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After R. Ted Cruz helped George W. Bush’s presidential campaign craft its successful legal strategy for the 2000 Florida vote recount, the Texas lawyer’s destination seemed obvious: He headed for the nation’s capital to serve the new president. Cruz went on to hold a number of positions in the administration, including coordinator of the transition team at the Department of Justice; associate deputy attorney general; and, most recently, director of the Office of Policy Planning for the Federal Trade Commission. But by January of this year, Cruz wanted to come home. “I enjoyed my time in Washington,” he says. “But people are a lot friendlier and more relaxed in Texas.” Just as Cruz was part of the wave of Texas lawyers who jumped at Washington opportunities when Bush won, he now represents the reverse trend. He and others have returned to Texas — some taking a pay cut in the process. While Cruz returned specifically because of a unique job opportunity — accepting an appointment as the state’s solicitor general — others are casting their nets wide to find another opportunity. And they have one unwavering condition: that it be in Texas. In the past 18 months, three other Texas lawyers previously picked for plum jobs in the White House have returned to Texas from stints in the nation’s capital. Richard Nedelkoff, Johnny Sutton, and Don Willett — each of whom, like Cruz, made the round trip from Austin to Washington — offer cautionary tales about the travails of working inside the Beltway. “It boiled down to what is best for your family, and when you’re away from home, that’s always hard,” says Nedelkoff, who resigned in June from his job as the director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance, which provides training, technical assistance, and some $6.5 billion in funding for the nation’s criminal justice system. Nedelkoff, who had previously worked in the Texas Criminal Justice Division of then-Gov. Bush’s office, intends to launch an Austin-based national consulting business. The turnover rate among Bush appointees is about normal, with 18 months being the average tour of duty, says Paul Light, a researcher at the Brookings Institution who has compiled historical data on presidential appointments. Also typical is the sense among the lawyers who have left that a D.C. stint can reshape a legal career back in Texas, opening doors and bolstering legal tool kits. “The Washington experience adds to your understanding and skill set,” Cruz says. A Harvard Law School grad and a former clerk for Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Cruz views the Texas solicitor general post — where he could be called upon to argue the state’s cases before the nation’s highest court — as a position that offers lush possibilities. “The regular docket of the solicitor general is so rich and varied,” Cruz says. Cruz, 32, says he took a significant pay cut in accepting the state job and leaving the federal work force, where he was earning about $140,000 a year. “No one comes to government service for the money,” says Cruz, who declines to say exactly how much of a pay cut he took. Cruz unquestionably enjoyed his time in Washington, which he says gave him opportunities to expand his horizons. As director of the Office of Policy Planning for the FTC from June 2001 to January 2003, Cruz developed and implemented long-range policy and legal objectives, oversaw novel and complex litigation for the agency, and chaired the FTC’s Internet task force. “It was a wonderful fusion of policy and litigation,” Cruz says of the FTC post. Prior to the FTC, Cruz served as associate deputy attorney general, where he oversaw the Office of Policy Development and the Office of Legal Counsel. In that capacity, he led the 2001 U.S. delegation to Rome to negotiate the Council of Europe Treaty on Cybercrime. The son of a Cuban immigrant who was raised in Texas, Cruz had spent some time outside Texas before joining the Bush administration. After Harvard, he clerked for Judge J. Michael Luttig on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit and then, in 1996, for Rehnquist. From 1997 to 1999, prior to joining the Bush campaign, he worked at D.C.’s Cooper Carvin & Rosenthal, where he was an associate practicing constitutional and commercial litigation. Now back in Texas, Cruz says three factors prompted him to return. He wanted to go home, he wanted to work with Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, and the solicitor general post offered a variety of professional challenges. Cruz does not rule out another stint in Washington. His wife, whom he met while the two were working on the Bush campaign, continues to work in Washington. “She’s thinking about coming to Texas,” Cruz says. In contrast to Cruz, Willett doesn’t expect Washington to figure into his future. Willett returned to Texas from a D.C. stint in January 2003 to serve as deputy attorney general for the general counsel division. For Willett, 37, Washington was the proverbial pressure cooker. “In D.C., people live and breathe politics. And there is a press corps that revels in the sport of it all,” he says. “It is very a warped place. There truly is an ‘inside the Beltway’ mentality that is all point-scoring and sharp elbows. For some people, that’s nirvana. But for my wife and family, it was nice to come home.” A former associate in the Austin office of Haynes and Boone, Willett started with then-Gov. Bush in 1996. He served as the special projects director, advising the governor on a wide range of issues. When the 2000 presidential campaign got into high gear, Willett signed on with the Bush-Cheney ticket as domestic policy and special projects adviser and then moved to Washington to serve on the transition team. His initial assignment in the presidential administration was with the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, where he served as director of law and policy. Bush established that office during his second week as president, and charged it with the task of identifying statutory, regulatory, and bureaucratic barriers that stand in the way of effective faith-based and community social programs. Willett, who had worked on the same objectives for Bush as governor, began drafting legislation to ease the regulation of faith-based organizations that receive federal grants to help with community services such as runaway shelters or drug rehabilitation programs. But, from the outset, Bush’s faith-based proposals encountered significant political opposition. Then the Sept. 11 attacks took much of the attention away from the initiative. The office’s first director, John DiIulio, was among the first prominent Bush administration officials to leave in 2001. For his part, Willett left the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in February 2002 to become deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Policy. There Willett helped vet nominations to the federal courts, including the controversial pick of Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. That nomination continues to be held up by a Senate filibuster. “The battles are ferocious and almost on an Armageddon scale,” Willett says about the judicial fights. In late 2002, ready to turn a fresh page and start a family with his new wife, Willett says he began looking for opportunities to return to Texas. He considered going into the private sector. “I did have some conversations with law firms. The majority of them were interested in me primarily as a lobbyist in Washington and Austin. They saw enormous value in leveraging my Austin and Washington Rolodex,” he says. But when Abbott was elected as Texas Attorney General and hired Barry McBee as his first assistant, Willett contacted his old friend McBee about finding a spot for him on Abbott’s team. Willett recalls telling McBee that “my wife and I are interested in wrapping up our D.C. tour of duty.” “Abbott was elected in November, and I was incredibly enthused by his victory and the top-tier team he was assembling. I think I’m just genetically hard-wired to love the law and public policy,” Willett says. About his current position as deputy AG, Willett says it “is uniquely positioned at the never-dull intersection of law policy and buffeted by outside political forces.” While he is making slightly less than he did in Washington — where he held a senior executive service post that started at roughly $140,000 — Willet says his state pay, factoring in the lower cost of living and the lack of state income taxes, is as valuable as his federal salary. Overall, Willett looks back on his D.C. experience as a happy one — but one that he was ready to give up. Willett recalls fondly what he describes as the “gee whiz” factor of working at the White House, where he got to see July 4th fireworks and Rose Garden ceremonies. In addition, he says, he worked on policies of “incalculable consequence.” But, he cautions, “That ‘gee whiz’ factor comes along with the ‘good grief’ of the partisan strife in Washington, D.C. It’s an all-work, no-play place. The pace at high levels is fairly unrelenting, and, sadly, there is no honest debating. The rhetoric is so cartoonish and shrill.” Willett had a specific career objective in mind when he left Washington. “I wanted to burnish my legal credentials,” he says. “I didn’t want to be a policy wonk who happens to have a law degree.” In the Texas AG’s office, Willett oversees the opinions committee, which issues some 150 opinions for the state each year, as well as the public finance and intergovernmental affairs divisions. Willett believes his stint in Washington will help him in his new Austin job. “I think it’s valuable for Abbott for me to know who is who in the White House and on the Hill and to be able to identify and reach decision-makers who affect Texas,” Willett says. “I just have the good fortune of knowing people scattered throughout the federal government and having worked alongside them in various Bush administrations. I can pick up the phone to bypass the multiple layers of bureaucracy.” For Sutton, his stint in Washington was among the briefest of Texas lawyers who had D.C. tours. “He parachuted in and flew out,” Willett recalls about Sutton. Sutton began his career with Bush in 1995. From that year until 2000, Sutton, a University of Texas School of Law graduate, served as the criminal justice policy director for then-Gov. Bush. When Bush won the White House, Sutton went to D.C., first as policy coordinator for the transition team, then briefly as an associate deputy attorney general. But by October 2001, Sutton had his ticket back to Texas. That’s when Bush nominated Sutton to serve as the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas. Sutton says he had set his sights on becoming a U.S. attorney from the moment he learned that Bush won the White House. He accepted the position in Washington to help the Bush administration in its formative months and out of loyalty to the president. But he says all his superiors at the DOJ and the White House knew that Sutton, who had served as a criminal trial prosecutor in the Harris County District Attorney’s Office from 1987 to 1995, wanted to be a U.S. attorney. Sutton, 43, now splits his time between Austin and San Antonio. “My heart has always been in Texas,” Sutton says. His 10 months in Washington benefited him enormously, he says. In particular, Sutton says, he now feels more comfortable dealing with Washington officials. “It is easy to be intimidated by Washington,” Sutton says. Personal reasons played a part as well in Sutton’s return to Texas. “I married an Austin girl, and her mom now lives a mile from us. I have to say that was a factor in my thinking,” Sutton says. He adds that “life is easier in Texas,” but he did love living in D.C. and still finds it exciting to visit. Nedelkoff is the most recent Texas lawyer to leave Washington for Austin. In July, after he had spent only two years in the nation’s capital as the director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance, an agency that dispenses funds to state and local criminal justice systems, Nedelkoff decided to return to Texas. Nedelkoff, who moved his wife, 11-year-old daughter, and 8-year-old son to a Virginia suburb so he could commute to an office in downtown D.C., says his family was about to reach the two-year mark for living outside Texas and was ready to go home. Nedelkoff returned to Texas with plans to start his own consulting business. A soft-spoken man, Nedelkoff, 44, says he reached a career crossroads in Washington. Before moving to D.C., his entire career had been spent in Texas and other state governments, including stints as the director of the then-Gov. Bush’s Criminal Justice Division from 1998 until 2001 and as the executive director for the Florida Network of Youth and Family Services in the mid-1990s. “I’ve worked for governments in six states, and I think I will use Austin as a base to consult around the country,” he says. For his family, the Washington move was a strain — starting with a drawn-out confirmation process for his appointment to the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Nedelkoff says. “I’m glad no one had a crystal ball, or I might not have come,” he says. It took 162 days from his nomination to his confirmation. And it took many more for his children and his wife to adjust to the move. But Nedelkoff describes the opportunity presented at the BJA as exciting. As the director of the Texas Criminal Justice Division, Nedelkoff had managed the funds that the federal agency distributed to Texas. Moving to the federal level, he says, he helped all 50 states do the same. His biggest task in Washington, he says, was streamlining paperwork — reducing the amount of forms, for instance, that loan applicants had to submit — and making the funding requirements for the BJA’s programs more flexible. His biggest disappointment? “It would have been nice to have a modest amount to fund new programs, particularly since this agency is supposed to play a leadership role,” he says. Paul Coggins, a former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas and a partner in Dallas’ Fish & Richardson who worked with Nedelkoff during his time in the governor’s office, says he found Nedelkoff to be “extremely accessible and interested in reducing needless paperwork.” But Coggins suspected Nedelkoff would find D.C. unfavorable. “I didn’t know if he was going to like Washington,” Coggins says. In general, Texas lawyers aren’t surprised to see so many of their colleagues coming home. “There seems to be a limited life span for people in Washington,” says McBee, Texas’ first assistant attorney general. “It’s not an uncommon evolution,” says Jay Kimbrough, deputy attorney general for the Criminal Justice Division. The returning lawyers bring invaluable experience from their time in Washington, he says. “We’re in Austin, and we think of this as a big city, but it’s not,” Kimbrough says. “They have the perspective of a much larger stage.” Miriam Rozen is a contributing reporter for Texas Lawyer, an American Lawyer Media newspaper.

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