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LOBBYISTS’ ABILITY TO SHIFT LOYALTIES IS WHAT MAKES WASHINGTON GREAT

SHARE LOBBYISTS’ ABILITY TO SHIFT LOYALTIES IS WHAT MAKES WASHINGTON GREAT

What makes Washington such a great city is that its people are willing to change. The time when this is most obvious is after a presidential election when one party is booted out and another one is kicked in. Those most adept at coping with change are the lobbyists, whose jobs depend on being close to the big shots who push the nation's buttons.

Randy Turtledove, one of the capital's leading power-brokers and dean of the alligator-shoe influence peddlers, has lived through nine different presidents.When it comes to changing horses in midstream, Randy is a master.

I found him pacing the halls of Congress the morning after the election. He was playing a saxophone and wearing an "Arkansas Is Number One" T-shirt.

"What happened to the Yale beanie and the Right-to-Life cuff links you used to have when you were lobbying on the Hill?" I inquired.

"They were undignified." Then he let out a loud razorback call. I noticed that he had a pail of $100 bills next to him, and I asked him what they were for.

"They're to help those incumbent congressmen who have a problem balancing their checkbooks."

"Can I assume that you have switched party loyalties in order to lobby for the things that you believe in?"

"This election was about jobs," he replied defensively. "Mine. My clients don't care what party I support as long as it is the one that does something good for America. Clinton is for change, which is good. My job is to ensure that he doesn't change too much too fast."

"Randy, when I talked to you during the campaign you were very skeptical about Clinton and even raised the character issue."

"That's a dirty lie. I was the first one to cancel my subscription to Penthouse magazine when they put Gennifer Flowers between the covers. I was the one to applaud Clinton's trip to Moscow as a student because I knew that someday he would be president and have to use the hotline."

"I don't recall you doing any of those things," I said.

"Give me a break," he pleaded. "I told all my clients that I have the new administration in my hip pocket. I had to convince them that the Clintons are going to keep a spare bedroom for me in the White House. Lobbying isn't what it's cracked up to be. It is not who you know, it's who everyone thinks you know that counts."

"But surely, Randy, you gave to both sides? Doesn't that make your influence-peddling business safe?"

"Yes and no. Lobbyists are judged by how close they can jog with the president of the United States. If I could call Clinton `Bill' when he's in the Oval Office, my stock as an influence peddler would shoot right through the ozone."