Oliver: The good son comes home

John “Jack” Oliver III, 36, is sitting at his desk in a spacious office with a makeshift quality in downtown D.C. Photos of him with Republican luminaries hang on the walls. His computer softly chimes indicating e-mail has arrived. An assistant politely answers the phone, “Jack Oliver’s office.”

But even though everything is in place, Oliver can’t sit still. He’s glancing at two BlackBerrys on his desk, rocking his hefty frame back and forth, playing with pens on his desk, running his hands through his thick head of wavy, black hair and adjusting his well-tailored suit over his cowboy boots.

Courtesy of Jack Oliver
John “Jack” Oliver III


“He has unlimited energy,” said Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.), who represents Oliver’s hometown, Cape Girardeau, Mo. “He can be fierce on that BlackBerry.”

Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.), one of several Missouri politicians Oliver has worked for, once said that Oliver “makes coffee nervous.” That kind of energy served him well while cutting his teeth in Missouri politics and, in the past four years, working to elect and reelect President Bush.

After helping raise a staggering $1 billion for Bush — between the two campaigns and the Republican National Committee (RNC) — Oliver has traded fundraising for lobbying. In March, he signed with Bryan Cave, a large, St. Louis-based law firm. His partner in the firm’s lobbying practice is Steve Elmendorf, a top aide to former Rep. Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.).

That Oliver has moved up through Missouri’s political establishment so fast is not surprising — the Oliver family is the Missouri political establishment. Oliver’s grandparents were lifelong Democrats. His grandmother designed the Missouri state flag. His grandfather was a highly respected lawyer who took over his father’s law practice in Cape Girardeau that started in 1894.

“I remember Jack’s father, John, saying to me that ‘generations of Olivers are turning over in their graves by having a reception for a Republican in my home,’” recalled former Ambassador and Sen. John Danforth (R), who was elected to the Senate in 1976.

Oliver’s father, who died in May at age 62, was also a prominent attorney. In 1989, he was appointed to the Missouri Highway and Transportation Commission. His mother, Rosemary, moved to St. Louis after she and Jack’s father divorced and was active in GOP politics.

Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) went to see Oliver’s father when he ran for county clerk. “He was a colorful, able attorney with a huge personality,” Blunt said. As Missouri’s secretary of state, Blunt helped raise money to restore and display in the secretary of state’s archives building the flag his grandmother designed.

The connections to Missouri’s political elite run even deeper. Oliver also attended law school with Blunt’s daughter, Amy, at the University of Missouri. “Amy went to law school so Jack could graduate,” Blunt said, joking that Oliver took several years to finish law school while working on various political campaigns.

While in college at Vanderbilt University, Oliver spent a summer interning for Rep. Bill Emerson (R-Mo.), who was married to Jo Ann Emerson when he died in 1996. After college, he spent six months working in the Missouri state Senate. He has worked for Bond and former Sen. John Ashcroft.

After Ashcroft decided not to run for president in 1999, Karl Rove, Bush’s political strategist who had been an adviser to Danforth, suggested to Oliver that he meet with Don Evans, the future commerce secretary. Oliver flew to Midland, Texas, in February and met with Evans. The meeting went well enough that Oliver, whom Bush calls “Ollie,” was hired to work on Bush’s unofficial campaign.

Since then, Oliver has been national finance director for Bush for President, deputy chairman of the RNC and the national finance vice chairman for President Bush’s reelection campaign.

“That was just a chapter in my life. A wonderful chapter,” Oliver said. “It was my time to get off of the stage to do something else. I love this because it allows more time at home and more time to represent people in Missouri.”

For now Oliver is content with taking on a few lucrative clients and providing them with an “education and awareness” of how politics work. He said his goal is to avoid the crisis mentality that grips so many companies doing business in Washington.

Verizon, Union Pacific, Northwest Airlines, Ernst & Young and Talx, a St. Louis-based company, have hired him. He also advises Lehman Bros., the investment bank in New York, and Anheuser Busch, through his own firm, the Oliver Group.

“I’m on the road a lot, in D.C., New York or Missouri, or on an airplane,” Oliver said, adding that between the three cities he has an apartment on New York City’s Upper East Side and a residence in D.C. and he and his wife, Rachel, recently bought a house in St. Louis.

Despite that travel schedule, Oliver’s heart remains in Missouri. Ken Mehlman, the chairman of the RNC, said Oliver would read the local papers in Missouri before reading The Washington Post.

The question that looms in everyone’s mind, except Oliver’s it seems, is not if but when he’ll run for office himself.

“There will be other chapters,” Oliver said.

“He is someone who loves his state and believes in public service and often those are people who want to run. I hope he does,” said Mehlman.

Danforth was more certain if irreverent, saying, “What do you think? He’s going to start at high speed at whatever he does.”

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