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Out-of-town lobbyists seek richer lives away from K Street confines

Thad Huguley left Washington in 2006, tired of the traffic and hoping to spend more time coaching his son’s Little League baseball team.

After 14 years as a Capitol Hill staffer, the last seven as Rep. Marion Berry’s (D-Ark.) chief of staff, Huguley had had enough of the career-obsessed Beltway lifestyle.

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So he packed up for Nashville, where his door-to-door commute takes just 15 minutes and there’s plenty of time for family and baseball practice.

But he hasn’t totally withdrawn from Washington. His job as head of the Ingram Group’s federal relations division brings him back a few times a month to represent clients looking for help, particularly from conservative Blue Dog Democrats like Berry.

For Huguley, it’s the best of both worlds. He has enough time for family, but still is able to keep his finger on the pulse of government and politics.

“I work hard to demonstrate I haven’t lost touch and can get [results] for my clients when they need them,” Huguley said. “I think they’ve actually been very pleased with the way it works.”

Huguley isn’t the only Washington lobbyist who doesn’t live anywhere near Washington. In fact, anecdotal evidence suggests more and more lobbyists are moving far from K Street to escape the endless nights of fundraisers and long commutes home on gridlocked highways.

Out-of-town advocates include former staffers, members of Congress and senators. Some can hop on a plane and be here in an hour. Others on the West Coast have to cross several time zones to do their Beltway business. Some left to spend more time with their families, while others pursued new business opportunities for their firms.

Bicoastal life has been a boon for Monument Policy Group partner Tim Punke, bringing his firm new powerhouse clients from the new economy of Seattle.

Like many other outside-the-Beltway lobbyists, Punke’s decision to move from Washington, D.C., to Washington state was about the lifestyle. His wife accepted a job lobbying for Starbucks, which doesn’t have a D.C. office. The couple wanted to raise their children in the West, and decided to try the long-distance commute.

But Punke said the move has also been good for his business. Companies in the Seattle area are happy to hire a lobbyist who is actually in their city.

“What started out as a lifestyle decision became a business decision,” Punke said. “We have five Seattle clients, and I think we wouldn’t if I wasn’t in Seattle all the time.”

Seattle was also a draw for former Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Wash.), who is now a counsel at K&L Gates.

Gorton said he never questioned returning home to work after he lost his 2000 bid for reelection to Sen. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellHillicon Valley: Facebook deletes accounts for political 'spam' | Leaked research shows Google's struggles with online free speech | Trump's praise for North Korea complicates cyber deterrence | Senators want Google memo on privacy bug Congress moves to ensure the greater availability of explosives detecting dogs in the US Overnight Energy — Presented by Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance — Trump ends law enforcement program at wildlife refuges | Pruitt canceled trips he already had tickets for | Senate panel approves new parks fund MORE (D-Wash.). It’s where his family lives, and the “lifestyle is so much better,” he said.

“I’m conceited and provincial. It’s my observation that if you come from Kansas, you stay in D.C., and if you come from Seattle, you go home,” Gorton said.

Amy Carnivale of K&L Gates commutes from Boston. When Congress is in session, she flies down on Tuesday and spends a couple of nights in a room rented in a friend’s apartment before returning on Thursday to Boston, where she and her husband live.

The work has helped K&L Gates drum up additional work from clients in Boston, particularly in the financial services sector, who want help navigating through the regulatory minefields of the federal government.

For Huguley, a big advantage of living beyond the Beltway is that he misses out on the nightly fundraisers that come with being a lobbyist in Washington. His days and nights are packed when he’s in Washington, but Nashville always offers a place to retreat. If he were in D.C., there’d be much more pressure to be out every night, he said.

There are drawbacks to living outside the Beltway.

Punke said he has to be willing to spend time away from his family; he’s here during the week when Congress is in session, and is often in D.C. on recess weeks, too. He’s also had to jump on a cross-country flight at short notice on occasion.

Gorton, meanwhile, thinks he would make more money if he lived in Washington full-time.

Still, he’s not complaining. He’s at a point in his life where he doesn’t want to work 80 hours a week — and sometimes he doesn’t work 40. “I make more money for less work this way,” he said.