Wednesday, 3 May 2000

WASHINGTON, D.C.

Yesterday I wrote about how playing the Washington, D.C., political game was a necessary but not appealing part of my job. Funny, then, that I should get invited to a fancy reception last night for former Sen. Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.), now starting a new career as a lobbyist for Arent Fox Kintner Plotkin & Kahn, PLLC.

Bumpers is a hot commodity in Washington, after his stirring defense of President Clinton during the impeachment crisis helped keep Clinton in office. D.C. insiders figure that a grateful Clinton will be more than happy to listen to what Bumpers has to say.

During his years in the Senate, Bumpers was a great advocate for Alaska conservation causes and fought many a battle to help protect Alaska’s Tongass National Forest.

My usual work attire is jeans and a dress shirt, so I keep a jacket, tie, and nice slacks in the closet. Shortly after 6 p.m., I “put on the uniform” and headed over to La Colline, an upscale restaurant just north of the Capitol.

I’m not a very social animal, and I had never met any of the folks who would be there, so I was looking forward to this as much as a trip to the dentist. I forced myself to be sociable, chatting up some of the junior members of the firm until Bumpers was introduced to the gathering. After Bumpers spoke, I figured there would be a crush afterward to meet and greet him, but I headed over there anyway.

En route, I saw former Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio), who was a great champion of Alaska conservation issues during his time in the Senate. There was a brief opening with him, so I gave him a 10-second thank you for his work. Metzenbaum looks a little frail and has a hearing aid. As I began talking, he leaned his ear closer to me. I don’t know how much he heard. He just smiled a big smile and said “thanks” as I moved on toward Bumpers.

Much to my surprise, there were only a couple of people around him. I loitered, smiling, directly across from him and waited for a pause in the conversation.

“Senator,” I said, sticking out my hand, “I’m Matt Zencey, with the Alaska Rainforest Campaign.” He grabbed my hand and shook it firmly the entire time I delivered my rap. “We work on the Tongass National Forest in Alaska. During your time in the Senate, you were a great champion for the Tongass. I just wanted to say thanks for all your good work.”

He just smiled and said, “Thanks,” and away I went. I set down my wine glass and practically bolted for the door.

On the way out, I saw New Mexico Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D) coming in. As the ranking Democrat on the Senate Energy Committee, he does battle on Alaska conservation issues with the chair of the committee, Alaska’s boisterously pro-development Sen. Frank Murkowski (R). It didn’t seem like the right time to buttonhole Sen. Bingaman so I just headed off to Union Station.

“Enough of this,” I thought. “I’m ready to get home. I want to see my kids.”