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Toughest Job in Texas Public Relations Open; DeLay PR Guy Quits

Texas public relations pros with exceptionally thick skin and the ability to put up with a boss who is his own worst enemy -- and that''s saying a lot -- have a new job opening to consider. As reported this week by The Hill, the communications director for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) abruptly announced his resignation after a tumultuous six months on the job. 

It was trial by fire for Dan Allen to be sure, starting with an ambush by 60-minutes on his third day on the job. Not many would have been willing to trade places with Allen; it can''t be enjoyable to spend every waking hour defending the often bizarre DeLay amid intense media scrutiny of the outspoken lawmaker and bug killer.

The following report was written by The Hill''s Patrick O''Connor:

Dan Allen’s resignation immediately sparked speculation that he was shut out by DeLay’s closest advisers.

Allen sent an e-mail to Capitol Hill reporters Tuesday confirming a brief news report that he would be leaving DeLay’s office at the end of the month to take a job with Scott Howell and Co., a Republican media firm.

His departure comes at a lull for the DeLay office, which endured a four-month barrage of negative news reports regarding the majority leader’s perceived ties to embattled Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. During a few tense weeks in the middle of the stretch, DeLay’s closest advisers held daily meetings to discuss message strategy and to coordinate outreach among members.

Workdays were long, sometimes around the clock, and the strain was evident on the face of many of DeLay’s staffers. Allen fielded many of the press queries about DeLay’s controversial trips abroad.

Allen’s departure appears to be attributable to a combination of the office’s around-the-clock schedule and a conflict of personalities between Allen’s laconic but steely manner and the rest of DeLay’s hard-driving staff.

“The reason for Dan’s departure was simple: He simply was not a good fit for either the hardworking nature of the office or the gritty nature of the majority leader,” one Republican strategist with close ties to the DeLay camp said.

Another GOP insider said the office was difficult for Allen from the outset.

“DeLay’s office has always been seen as insular,” another GOP strategist said. “They pitched a good game that they wanted an outsider and an outsider’s perspective. In the end, that’s not what they wanted.”

The strategist said that Allen had been warned about DeLay’s office before he accepted the job in January.

Allen’s departure was first reported in yesterday’s Hotline. Allen sent the item to reporters with a simple explanation.

“I think my wife is looking forward to me cutting back to eighty-hours a week, but I will miss being in the thick of it here,” Allen wrote.

In a phone interview, Allen said that he notified DeLay’s office of his departure earlier this week and said he would be leaving “sometime before the end of the month.”

The office was under fire from Allen’s first week on the job. On his third day, Leslie Stahl and a camera crew from CBS’s “60 Minutes” staked out a press conference on tsunami relief to ask DeLay about the criminal investigation by Austin, Texas, District Attorney Ronnie Earle, who has been investigating the illegal fundraising of Texans for a Republican Majority (TRMPAC), DeLay’s political action committee.

Subsequent stories about funding for trips DeLay took to Russia, Scotland and South Korea as majority whip between 1997 and 2001 forced the majority leader and his staff to retreat from organized media events, except for the weekly press briefing in his office.

Allen was also on the staff when the House convened an emergency session to order a Florida judge to reinsert the feeding tube in Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged Florida woman at the center of a national right-to-life controversy. The emergency session, and DeLay’s role in the debate, prompted mostly negative reactions from voters nationwide.

“The DeLay team, including Dan Allen, have taken the best and hardest swipes that the Democrats have leveled this year and handled them in stride while continuing to lead our Republican majority in the House,” said Rob Collins, the chief of staff to Chief Deputy Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.).

“To take on that job entails the skills of a political campaign professional-skills that he had,” said the Republican strategist with close ties to the DeLay camp. “But it also takes a forward-leaning personality who can, at the same time, aggressively push a conservative legislative playbook while playing well in the sandbox with others.”

Allen was part of a new wave of Republican leadership press aides when he signed on with DeLay at the end of January. He replaced Stuart Roy as communications director and “did the work of two men,” one GOP aide said, after the departure of Press Secretary Jonathan Grella.

In addition, Ron Bonjean replaced John Feehery in House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s (R-Ill.) office and Sean Spicer recently replaced Greg Crist in the office of Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio).

On the occasion of his departure, leadership aides generally praised Allen’s tenure.

“He’s a valuable asset to the team,” one senior GOP leadership aide said. “He’s going to be severely missed.”

Allen came to the majority leader’s office from the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), where he served as communications director during the 2004 election cycle during which the Republicans picked up four seats. He also served as press secretary for the committee during the 2002 election cycle.

It was in that capacity that he first met Scott Howell, who was a media consultant for Sens. Jim DeMint (R-S.D.) and John Thune (R-S.D.).

Patrick O''Connor
(202) 628-8631
Author: Patrick O''Connor
Phone: (202) 628-8631
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