GOP Rep. Charlie Dent’s Chief of Staff Chooses Middle Path

Political roots: Kent's parents immersed him in Texas politics.
National Journal
Jan. 14, 2014, 5:10 p.m.

Be­fore the gov­ern­ment shut­down last Oc­to­ber, Rep. Charlie Dent warned his party that al­low­ing the gov­ern­ment to close its doors was a los­ing strategy. A week in, the Pennsylvania Re­pub­lic­an pro­posed a re­l­at­ively “clean” spend­ing meas­ure — one that re­pealed a med­ic­al-device tax but did not de­fund or dis­mantle Obama­care — to the con­sterna­tion of con­ser­vat­ive Re­pub­lic­ans. Fi­nally, when Re­pub­lic­ans re­len­ted after 16 days of blis­ter­ing news cov­er­age, Dent is­sued the equi­val­ent of an “I told you so.”

For his de­fi­ance, the five-term law­maker was re­war­ded with a flat­ter­ing pro­file in The New York Times and pos­it­ive me­dia at­ten­tion in his home dis­trict.

“Ob­vi­ously, the con­gress­man took on a high pro­file,” said Drew Kent, who took over as Dent’s chief of staff a few weeks after the shut­down. “He felt very strongly that the shut­down was not the right course for us to take, and he was very vo­cal about that”¦. One of my jobs now is to main­tain that pub­li­city and carry it for­ward to ac­com­plish some of our goals.”

In some ways, Kent is Dent’s ideo­lo­gic­al twin. They are both cent­rist Re­pub­lic­ans who fa­vor bi­par­tis­an le­gis­la­tion and em­path­ize with their op­pon­ents. Kent, a nat­ive of East­ern Texas and a former aide to Rep. Louie Gohmert, likes to say, “Mr. Gohmert rep­res­ents my phys­ic­al home, and Mr. Dent rep­res­ents my ideo­lo­gic­al home. My cur­rent boss [is] more in line with my ideo­logy.”

In ad­di­tion to be­ing Dent’s chief of staff, Kent is cur­rently pur­su­ing a bi­par­tis­an meas­ure to ex­tend un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance as the top-rank­ing staffer for the Tues­day Group, a co­ali­tion of cent­rist Re­pub­lic­ans. “As an of­fice, we want to forge a com­mon ground between those who would like to see the pro­gram end as soon as pos­sible, or im­me­di­ately, and the people who really need it,” he said.

The 33-year-old said he mar­vels at the “vari­ety of in­quir­ies that a chief of staff has to deal with on a day-to-day basis. It can run the en­tire gamut, and you nev­er know, day-to-day, what sort of situ­ation you’ll be deal­ing with or what sort of de­cisions you’re go­ing to be mak­ing.”

Raised in Tyler, Texas, a town of 100,000 halfway between Dal­las and Shreve­port, La., Kent in­her­ited a love of polit­ics from his par­ents. He vo­lun­teered on his fath­er’s un­suc­cess­ful bid for the Texas Sen­ate and also cam­paigned for his moth­er, who served for 20 years as a judge in Smith County. “In my house­hold, polit­ics was a con­stant,” Kent said.

After study­ing polit­ic­al sci­ence at Bo­ston Col­lege, he taught Eng­lish at a private school in Mex­ico and then re­turned to Tyler, where the newly elec­ted Gohmert offered him a staff po­s­i­tion. “He men­tioned off­hand that if you ever de­cide you want to work in Wash­ing­ton, give me a call…. The next day, I called him up.”

Kent’s first as­sign­ment — as Gohmert’s driver — was far from glam­or­ous, but he thrived in Wash­ing­ton. “It’s the clas­sic story,” he said. “I thought I would come to D.C. for five or six months and then turn around and go to law school in Texas.” In­stead, Kent re­mained on Gohmert’s staff for four years, even­tu­ally earn­ing a law de­gree from Cath­ol­ic Uni­versity by tak­ing classes at night.

Be­fore join­ing Dent’s of­fice, Kent was deputy chief of staff and le­gis­lat­ive dir­ect­or for Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa. He was most re­cently Dent’s seni­or policy ad­viser and le­gis­lat­ive coun­sel.

Kent lives in Spring­field, Va., with his wife, Laura Stevens Kent, vice pres­id­ent of fed­er­al le­gis­lat­ive ser­vices for the Hos­pit­al and Health­sys­tem As­so­ci­ation of Pennsylvania. They have two chil­dren, ages 1 and 3.

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