The Netflix political drama House of Cards is notable in at least one respect: The top lobbyist for the natural-gas industry is African-American. This casting belies an uncomfortable truth about the lobbying profession in Washington.
“It’s frightening,” says Angela Rye, who has formed a new lobby shop, Impact Strategies. “All you have to do is go to the lobbying-disclosure reports to see that black lobbyists are rarely hired.”
Impact Strategies, which grew out of a nonprofit organization Rye cofounded in 2006, is “not just trying to represent people of color or initiatives surrounding … people of color,” she says. But given the firm’s makeup—all nine of its employees are black—the venture nonetheless has a clear aim.
Most recently the executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rye is a congenital risk-taker. “If there’s an opportunity for me to open a door or walk through a door, I’m going to do it.” The daughter of an activist and a teacher, she was raised in Seattle and attended the Seattle University School of Law. During that time, Rye interned for Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., which later led to a staff position on the Homeland Security Committee under then-Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.
The effulgent 33-year-old—a fixture on cable television—is prone to self-deprecation. “I’m not exactly a spring chicken,” she says. “Then again, I’m not an old hen, either.”
Christopher Snow Hopkins
As a political-science major at Ohio University in the early 1980s, Domingo Herraiz interned with the mayor of Athens, Ohio, in hopes of finding a career in local government. “The mayor wrote in my assessment, ‘Domingo did a great job. However, I think he’s more geared toward state or federal government than local government,’ ” Herraiz says.
The mayor turned out to be prophetic. After earning a master’s in public administration, Herraiz heard about an opening at the Ohio Crime Prevention Association and ended up as the organization’s executive director for 15 years.
His work in securing grants and devising plans for public-safety programs helped him please all sides in his Canton, Ohio, family—Herraiz’s father was a fire captain and his uncle was a police sergeant. “It was kind of the middle of the road between police and fire work, I told my family,” he says. “I was a criminal-justice bureaucrat.”
Herraiz, now 52, was just getting started. In 2000, then-Gov. Bob Taft tapped him to direct the Ohio Office of Criminal Justice Services, making him the first Hispanic Cabinet member in state history.
Three years later, an aide to President George W. Bush called Herraiz to ask if he would come to the White House to discuss an unspecified job opportunity. “My wife said, ‘You’re going to Washington to interview for a position and you don’t know what it is?’ I said, ‘It’s the White House…. I don’t care if it’s groundskeeper.’ ”
The interview was actually with then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, who wanted Herraiz to lead the Bureau of Justice Assistance. The Senate confirmed him for the Justice Department post in 2004, and he stayed until the end of the administration in January 2009.
During his tenure, the bureau issued some 11,000 grants totaling $7 billion to fund criminal-justice programs across the country, he said.
Motorola hired Herraiz soon after he left Justice to oversee its government-funding program, mainly helping customers obtain public-safety grants. Last month, he was promoted to vice president of North American government affairs for Motorola, heading the communications giant’s Washington office.
“I advocate for public-safety causes and initiatives,” Herraiz says. “If it benefits public safety, it benefits Motorola.”
At the Bar
A new managing director at McKenna Long & Aldridge’s government-affairs practice, Tharon Johnson comes to the firm after a remarkable undefeated streak in politics.
In just 13 years as a political adviser, Johnson, who turned 35 this week, played key roles in seven winning campaigns, including last year as Southern regional director for President Obama’s reelection.
“Politics was always a passion of mine,” says Johnson, who will split his time between Atlanta and Washington in his role of helping McKenna Long clients build relationships with government agencies.
Born in Atlanta and raised in Athens, Ga., Johnson was inspired to get into public service by his mother, “a true community organizer. Education has always been her big concern, [along with] social and economic justice,” he says.
During his third year at Clark Atlanta University on a football scholarship, Johnson said to himself, “I’m not going to the NFL, so what can I do to be productive?” The answer was helping then-23-year-old Alisha Thomas (now Alisha Thomas Morgan) win a seat representing Cobb County in the Georgia Legislature in 2002.