Lobbying

Lobbying
Gaylord Armstrong, Lobbyist.
Photograph by Dave Mead

NAME: Gaylord Armstrong | AGE: 69 | HOMETOWN: Austin | QUALIFICATIONS: Senior partner at McGinnis, Lochridge & Kilgore / Has been a lobbyist for forty years / Clients include Exxon Mobil, the Texas Film Industry Group, GE Capital Corporation, and the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas

• I started lobbying totally by coincidence. I joined former congressman Joe Kilgore’s law firm in 1969 after four years working on Capitol Hill. Joe had gotten calls from former members of Congress in Washington saying, “I got a problem with the Texas Legislature. Do you have someone who could help me?” He didn’t want to do it himself, so he said, “Gaylord, you know what the legislative process is like on the public-sector side. You wanna find out what it’s like on the private-sector side?” I was taking home, like, 367 bucks a month. Man, I’d have jumped off the building if they had asked me to.

• My first lobbying experience was hilarious. I went to go see Senator Ralph Hall about a particular bill, and the phone rings. It’s Lieutenant Governor Ben Barnes, who I’d met through President Johnson. “Gaylord? Barnes. Hear you’re messing with one of Barbara Jordan’s bills. People don’t mess with Barbara Jordan’s bills.” Click.

• To be a good lobbyist—if I can be real corny about it—you have to know the three P’s. You gotta know the players: members, staff, people at state agencies who have an effect on the course of legislation, the press, other lobbyists. The second P is process. You really need to know the rules, and he who knows the rules usually rules. Thirdly, you gotta know the program. You have to know and understand the client, the client’s position and background, and the issue.

• How many times have you heard a lobbyist say, “Well, would you do this one for me?” The days are gone, really, when a member will do it for me.

• What this business boils down to is education. But you can’t educate a member or a staff member unless you’ve got access. And you don’t get access unless you have some kind ofrelationship and you have credibility. They learn in time who they can believe.

• All the negative attention lobbyists get overshadows the fact that there’s probably no organized group in the country that doesn’t have someone who represents them. If you’re a florist, you think, “Thank goodness for the Texas State Florists’ Association’s lobbyists.”

• The toughest member I ever hadto lobby was Jim Nugent, who served in the Legislature in the sixties and seventies. He was smart and tough. Even if you were making a good point, he felt strongly that he had better points to make. You might never know if he agreed with you, but he sure had a great time tooling you around about it.

• You have to love politics. You have to love people. You have to be willing, as we say in the law business, to read every book in the law library to try to find the white-horse case. You have to be willing to get there earlier and stay up later and work a little harder. If not, this process weeds you out.

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