Pryce announces major personnel changes

Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio) announced yesterday that two of her senior aides are leaving after managing the communications arm of the House Republican leadership for more than two years.

Kathryn Lehman, Pryce's chief of staff, will depart Capitol Hill after a 15-year career; she is reviewing offers in the private sector. Greg Crist, the communications director, will join Dutko Worldwide, a lobbying firm.

With two senior positions open, Pryce has decided to promote from within her office and the House GOP caucus.

Andrew Shore, the director of policy and coalitions, will be promoted to chief of staff, and Shalla Ross, Shore's deputy, will take over the policy and coalitions job. Sean Spicer, the House Budget Committee's communications director, will replace Crist.

The departures, which Pryce has known about for several months, come at a crucial time as the House Republican caucus battles Majority Leader Tom DeLay's (R-Texas) alleged ethical misdeeds and criticism over President Bush's plan to reform Social Security.

"I've lived through a lot of tough times," Pryce told The Hill. "These challenges are part of normal cycle of things."

Despite the challenges, Pryce has enjoyed her role at the leadership table for the past two years, as chairwoman of the House GOP caucus, and the promotions signals her desire to have a modicum of stability within her office. The speculation is that she would like to become chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee when the slot opens up in the 110th Congress.

Pryce wanted to avoid previous mistakes by House leaders, such as Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who hired an outsider as his chief of staff for several months. Sources said Blunt was acting as his own chief of staff until he promoted Brian Gaston, a longtime aide.

Despite the changes, Lori Salley, Pryce's chief of staff in her personal office, will remain on board.

Nevertheless, the GOP House leadership will lose a significant amount of experience and a steady hand at the helm. Lehman arrived as an intern for her hometown congressman in 1982 and returned seven years later, with a law degree in hand, to work on the House Judiciary Committee's minority staff.

Since then, she has worked for Speakers Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.). Lehman also worked for DeLay when he was the majority whip. She has played a role in most of the momentous decisions Republican leaders have made since they won control of the House in 1995, including the impeachment of President Bill Clinton.

Pryce, the highest-ranking Republican woman in Congress, will lose a peer; she and Lehman are close in age. Some Capitol observers were somewhat surprised that the relationship between Pryce, a more centrist Republican, and Lehman, considered a social conservative by friends and associates, worked so well.

"Kathryn works well with all members," said Susan Hirschmann, a lobbyist with Williams & Jensen and a close adviser to the House GOP leaders. "She knows how the place works and how to get things done."

Pryce said she believes she will work well with Shore: "Andrew Shore is tried and true member of the staff."

Hirschmann added, "They've got a proven record of working together. Andrew has been a huge asset for the past two years and he'll do a great job."

Shore began working on the hill for former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), Rep. Jim Nussle (R-Iowa) and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Archer (R-Texas). His career includes a stint as a lobbyist at the American Medical Association. In 2000, he became legislative director for Rep. Phil Crane (R-Ill.). He also founded www.hillzoo.com, a website for congressional staff.

Crist joins Dutko, where Gary Andres is a top lobbyist. Andres and his wife, Sue, a lobbyist at Union Pacific, are confidantes of Pryce. Their daughter interned in Pryce's office last summer.