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After his disappointing loss to Rep. Tom DeLay in the March 7 Republican primary race for the 22nd Congressional District of Texas, Tom Campbell felt his life was getting back to normal. He had shuttered his campaign headquarters and bid goodbye to his loyal supporters. He had returned to his environmental law practice, ending his three-month leave of absence as a partner in the Houston office of San Francisco-based Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman. He again was spending quality time with his wife and five children, who had themselves become consumed by his campaign to unseat one of the most powerful men in Congress. It was during the relative calm of a “family meeting” on April 3 that the phone in Campbell’s Sugar Land, Texas, home began to ring. “The home phone went off first,” Campbell recalls. “We ignored it, but then my cell phone rang, my wife’s phone, and then the kids’ phone, so we figured we had better answer.” The caller was Joe Cannon, a partner in Pillsbury Winthrop’s Washington, D.C., office and someone well connected in Republican Party circles. Cannon told Campbell to turn on the evening news: DeLay had withdrawn from his congressional race and would not seek re-election in November. He said his presence in the race was too polarizing, so he was removing himself from the ballot for the good of the party. DeLay denied that his decision had anything to do with his indictment in Travis County for alleged money laundering or with the Department of Justice’s probe into allegations of corruption centered on convicted lobbyist and DeLay friend Jack Abramoff. Whatever the reason, for Campbell, it was a whole new day — that is, if he wanted to seize it. “So, are you going to run?” asked Cannon. “I don’t know,” said Campbell, who recalls being stunned by the news. Despite DeLay’s heavy ethical baggage, the 11-term congressman and former House majority leader had soundly thrashed Campbell at the polls in the March primary, receiving 62 percent of the vote. Campbell, a first-time candidate with an impressive national Republican pedigree, garnered 30 percent of the vote, with the remainder cast among two also-rans. But with DeLay out of the way, the playing field is more level than before. It took a leap of faith for Republican money-givers to bet against DeLay, and now they might not feel as constrained. Campbell says he raised only $200,000 of the $400,000 he felt was necessary to win; DeLay, on the other hand, spent around $2 million in his re-election effort. But mounting a second campaign presents its own logistical nightmare. DeLay’s April 3 announcement that he will resign from office and his withdrawal from the race could force Campbell to compete in two elections. DeLay said he would resign in mid-June, which will trigger a special election to fill his unexpired term. Anyone, no matter his or her party affiliation, can run in this special election, which is subject to being scheduled by Gov. Rick Perry and could bestow the power of incumbency upon its winner — even if it’s just for a few months. Several prominent Republicans have expressed interest in running. Former Rep. Nick Lampson, the Democratic nominee for the 22nd Congressional District, also said he would join the fray. But in an April 6 press conference, Perry stated that unless he had DeLay’s resignation letter in hand by the next day, he was not inclined to call a special election before the general election on Nov. 7. Although saving taxpayer dollars may have been a reason behind the governor’s decision, at least one Republican insider believes the governor is trying to avoid a Republican bloodbath. “I think Perry was trying to minimize the chance that Republicans would have to slug it out and drain themselves of cash in a series of elections,” says Michael Stanley, Campbell’s campaign manager and sometime Harris County GOP legal counsel. Whatever the outcome, Campbell must also focus on seeking the nomination of his party for the general election. That process can only begin after DeLay formally withdraws from the race by disqualifying himself — as he said he would — by changing his legal residence from Texas to Virginia. When Campbell made an April 3 TV appearance on a news program, the anchor asked if he would be a candidate in the race, and without hesitation, he said he would. “It seemed clear to me that it was the right thing to do,” he says. “I received 10,000 votes — more votes than anyone received against DeLay in a primary in the last 20 years.” BORN TO POLITIC Campbell says he began his political life as a liberal, becoming something of an environmental activist when he was only 15. His family lived near the Potomac River in Virginia, and he loved to fish. Digging for worms one day, he says, he noticed the soil was green and blue — as though Clorox had been dumped into the river. Campbell’s environmental angst was given a platform when, at age 18, he became a delegate to the 1972 Virginia State Democratic Convention for presidential candidate Edmund Muskie, the former senator from Maine. Campbell had hoped to go as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention but felt he was prevented from doing so by the political brokering of the George McGovern and George Wallace camps. “Let’s just say I grew disenchanted by the duplicity of my elders,” he says. While attending American University in Washington, D.C., he made friends with Wyatt Durrette, a Virginia state delegate who hired him to work as his administrative assistant. It was Durrette, he says, who first introduced him to a philosophical brand of limited federal government conservatism, a brand to which he still subscribes today. But a degree from Brigham Young University in political science made him “completely unemployable,” he says, so he decided to attend Baylor Law School, because “I liked to debate and think on my feet.” Hoping to become a trial lawyer, he returned to northern Virginia upon graduation and joined the medium-size firm where he practiced real estate law (with an environmental-law bent, he says). His first love was politics. “It felt good when I made partner, but there was no there there,” he says. So he seized a political opportunity in 1988, when one of his real estate clients, who was a pollster for then-presidential candidate Bob Dole, asked him to develop a presentation for a new political-science concept called “rapid response” and pitch Dole on the idea. “It was a method of responding to specific issues raised by the opposition without allowing a single news cycle to pass,” Campbell says. “I became the national director of Dole’s rapid-response program, overseeing a group of 150 people in 17 key states who would collect information from decision-makers in these states so the campaign could rapidly respond.” The program may not have responded quickly enough: Dole lost the primary to George H.W. Bush. Yet the Republican presidential nominee hired Campbell to head his rapid-response team in the general election, Campbell says. After Bush defeated former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, Bush found a place for Campbell in his administration. Campbell became general counsel of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Although he held a deep love for the ocean, he says he quickly grew bored with fisheries law. That changed on March 23, 1989, when the Exxon Valdez ran aground on the Bligh Reef in Prince Edward Sound, Alaska, dumping 11 million gallons of oil — at that time, the worst ecological disaster in U.S. history. Campbell says he played a key role in negotiating a nearly $1 billion settlement with Exxon by dusting off a seldom-used portion of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act and pursuing the largest natural-resource damage claim that had been filed to date. “What we developed was a concept of trusteeship — the public owned these wilderness resources, and they were held in trust by the United States and the states,” Campbell says. “If someone injured these resources through oil or chemical spill, that gave the government the right to make a claim for damages.” “ Exxon Valdez forced an entire paradigm shift in terms of assessing environmental risk,” says Andrew Strong, an environmental partner in Pillsbury Winthrop with Campbell. “Before Valdez, the dominant focus was on whether the health of humans was affected; after Valdez, the world became aware of the impact of oil spills on the surrounding ecosystem.” When Campbell left the government in 1992, he had numerous offers from large firms but felt “they would just want to deconstruct the thing I had poured my life’s blood into creating.” Instead he joined Entrix, an environmental consulting firm that he used as a vehicle to bring his ideas into the private sector. To better implement these concepts, Campbell and Strong, who worked with Campbell at Entrix as an environmental engineer while attending South Texas College of Law, decided to form their own law firm, which would become Houston’s Campbell George & Strong. By 2005, Campbell had helped grow the firm to an 11-lawyer shop, and its success was attractive to national powerhouse Pillsbury Winthrop, which signed on Campbell and Strong as partners. “Pillsbury didn’t exactly do back flips when I told them [of my run for office],” Campbell says. “But they understood the depth of my feelings, and they were willing to let me do what I needed to do.” “That’s a fair characterization,” says John O’Neill, a Pillsbury Winthrop partner in Washington and the leader of the firm’s regulatory department, which supervises Campbell. “I basically told him that if this was his passion, the firm wasn’t going to stand in his way. And if he came back in March or November, there would be a home for him.”
Mark Donald is a reporter for Texas Lawyer , the ALM publication in which this article first appeared.

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