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Yanking the lever for the Republicans on Nov. 8, the electorate not only canned scores of Democratic members in the House and Senate, but wrote pink slips to nearly 3,000 congressional staffers.
Denied their franked mail privileges, their parking stickers, and their laminated IDs, the losers are now ordering reams of résumés and attending find-work seminars like last week’s 1994 job fair. Co-sponsored by the House Administrative Assistants Alumni Association and the just plain House Administrative Assistants Association, the acronym for the Nov. 16 event read HAAAA-HAAA, but yuks were scant. The two-hour straight-talk panel, led by nine Hill veterans now employed as lobbyists, trade association reps, and other good government types, validated Dr. Thompson’s sage observation: “Old whores don’t do much giggling.”
About 120 administrative assistants and legislative directors packed the House Ways and Means Committee conference room, and the location of the seminar was emblematic of the election-day bloodletting. It’s the scene of the crime, the mecca of malfeasance, where reptilian members like ex- Chairman Dan Rostenkowski worked off Morton’s thickest porterhouses by looting the federal treasury.
Rosty’s visage is front and center on the far wall amid chairmen of yore. As two young HAAAA employees viewed the oil painting of a younger, relatively fold-free, and unusually clear-eyed power Rostenkowski, one mocked the fallen member with his best Windy City growl: “This is my House.”
“Where’s his side shot?” the other quipped.
The chamber is untainted in its neoclassic baroqueness: sconces and chandeliers and blue crushed-velvet drapes with ornate golden tassels as thick as the hair on Kay Hutchinson’s chest. But despite the splendor, if you had taken out the chairs and hearing tables, it would have felt like a ballroom for the damned, rank with the musty putrescence of defeat.
Lobbyist John Chwat, master of ceremonies and chief grief counselor, was in charge of rubbing psychic ointment on the assemblage’s tattered egos. “We are alumni that have successfully transferred to the private sector,” he said, looking like a cross between a puffy Truman Capote and a slimmed-down William Conrad in a two-button wool casing.
Chwat, whose last name sounds as if it should be echoing off the bottom of a spittoon, spoke of his 24-year Hill tenure, consoling, “We’ve been there before, we’ve faced unemployment lines….We want you to know as alumni, you’re not alone, we are here to help.”
And help they did, offering such unpalatable advice as “seek out an adjunct professorship at a community college”; “start your own lobbying firm right out of your kitchen”; or as Charles Hilty, senior legislative adviser with Fleishman-Hillard, suggested to the communications types, “You could always go back to the newspaper business; of course, it may pay a little less.” That line rippled down press row, which for once featured the best-dressed people in attendance.
After such a crushing setback, decorum is usually the first casualty. Most of the men wore loose-tied rumpled pin-cord, looking like they just crawled out of the bottom of a shot glass. Some, with two-day beards, came flanneled in Levi’s and low-tops. The ladies looked naked sans the sleek Adrianne Vittadini and Evan-Picone suits. They were already settling in mix-and-match all-season garb, devil-may-care pastel polyblend jackets with three-quarter-length sleeves—30 percent off at Fashion Bug’s Halloween clearance.
Who was there to dress for now? They were all gearing up for the worst best-case scenario: becoming civil servants. No matter what kind of buff they had on their Bally’s or Bruno Magli’s, many were facing the same unenviable fate: a trip to the GSA cobbler, where they’d be fitted for cement bureauflats.
Gary Hymel, a vice chairman of Hill and Knowlton, sounded for all the world like Al Franken’s SNL character Stuart Smalley: “There’s only one way to look at this situation that you find yourselves in, and that is that you are a valuable person and this is an opportunity,” he said. “Consider yourself. You are a success, you’ve risen to the top of your profession. Important people have trusted you, put you in charge, even let you be them in many cases.”
From Hymel’s lips to the voters’ ears. That’s been the rap on many of these AA’s and LD’s who fancy themselves de facto reps heading a rump House—the puppeteers, the brains behind the operation, Lanskys to their bosses’ Lucianos, Gepettos to their Pinocchios.
Hymel then asked them to do what most previously considered unthinkable: “Put your ego aside when you look for a job. Be prepared for people to brush you off, to not return your phone calls. Please remember you haven’t done anything wrong. Don’t take it personally.”
Then, horror di tutti horrors: “You may be offered a lesser job than you have now; please consider it,” Hymel warned. “You may even find yourself reporting to someone who used to report to you. I hope you can handle that.”
More elementary observations and pat networking gibberish were offered. Most memorable were those by Charles Simpson, vice president of Morrison-Knudsen Co. “When you go in to see someone, pronounce their name right,” he said. “It’s very important who you know, exploit that. You’ve done many favors for people that you didn’t consider favors. They do….Find those people.”
Big business was also represented in the person of Wendell Holloway, legislative manager for Ford Motor Co., who offered a crash accounting course.
“Evaluate your personal resources. Think about everything you have going for you and add them up. Think about all your negatives and subtract them. That’s your net worth.”
Had Holloway been given the time, surely he would have educated the Hill Rats in the correct usage of such words as “paradigm,” “TQM,” “self-deployment,” “cultural determinants,” and “integrated strategic change,” the corporate factotum’s way of announcing to the world: “Though I am a middle-management mooncalf with no mind of my own, I’ve synergized enough of my intrapersonal skills to ensure that I don’t have to swing a key ring from my belt or wear a name-tag on my jumper.”
But with their wealth of experience and uniquely strategic coordinates, many of the fallen are poised to jump the divide and start making real cash as gunslingers in Gucci Gulch. What was clear at this conference is that even with the added earning potential, ethics are still Priority One. Literature provided by the American Association of Lobbyists reminds prospects that the league “believes the heavy responsibility of the professional lobbyist requires standards of ethical behavior beyond those generally accepted by a free and moral society.”
This precept is observed daily, of course, by the lobbyists helping members meet Jesus through rich food, strong drink, and envelopes filled with PAC checks. Though this parchment does not specify, it is generally understood that one free and moral society’s graft can be another’s honoraria.
The job fair’s high point came in a discussion of the Ramspeck Act, a 1940 law that is dusted off after every electoral mass exodus. “Ramspecking” is the process whereby a congressional staffer who has become unemployed through “involuntary acts” (due to a member’s death, lack of congressional funds, or as a result of his boss getting beat like a redheaded mule) bypasses others in line for a federal job, allowing him to obtain a highly secure, low-exertion civil service post. This is also known as “burrowing in.”
Anticipating the resentment that civil service lifers will have toward their new golden-paratrooping, ex-Hill co-workers, congressional specialist John Pontius issued a spate of cautions: “Keep your head down. Remember that you are no longer a congressional staffer. Remember not to talk about the Hill. Don’t talk about your contacts. If you have any preconceived notions of the Executive Branch, keep them to yourself.” And as a reward for strict adherence? “People will soon forget where you’re from.”
As the conference wrapped, most of the attendees looked ready to lick their fingers and shove them into light sockets.
One legislative director with former Rep. Tom Andrews (D-Maine) drew solace from the HAAAA platitudes.
“You may be down, but you’re never out unless you give up, and I don’t intend to do that and don’t know too many people who ever would,” he said. “We’ll see what happens. This could just reverse itself two years from now and the shoe will be on the other foot. The electorate is in that kind of a mood.”
But as might be expected, the incoming winners were more perceptive about the losers’ situation than were the losers.
“At this point they all just lost their balls. They’re gone, they’re emasculated, they’re trying to cash in somewhere, anywhere, they’ll take what they can get,” said a former Republican Senate staffer now in the employ of the Texas GOP. “I just love the fact that all these idiot, long-term, master’s-holding, IR-degree, 20-grand-a-year debt-ridden fucks, with their $100,000-plus jobs working for these committees thinking they were in for the long haul as some kind of influential policy-maker bureaucrats working for Jack Brooks [breath]…they’re out on their ass.”