Russell Vought has spent over a decade helping craft policy on behalf of conservative lawmakers, whom he sees as a bulwark against immoderate growth in the public sector.
"I always loved working for conservatives," Vought says. "I felt that I always worked for people that woke up every morning concerned about freedom, fully cognizant of why they came to D.C. I never worked for folks that were willing to compromise on their principles. ... [Their] policies were really aimed at protecting freedom and limiting the size and scope of the federal government."
Vought is leaving Capitol Hill for Heritage Action for America, an advocacy group launched in April by the Heritage Foundation. He moves to the group from the House Republican Conference, where he has been policy director since last year.
During a dozen years on the Hill, Vought has advised a number of conservative lawmakers, including former Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind.; former Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas; former Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb.; Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, and Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., the current chairman of the House Republican Conference.
Vought grew up in Trumbull, Conn., the youngest of seven children. He came to Washington soon after graduating from Wheaton College in Illinois with a degree in history and political science, and he thrived in the city's enclave of public policy enthusiasts.
"I loved it; I didn't actually know that these kinds of jobs existed!" he says. After working briefly for Coats, and later as a legislative assistant for Gramm and Hagel, Vought was named Hensarling's policy director in 2003. He attended classes at night, and received his law degree from The George Washington University in 2004.
Vought joined the Republican Study Committee in 2004, and was promoted by then-chairman Hensarling to executive director in 2007. Having established his expertise on a range of issues, including the federal budget, appropriations and legislative procedure, Vought was recruited by Pence.
Pence hailed Vought's commitment to conservative principles on the House floor last week. "While we are sorry to lose one of the strongest advocates for the principles that guide us, Mr. Vought's infectious passion for the principles of life, liberty and limited government will long outlive his tenure here on Capitol Hill," he said.
At Heritage Action for America, Vought will try to impact votes in Congress, as well as incite concerned citizens to "turn up the heat" on their elected representatives.
This article appears in the Aug. 7, 2010, edition of National Journal Daily.