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 A week in, the Pennsylvania Republican proposed a relatively “clean” spending measure — one that repealed a medical-device tax but did not defund or dismantle Obamacare — to the consternation of conservative Republicans.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.