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.