The Richmond Register

Lifestyles & Community

January 26, 2013

EKU alums have major lobbying clout

McNay's Musings

RICHMOND — I graduated from college in 1981. At the time my alma mater, Eastern Kentucky University, and Western Kentucky were fierce rivals in football, basketball and everything else.

I came back into the world of journalism in 2004, and by then Western Kentucky University graduates dominated the media in Kentucky.

When one of the Western grads was gigging me about being one of the few Eastern grads in a top slot, I said, “Western has all the journalists, but the top lobbyists in the state are Eastern alums. Your grads get to write about it, but our grads get to call the shots.”

That ended that conversation.

It was also a true statement. Year after year, the list of Kentucky’s top lobbyists include Bob Babbage, Hunter Bates, John Cooper and Gene McLean, who are all proud Eastern Kentucky University alums.

In recent years, Babbage has topped the charts every year.

Babbage is the one who has convinced me that the art of lobbying can be a nobel profession. Bob refers to his profession as being an advocate for a cause and using strategic planning to help that cause achieve its goals.

He nailed it for me when he said that being a lobbyist was a lot like his early career on Lexington City Council. You build coalitions to get things done.

 Like any other field, lobbying can have good people and horrible people. If you read my third book, “Wealth Without Wall Street,” you would think that “Washington lobbyist” and “devil worshipper” were synonymous in meaning.

Maybe that was a little harsh.

I get concerned that lobbyists are paid by big corporations and not held accountable by the elected public. Then I realized that many journalists are paid by big corporations and not elected either.

A little reflection might be good before I cast the first stone.

Babbage is an advocate who can always get my time and attention.

Like any good insider, Bob has built a strong long-term relationship. He has been one of my closest friends for 34 years and best man in my first wedding. He was also in the second one, over 20 years later.

He was instrumental in helping me launch my structured settlement business, and I served as treasurer, campaign chair, press secretary and something else in his successful elections to be Kentucky’s Secretary of State and Auditor of Public Accounts.

He knows what I am thinking before he says it. And visa versa. I understood the unique traits that made Bob the top lobbyist.

Bob is fearless and possesses incredible energy. He is enthusiastic about everything he does and is constantly looking to “think outside the box.” That energy and enthusiasm fires up everyone around him.

When we worked together, Bob constantly pushed me to broaden my thinking, expand my horizons and never be afraid of working with big dollars and important people. Traits that have carried over to this day.

Each of Bob’s three children were born during each of his three runs for statewide office, and his wife Laura made a transition from CEO of a health care company to the ministry. Providing for his family became Bob’s overwhelming objective in life.

It’s hard to argue with the results. I was with Bob when he was inducted into the Henry Clay High School Hall of Fame a few years ago, and he said, “it’s hard to believe that a nerd like me produced three of the smartest and coolest kids you will ever find.”

His oldest son Robert is doing international business in Southeast Asia after going to Vassar on a tennis scholarship, earning an MBA from Virginia and working a stint on Wall Street. Julie is at Vanderbilt, writing for the Vanderbilt Political Review and serving as an intern in the executive office of the U.S. ambassador in London.

Like in England. Not the London in Kentucky.

Brian is going to Furman on a track scholarship. I’m not sure where all the Babbage children are going to wind up, but Bob is intensely motivated on giving them a big start.

He is also motivated to maintain a high level of integrity for his firm. It’s a corporate style environment focused on attracting corporate government relations people who talk their language.

I’m not sure why so many of Eastern grads wound up as successful lobbyists. Babbage, Bates and Cooper all served as the student representative on the school’s Board of Regents and learned how to get things done at that level.

Whatever the reasoning, it’s nice to know I have friends in high places.

And that I get to write about them.

(Editor’s Note: Bob Babbage is a grandson of Keen Johnson, a Kentucky governor and former

editor/co-owner of the Richmond Register.)

Don McNay’s first book signing event for his bestselling book, Life Lessons From The Lottery: Protecting Your Money in A Scary World is on Monday, February 11, 7 pm, Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lexington.

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