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A Dem for defense

A Dem for defense
© James Darcy/Airbus

Matt Mazonkey had a hot-ticket seat on election night, 2016.

The Airbus lobbyist and Capitol Hill veteran found himself in the Javits Convention Center, seated around celebrities including Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, ready to celebrate Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWoman behind pro-Trump Facebook page denies being influenced by Russians Trump: CNN, MSNBC 'got scammed' into covering Russian-organized rally Pennsylvania Democrats set to win big with new district map MORE’s victory.

But of course Mazonkey’s night did not go as planned, as Donald Trump captured 30 states and the presidency.    

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“I think we all arrived anticipating quite the party and I think we left in a funeral,” he said.

Now, Mazonkey is hoping to normalize what may seem a contradiction in President TrumpDonald John TrumpAccuser says Trump should be afraid of the truth Woman behind pro-Trump Facebook page denies being influenced by Russians Shulkin says he has White House approval to root out 'subversion' at VA MORE’s Washington: a lifelong Democrat who works as a defense lobbyist, looking to make aerospace giant Airbus’s case to a GOP-controlled Congress and administration.  

“I think from the outside, people assume that there’s more folks in the industry that we work in that lean towards the right. And that probably is true but it’s hopefully becoming not,” he said.

Mazonkey’s first Washington, D.C., job out of college was working for former Rep. Jack Murtha (D-Pa.), longtime chairman of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, as a staffing assistant before an unexpected promotion to communications director.

“I remember going to bed crying that night thinking I didn’t want to be a comms person, had my first really, really bad experience talking to a Washington Post reporter the next day, surprisingly wasn’t fired, and kept the job for four years,” he joked.

After the surprising death of Murtha following a routine surgery in 2010, Mazonkey was approached by the office of then-House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiLawmakers feel pressure on guns Former Pelosi challenger: I have no 'interest in running for leadership again' Congress punts fight over Dreamers to March MORE (D-Calif.) to work for former Rep. Mark Critz (D-Pa.), who succeeded Murtha.

“I was 26 years old and a chief of staff for a special-election member that was competing in a Republican-leaning district that was becoming more Republican-leaning. It was a lot of fun,” Mazonkey quipped.

Critz lost reelection in November 2012 and, despite eight years of experience, Mazonkey admits he “sort of missed the boat on some of the Hill opportunities” before sequestration and a hiring freeze hit on Jan. 1, 2013.

He left the workforce for eight months before landing a position at the head of the British Embassy’s congressional team, a duty that included shepherding Prince Charles around during a visit to the United States in 2015.

Then, in the fall of 2015, outgoing Airbus Americas CEO Barry Eccleston reached out to Mazonkey with an offer on the company’s government relations staff.

“At that point it was either go out and join the Clinton campaign and make that jump or look for something different,” he said.

To decide, Mazonkey traveled to Iowa for a week and a half in February of 2016 working on the ground as a volunteer with Team Clinton.

“I came home glad I went but not feeling a burning desire to jump on the campaign,” Mazonkey says, adding he “called Airbus and started March 1.”

Now firmly in the lobbying world, Mazonkey is focused on Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations, tax reform, trade policy and other issues critical to Airbus, one of the world’s leading aerospace contractors.

He said the job has revealed how much the partisan divide has grown in Washington over the last decade.   

“Working for the British Embassy, I was able to work more closely with Republicans, and I think that helped bridge the line,” he said. “The Hill doesn’t always give you that opportunity to reach across the aisle and find areas where you can actually work an agreement on.”

But he insists that defense is an issue that can truly bring both parties together.

“I do think that Democrats are hesitant to talk about defense, and I think that’s because some of them represent constituencies that feel voting for a defense bill sometimes makes them more hawkish or more supporting of war, and that’s just not the case,” Mazonkey said.

“If you look at the defense bill it’s about people, it’s about families, the industrial base, it’s about health care ... I think we have to be better as a party in explaining that to people.”

Mazonkey carried that mindset as he spent time knocking on doors and working “I’m With Her” events throughout 2016. The efforts cumulated on Election Day, when he volunteered at the Javits Center in New York.

His assigned box “had a very robust grouping of A-list celebrities, everyone from Lady Gaga to Katy Perry to Bon Jovi to Stevie Wonder. It was a lot of people who were there to celebrate.”

In the moment, “everyone was there as an American citizen involved in the political process, and the lines of distinction between volunteer and A-list celebrity broke down,” he recalls.

Though he admits “it was quite a depressing evening as the night wore on,” Mazonkey has settled his disappointment with the results.

“Elections happen, and I’ve been here long enough in this town to see the pendulum swing. It’s just what you have to anticipate.”

At Airbus, Mazonkey is focused on being “a voice for the other side of the issue, the other side of the aisle that’s needed when you’re making decisions that affect long-term decisions and judgments that companies have to make,” compared to his more right-leaning counterparts.

“There are good people on both sides of the aisle working hard everyday. We may not necessarily agree on everything but people work damn hard in the town.”