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The empty Ziploc baggies and stacks of blue plastic crates littering Nueva Vista Group‘s office symbolize something beyond the impending chaos of a big move. The small, all-female, all-Democrat firm is adding a fourth partner and upgrading out of its subleased digs into its own space. “We’re excited, and you know, we’ll have our own door for the first time,” says partner Andrea LaRue. “I know that sounds silly,” she adds, laughing. Considering the present culture of Capitol Hill, however, that doesn’t actually seem so ridiculous. Their partisan lobby shop has endured a conspicuously red-tinted, white-male-dominated climate to lay claim — finally — to its own door. Former Clinton White House officials Irene Bueno, a Filipino American born to immigrant parents, and Maria Echaveste, the daughter of Mexican immigrant farm workers, founded Nueva Vista in 2002. It didn’t seem like an especially propitious time for such a venture, given that 2002 may have been the zenith of Republican power in Washington. Moreover, K Street has never been known for its diversity. Manuel Ortiz of the considerably larger D.C. lobby group Quinn Gillespie & Associates says it’s an uphill struggle right now for any Democratic shop. “Being a partisan firm has its inherent limitations by virtue of the process, so when Republicans have control of both houses, obviously your ability to affect processes is limited,” says Ortiz, who has worked with Echaveste on the Democratic National Committee. As Quinn Gillespie’s only Latino member, Ortiz also recognizes the added challenge for people — and particularly women — of color in the lobbying world. In a 2003 report the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission stated that as of 2002, Hispanics accounted for just under 3 percent of professionals in “larger legal service firms,” and Asians slightly more than 5 percent. “The historical context of having a group led by minority women is unprecedented,” says Ortiz. AGAINST THE GRAIN Still, for Bueno, 42, and Echaveste, 52, the decision to form Nueva Vista was an easy one. After President Bill Clinton left office, Bueno explains, “We needed jobs. We both worked at the White House together and we found that people were asking us for help in navigating Washington. And sometimes people needed our help to stop things.” LaRue, 41, elaborates: “We have a lot of experience with how to stop things that could hurt companies, nonprofits, Americans.” The groups the firm was hired to represent include the United Farm Workers, the Blue Cross/Blue Shield Association, and the Association of Trial Lawyers of America (ATLA). Aside from their specific policy goals, Ortiz hopes Nueva Vista will influence the lobbying business more broadly: “I’m hoping with Maria and Irene as leaders, they set the way for other minority women to join our professional community.” Robert Raben of the lobby firm the Raben Group worked with Echaveste and Bueno in the Clinton White House and with LaRue on the Hill. He considers them “direct competitors” but maintains he is “really proud” of their work. He credits their experience with the executive branch and Congress for their ability to transcend not only partisan lines but also the stereotyping he still observes in the lobbying business. “A white male, and I think frequently white female, lobbyist is presumed to be able to talk to anybody regardless of their experience. That’s not the basic presumption with a Hispanic, gay, black lobbyist, and it’s a struggle,” he explains. Nueva Vista, he continues, is a “good and happy exception” to the belief that minority lobbyists are only useful in dealing with minority communities. Like Bueno and Echaveste, LaRue is no stranger to the inner workings of Washington. She logged hours as a campaign organizer, and before coming aboard Nueva Vista, she served as counsel for then-Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.). The firm’s incoming fourth partner, Jane Loewenson, 40, also worked for Daschle, as his senior health policy adviser. Bueno served as a special assistant to Clinton in the White House chief of staff’s office, and Echaveste was deputy chief of staff and assistant to Clinton. Bueno considers it her responsibility to increase the influence of minorities in the political realm. She is a board member of the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies, a leadership development organization, and is a board member and executive director of the Asian American Action Fund, a PAC that supports Asian American candidates. She also speaks to groups several times a year to encourage minorities to consider work in public policy. Bueno sees her work paying off. “We laugh about it,” she says, “because when I was on the Hill we tried to get Asian-American staffers together, and, you know, it was really hard, but now people are chiefs of staffs, they’re LDs, you know, they’re in powerful roles.” As more minorities come off the Hill in search of different career paths, she continues, “We’re helping to advise them, based on what we went through, and to be their mentors.” As a former corporate lawyer, Echaveste, who works out of Berkeley, Calif., is used to functioning in “white-male-dominated industries,” but she also observes that more people are recognizing the need for an increase in female and minority voices in developing public policy. A �FULL-CONTACT SPORT’ Given its founders’ backgrounds, it’s not surprising that Nueva Vista has a foothold in one of the pressing matters of the day — immigration reform. Echaveste recounts via e-mail: “My mother had only a second-grade education and my dad had none, yet through their hard work as farm-workers (with a little help from their seven children as we grew up) they were able to achieve for themselves and their children a slice of the American dream.” She emphasizes, “I have never forgotten where I came from and hope through my work to continue to try to make our country live up to its potential.” Currently, the firm is lobbying on behalf of the United Farm Workers and the New American Opportunity Campaign in favor of comprehensive immigration reform. Giev Kashkooli, the political and legislative director of the United Farm Workers, which was one of the firm’s first clients, back in 2002, commends the women for their knack at developing strategy and working both sides of the aisle. And despite the Senate’s stalled progress on immigration reform, Nueva Vista considers its efforts, which LaRue likens to “a full-contact sport,” a success. “I can’t remember a time, frankly, where the Senate has considered a bill and worked for two weeks in a really open process,” says LaRue. “The immigration debate was kind of the Senate at its best,” she adds. The lobbyists have taken on a number of other hotly contested issues this year as well, including 527 reform and working to get a Hispanic justice nominated to the Supreme Court. But they say that because of their policy-making experience they’re able to evade the presumption that they can only work for left-leaning causes. Indeed, Nueva Vista has held on to some big-ticket clients, and the group’s workload has grown considerably since its inception. The Blue Cross/Blue Shield Association has been with the firm since the end of 2002. Nueva Vista helps it with long-term strategic planning regarding its outreach efforts in minority communities. The association has provided a steady source of revenue for the firm, with the total amount of income it generated doubling from about $80,000 in 2003 to $160,000 by the end of 2004. The firm saw a substantial increase in its client list in 2004 and saw its income from another of its clients, ATLA, also double. Nueva Vista works with ATLA specifically to relay its opposition to Sen. Arlen Specter’s (R-Pa.) bill that would establish a trust fund for asbestos claims. In 2005, grass-roots organization America Votes began employing Nueva Vista to lobby in opposition to stricter regulation of 527s. LaRue, whom Bueno commends for her interior design skills, says Nueva Vista’s new office at 1100 17th St. N.W. is much better suited to the firm’s needs and personal taste. “There are no white walls,” she says. And with the addition of Loewenson, Nueva Vista has outgrown the space it subleased from Burson Marsteller at 1801 K St. N.W. Raben says he isn’t surprised by Nueva Vista’s success. He calls the partners “Democrats that Republicans are happy to work with” because of their proficiency in both strategy and access and their emphasis on policy goals over partisan politics. “What separates the girls from the women in this city is the ability to work with people who you may not have a dinner party with, but you have a shared policy goal,” says Raben. Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah) has worked with Nueva Vista on immigration issues. “They’re a great group, and obviously they’re very professional,” says Cannon’s press secretary, Charles Isom. He adds that Cannon and Nueva Vista joined forces on the AgJOBS immigration legislation as part of a coalition of more than 400 organizations. When they’re not at the office, Bueno and LaRue continue their efforts to diversify the future of lobbying at home. LaRue calls her daughters, Lucy, 7, and Sarah, 4, “the next generation of demonstrators.” She recounts bringing them to the immigration march on the National Mall. “They cheered � S�, se puede!’ ” she says proudly. (The phrase, which is Spanish for “ Yes, we can,” became the mantra of immigration rallies earlier this year.) Bueno says her 3-year-old, Miranda, has also done her fair share of demonstrating at abortion rights marches. Even at such a young age, Bueno says, it’s important for her daughter to be exposed to those experiences. When relatives place too much emphasis on how cute Miranda is, Bueno is quick to interject. “I say, �She’s going to be a Supreme Court justice!’ I want her to really believe that that is all open to her.”
Marisa McQuilken can be contacted at [email protected].

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