anyone can do it or not, we'll find out."

Gerard is amazingly serene at the prospect. He says he's actually looking forward to it. "Each opportunity poses its own challenge," he said. "My career has been filled with those challenges."

That's for sure. Gerard has been a rising star among the people who are considered experts in defending hold-your-nose industries.

He's currently president of the lobby for chemical manufacturers. Before that, he headed the trade association for mines.

If anyone knows how to put the best spin on companies that the public can't stand, it's Jack Gerard. That's probably why he was chosen for the new job.

Another reason is that he and the man he's replacing, Red Cavaney, see lobbying as a decidedly public enterprise -- despite its cloak-and-dagger reputation.

Most citizens imagine that influencing government is about secret meetings and quiet support. While those certainly are parts of the game, the most important and most expensive component these days is aggressively overt -- the very-much-out-in-the-open battle for Americans' hearts and minds.

"When industries are confronted by challenges, they tend to get shellshocked and step back into the foxhole," Gerard said. "My philosophy is the opposite. Industries need someone to step forward and make the case when people don't understand them."

He continued: "Because there's a lot of anxiety in the Congress about the industry, we have to step forward and be compelling in our advocacy. It's not a time to be bashful. The more transparent the discussion, the better off we'll be."

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