Jeffords upsets PA market

Washington: Sen. James Jeffords' (I-VT) sudden departure from the

GOP last week altered not only the political and legislative landscape

in Washington, it threw into disarray the carefully laid plans of public

affairs agencies throughout the city.

Jeffords' decision awarded the Democrats a one-person majority in the

upper chamber - and the power to set the legislative agenda. Hence many

issues on the public affairs radar may now drop from view in favor of

items not previously expected to be seen this year, such as patients'

rights, labor and social issues.

Hill & Knowlton CEO Tom Hoog, who currently heads his agency's

Washington office, believes the change will mean opportunities for PR

agencies in what he called "an otherwise tough year."

"This might be the kind of sea change that brings about a dynamic

difference in Washington," he said. "It should bring about the airing of

some issues that otherwise would not have been aired this year."

MWW Group EVP Bob Sommer agreed: "This enhances the opportunities for

public affairs and particularly grassroots outreach." Sommer was also

one of many who made note of renewed power for environmentalists, who

had been largely shut out of the political process under the Republican


There is general consensus that agencies must now re-evaluate their

plans of attack. Mark Schannon, partner at Ketchum, noted: "For some

clients it will pose difficulty. Democrats tend to be more

pro-regulation; we have some clients who are worried about being


Among the powers now afforded Democrats in the Senate are the right to

appoint committee chairmanships, decide when bills are brought to a vote

and appoint members to conference committees.

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