Ex-members ponder life after Congress

Among the many realizations Earl Pomeroy has made after leaving Congress, his drawn-out neglect for his pastimes stands out.

“After 26 years in public life, I’m frightfully underdeveloped on the hobby side,” the Democrat from North Dakota joked in a recent phone interview with The Hill.

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But after losing his 2010 reelection campaign, he has rediscovered some of life’s most basic activities: time spent with friends and family and a quiet, unscheduled weekend here and there.

Not that he has much free time these days. Pomeroy immediately started planning his next step after Election Day 2010, gathering thoughts and opinions from family members and confidants. On Jan. 3, he started a new job in Alston and Bird’s healthcare group.

“For me, after a career in public service, I didn’t have much of a bank account that would fund self-reflection and exploration, so I got after it,” he said.

Several other lawmakers who left Congress at the end of last year took the same tack — allowing for a short period of time to regroup but otherwise returning to work without going on the sort of longer respite that many could argue they deserve. What they’ve found: There is life after Congress, it’s good, and opportunities to continue working on policy abound.

Finding what you love

“I don’t miss it,” former Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.) said of Congress. After 14 years on Capitol Hill, he was ready for a change.

But he wasn’t looking to retire. Delahunt returned to Boston, started the Delahunt Group, a consulting firm, and also joined Eckert Seamans as special counsel. 

“I can’t say there’s been a lot of relaxation,” he said. “I wanted to stay engaged in public policy.”

Specifically, Delahunt said, he wanted to continue working on policy around prescription drug abuse and foreign affairs. 

“I think it’s my nature to work this hard,” he said.

For former Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), who lost her seat last fall, the priority was to find a new professional opportunity that felt right.

“To be really honest, I think what I looked for most was a culture, [and] for me that was a bipartisan culture,” she said. “I believed very strongly when I was in Congress in working in a bipartisan way.”

Though Lincoln started her new job just recently, joining Pomeroy at Alston and Bird, she said she didn’t indulge in too much downtime after leaving Congress.

“With twin boys and a working husband, there wasn’t a whole lot of laying around,” she said. “There was plenty to do.”

Former Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.) already has a consulting business set up in his home state, working on issues ranging from nuclear energy to workforce development, and though he still travels some, he said he works at “a much better pace” now.

Former Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) decided his top priority was to find a job that would allow him to live in Wilmington, Del. In May he started working in DLA Piper’s Wilmington office.

As for Pomeroy, his casting-around for his next step led him to consider a federal government job and private-sector management opportunities, but he decided to stick with what he knew best.

“In the end I worked on policy a long time; it is my first love,” he said.

Free from schedules

For as hard as they continue to work, these former lawmakers now have control of their own schedules — and for the most part, they love it.

Wamp said he and his wife now “spend more time together than over the last 16 years because I was gone half the time.”

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“You can say no a lot more readily now, and when the buzzers go off, you don’t have to run to vote,” Delahunt said. “You can take control of your life again.”

Lincoln and her husband were finally able to take a getaway to celebrate their 50th birthdays. But perhaps because they’re naturally busy people, most former lawmakers interviewed said the only way to slow down is to retire.

Lincoln said that, ironically, it’s taken her awhile to get used to keeping a schedule that’s not constantly unpredictable.

“You kind of have to recondition yourself to more predictability,” she said.

Castle, who spent 30 years in public office, said the support he got from his constituents during his transition was almost overwhelming — and thus time-consuming.

“I’ve learned that … just because you’re out of office, people still want you to come to things,” Castle said. He said he spent the first several months after leaving Congress attending receptions and other events honoring his public service. “People couldn’t be nicer.”

Still, the former lawmakers said they enjoy scheduling their work on their own terms.

“I’m putting in the [same] hours, probably,” Delahunt said, “but the stress level is totally different.”

What they miss

Despite adapting well to life after Congress, there are aspects of Capitol Hill that former lawmakers miss, they said.

When gushing floods threatened North Dakota this spring, for instance, Pomeroy could only stand by and watch.

“I liked being part of the team working to address North Dakota disasters and emergencies,” he said, adding that he felt most useful helping constituents solve problems and recover from catastrophes. “That was really the only time I missed being in Congress.”

Castle said he misses his staff, not only because he got to know and like them, but also because they were critical to his getting his work done. He said he’s learned quickly that, in the private sector, you’re “your own support system.”

More than anything, though, the former lawmakers said they miss their friends — from both sides of the aisle.

“Obviously the camaraderie among members is something that you always cherish and value,” Delahunt said. “Despite sometimes rather heated policy disagreements, personal relationships, even among all members — Republicans and Democrats — are really what is valued in terms of the memories.”

But Delahunt and the others have moved on. He looks forward to doing more sailing, and Castle said he now has a bit more time to follow one of his passions, the Philadelphia Phillies.

“It’s a great season in life,” Wamp said, “and all of my colleagues have something to look forward to after Congress.”