Former Reid aide lobbies, attracts new biz and advises at Quinn Gillespie

For Kevin Kayes, Sen. Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) former chief counsel, the Senate was the center of the world. Now, as one of the top lobbyists for Quinn Gillespie & Associates, he’s on the perimeter of that hub — and he likes it that way.
Away from the Senate floor, Kayes stays tuned to the hum of Senate proceedings by watching the TV in his Spartan new office.

As a lobbyist, “you are not in the middle of the information flow anymore, so you really have to work to find out what is going on,” Kayes said in an interview at his office.

“Before, everyone called you and you organized your own schedule, and it is just the opposite now.”

The well-liked, longtime Senate aide will not have trouble getting anyone on the phone.

“There are few people in this town who are masters of both policy and process and Kevin Kayes is one of them,” said Michael Myers, staff director of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

“He just really knows the Senate, its traditions, its rhythms,” added Myers, who has known Kayes for about 10 years and has worked with him on pensions and competitiveness issues, among others. 

Kayes, a 23-year veteran of Capitol Hill (with almost 20 years of that spent in the Senate), is quickly adjusting to his new role at Quinn & Gillespie. 

In the past few months, he has been spending a lot of his time helping his firm grow and selling its services to potential new clients. He is banned from lobbying some leadership offices for a year.

“This is a unique place. It is one of the few firms that is truly bipartisan,” Kayes said.

“It is very collegial and people here tend to work as a team. In many ways it mirrors the environment on the Hill.”

As part of the Quinn Gillespie team, Kayes already has been able to share some victories, among them helping Delta Airlines thwart a merger with U.S. Airways.

Kayes is bracing for a lot of work in the energy and healthcare areas as well as on education, financial services and insurance issues and some major transportation and aviation-security bills.

“We represent a whole lot of people in all of those areas,” he said. 

The firm’s clients include the Aircraft Owners and Pilot Association, National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, AT&T, Delta, NBC Universal, State Farm, DaimlerChrysler and EADS North America. 

Kayes said he will spend the first part of this year advising clients on strategy.

“I will probably be asked to come and help in different ways at different times,” he added, acknowledging that in many ways he is a jack of all trades.

That may not come as a surprise as Kayes brings a solid and varied background to the table.

Kayes held what he calls “probably the three best jobs in the Senate.” 

In 1987, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), then Senate majority leader, hired Kayes as the assistant parliamentarian. Thirteen years later, Kayes joined the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee as staff director and chief counsel.
For the last two years of his Senate career he joined the office of Reid, who became the minority leader. 

Kayes joined with the understanding that no matter what happened in last year’s midterm elections he would finish a long Senate career and embark on a new endeavor.

Kayes got roped into Capitol Hill after his first job: working for Rep. Adam Benjamin Jr. (D-Ind.), who in the late 1970s chaired the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation.

Kayes had just graduated in 1978 from Indiana University and drove out to Washington not knowing exactly what he wanted to do.

He ended up working for Ralph Nader’s Public Citizen group for the summer and soon afterward Benjamin hired him.
“I thought out of all the jobs I have held, that was probably one of the most fulfilling jobs in Congress,” Kayes said. Kayes, who grew up in Gary and Crown Point, Ind., worked on federal projects —better known as earmarks — for the region.
“It is a very working-class area and people do not expect much out of life. It just felt so good to give back and help that area,” Kayes recalled.

In 1981, Kayes was hired by Amtrak to work on legislative affairs. His time there was well spent. He stayed on until 1986, during the time the Reagan administration wanted to eliminate Amtrak along with 20 other programs.

When the Senate came into Democratic hands at the end of 1986, Kayes’s name was placed in a pool of people considered for a job in the parliamentarian’s office.

“They wanted people who did not have any ties in the Senate. It was a non-partisan office and I had a good amount of legislative experience,” Kayes said.

Kayes proved to be the right person for the job that for 13 years fit him like a glove.

“He is a terrific guy. He is a very hard worker and a pleasure to work with,” the Senate parliamentarian, Alan Frumin, said. “He is good at everything he does. He is a quick study and enjoys doing research.”

Kayes was comfortable advising presiding officers in the Senate and looked at issues both “wide and deep,” Frumin recalled.
“Essentially your job is an arbiter between all the staff and members on rules,” Kayes said. “Over time members of both parties who presided got to know you and established a level of trust with members.”

Very few people have the kind of insight that Kayes does on the Senate process. “It is about trying to figure out where you have leverage in the process to change and negotiate,” he explained. “The best staff knew how to influence the process.”
Perhaps the culmination of his parliamentarian career was working on President Bill Clinton’s impeachment.

“I felt that in the Senate, the feeling of the members was ‘Let’s do this in the most respectful way and let’s get through this and finish,’” the new lobbyist recalled.

It was probably one of the most politically difficult issues the Senate had to tackle. Kayes worked with the chief justice and his staff as well as with both Senate majority and minority members.

Not being able to become the parliamentarian, because his good friend Frumin still had many years left on that job, Kayes became then-Sen. Ernest Hollings’s (D-S.C.) general counsel and soon after the staff director of the Commerce Committee chaired by Hollings.

“Commerce probably has a wide a jurisdiction as any committee in the Senate,” Kayes said. “Sen. Hollings used to describe the committee as a Ph.D. or master’s course in any subject you wanted to learn.”

When Hollings retired from the Senate, Reid’s staff reached out to Kayes. The day after Reid became the minority leader, Kayes was hired as the chief counsel — an experience that taught him how difficult it is to manage a caucus with such diverse interests and positions and how important personal relationships are in doing that.

“Sen. Reid has a tremendous work ethic and he never seems to stop,” Kayes said. “He is not an ideologue and it is in his nature to get things done.”

As chief counsel he helped manage policy matters for the leader within the Commerce, Banking, HELP, Judiciary, Finance and Government Affairs committees.

These were all issues that the business community cared about, a fitting situation as Kayes began to develop ties with that community on behalf of Reid’s office.

“His outreach to the downtown community helped open lines of communication that were beneficial to the caucus,” Reid’s chief of staff, Gary Myrick, said. “He is a solid guy.”

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