By Kristen M. Daum
It wasn’t easy for Earl Pomeroy to say goodbye to a career in public office.
After conceding defeat to Republican Rick Berg more than two months ago in the
U.S. House race, the veteran North Dakota Democrat faced a brave, new world – one
he says won’t include more bids for elected office.
“I really dreaded the lame-duck session,” Pomeroy told The Forum last week. “I felt like the election’s over; this is done.”
“But the lame-duck session, first of all, was productive, and secondly, was a chance to say goodbye to the people that I’d worked with for the last 18 years,” he said.
After representing North Dakota in the U.S. House since 1992 and serving in public office for 30 years, Pomeroy faced his first job search since law school.
To his surprise, the opportunities came rolling in, he said.
Pomeroy said he talked to at least four law firms, two consulting groups and others before settling on a wellestablished Atlanta-based law firm that employs about 350 lawyers in Washington, D.C.
Alston & Bird LLC hired Pomeroy to work on its health policy staff, which will involve legal representation and some lobbying for client interests.
As a former member of Congress, Pomeroy is prohibited from lobbying for one year.
Pomeroy said he knew he still wanted to be involved in public policy as a private citizen, but it was something he couldn’t pursue in his home state.
“My preference would be to live in North Dakota and work on these issues, but the issues are largely being decided in Washington. You have to be there,” he said.
But North Dakota will still remain home for the Valley City native.
Pomeroy said he’ll continue to commute back to the state every two weeks to see his two children in Bismarck and his wife, Mary, who’s a school teacher in Grand Forks.
After the November election, Pomeroy thought a lot about what he wanted to do with his career.
“There’s a whole basket of emotions that run from nostalgia to a little bit of postpartum depression – but not too much,” he said. “I spent a number of sleepless nights figuring this all out. It’s really kind of a thrilling, exciting, scary prospect to, at the age of 58, get to develop a new career chapter.”
Pomeroy recalled writing up a list in the middle of one night and calling about 40 people, who were all close friends and/or former public officials now working in the private sector.
Pomeroy said among the people he sought for guidance was former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.
“Tom Daschle had a terrific line, and I’ll remember it always: ‘Earl, remember the windshield is bigger than the rear-view mirror,’ ” Pomeroy said.
Pomeroy said he stressed over making the right decision because he didn’t “want to be switching careers here every six months.”
“I want to have a career; I want to get started,” he said.
Pomeroy said he didn’t seek out any job offers.
An employee with one of the companies that sought him out was someone he had known for decades: Tom Scully, a former administrator with the Department of Health and Human Services, who is now senior counsel at Alston & Bird.
“(Scully is) someone I’ve known and just had a tremendous amount of respect for, literally since the late ’80s,” when Pomeroy was insurance commissioner, he said. “So when he called me after the election to say, ‘Let’s talk,’ I was delighted that he was interested in working together.”
Pomeroy said he’ll help his clients deal with the changing world of health care, such as implementing new regulations from last year’s reform law and adapting to challenges with cost-control and an aging population.
Pomeroy declined to say how much he would make with Alston & Bird. As a congressman, his salary of $174,000 was public record.
“My finances are going to improve, but that wasn’t the sole driver in terms of where I landed or what I ultimately ended up doing,” he said. “I didn’t want to just shop for who’s going to make the cash register ring the loudest.”
Pomeroy said he won’t work on policy he doesn’t support or believe in.
“Over the years, I’ve been able to establish a reputation for integrity and credibility,” he said. “If I’m just out there pitching any bad health policy I meet because someone’s sliding a nickel across the desk, I’m going to shatter that in a minute. I couldn’t do it.”
As he’s settling in to his new life, Pomeroy believes his days in public office are over.
“I don’t see myself running for office again,” he said. “I enjoyed it enormously. But I think if I’m going to be successful in this new venture, I’m going to put my full time and attention and efforts into succeeding.”
On Pomeroy’s last night as a U.S. representative, he spent a couple of hours walking around the Capitol Hill complex before casting his final votes.
“I walked to each of the offices that I held over the 18 years and spent some time in front of the Capitol,” he recalled. “The overwhelming feeling I had was one of intense gratitude that the people of North Dakota gave me this opportunity and (one of) a sense of closure that it’s now over.”
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