Getting to know our new partner

by Policy in Practice on December 28, 2010

Jon Allison recently joined the firm’s public policy and government regulation practice. Policy in Practice (PIP) spoke with Jon about his background, why he came to the firm, and what he envisions for 2011 and beyond:

PIP: How has your transition to Carpenter Lipps and Leland (CLL) been so far?

Allison: Terrific. For the past three years, I was at State Auto Insurance, running their government relations and political outreach programs. State Auto is a great company, and I spent about half my time working on issues outside Ohio. It was tough to leave such a great organization.

I knew that CLL had a reputation as a premier litigation firm, and over the past four years I observed Dave Leland build a considerable public policy practice. The opportunity to help grow that practice was one I could not forego. So far, I have focused on connecting with existing clients and some of my former clients. Our entire CLL public policy team is very focused on what the new political landscape will mean in 2011, both in Columbus and Washington, D.C.

PIP: Tell us a little about your professional experience.

Allison: I am a lawyer who has spent the last 20 years working in and around Ohio state government. After graduating from Ohio State’s law school in late 1993, I became an assistant Columbus City Prosecutor (working for now-Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien). As soon as I received my law license, I was in the courtroom. Managing a municipal court criminal docket of 40-60 cases per day was a great learning experience.

I had grown up around politics (my father was the Columbiana County Republican chairman for most of the 1980s), and I always wanted to work around the Statehouse. So when an opportunity to lobby for the Ohio Chamber of Commerce arose, I gladly took it. At the Chamber, I focused on workers’ compensation and civil justice reform issues. This was another tremendous learning experience.

In 1996, I was hired as legislative counsel for then-Secretary of State Bob Taft. Most of my work focused on elections and campaign finance law, including shepherding several major campaign finance law revisions through the General Assembly. In late 1997, my duties doubled when I also became the office’s Communications Director. As such, I was responsible for daily media calls, publications, and the website. Perhaps my proudest accomplishment was successfully managing the project that made campaign finance records searchable on the Internet. Ohio was one of the first states to do this.

Immediately after Taft won the 1998 Governor’s race, I joined his transition as its legal counsel. I was the first person in the transition office, and assembled the operation’s staff and logistics team. Midway through the transition, I was promoted to Transition Director. I spent many long days and nights assembling the Cabinet and helping staff the Governor’s office team.

Governor Taft asked me to be the Commerce Department’s Assistant Director and to help the incoming director (a former State Senator) navigate the executive agency waters. I didn’t know much about the department, but learned quickly. It’s a significant business regulatory operation, and our mission was to infuse common sense whenever possible. Commerce regulates state-chartered financial institutions, securities, unclaimed funds, liquor control and real estate and appraiser licensing, and includes the state building department and the state fire marshal.

PIP: From your time at Commerce, of what accomplishments are you most proud?

Allison: While at Commerce, I focused the department on providing services online. Thanks to our team’s work, customers were able to complete their securities and real estate licensure filings online. This was cutting-edge at the time. Also, I was proud to be the Administration’s point person as we encouraged the General Assembly to pass the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act–which is an important statute for all things related to electronic commerce.

Then I had an opportunity in 2000 to try something different. I left state government and went to a Columbus-based IT firm that specialized in building web portals and applications for state and local governments. It was an exciting time (before the dot-com bubble burst). Then, to stave off boredom in early 2001, I formed my own government relations and public affairs firm.

PIP: So what brought you back to state government?

Allison: In the summer of 2001, Governor Taft recruited me back into public service. Initially I resisted, but the Governor finally convinced me, and I came into the office as the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intergovernmental Affairs a couple of weeks after 9/11. That was a fancy title for “legislative director,” and I was responsible for our legislative agenda at the Statehouse and in D.C. I committed to stay through the 2002 re-election campaign.

But life has a way of altering plans. At the beginning of Taft’s second term, I was asked to stay on through the passage of the budget bill and agreed to do so. And then in the summer of 2003, I was asked to become his Chief of Staff and agreed to remain in that job through the end of the term.

PIP: Any fond memories from the Governor’s office?

Allison: There are too many to recount here, but let me say that the team of folks with whom I worked was my favorite part of the job. I developed great friendships with legislators, legislative staff, Cabinet members, and agency staff that I cherish to this day.

I am very proud of the one state budget bill that passed in 2005 during my tenure as Chief of Staff. That bill contained truly historic tax reforms and produced the lowest-growth state budget in 40 years. That year we also took the Third Frontier constitutional amendment back to the voters, and it passed.

I should have kept a diary (at least for the sake of my kids). Perhaps more important than the professional accomplishments, is all that I learned about state government, the state budget, management, politics and enduring friendships.

PIP: So what came next?

Allison: In early 2007, I reestablished my consulting business and developed a very nice client list. I had a significant consulting opportunity with the University of Akron, and worked there several days a week. One prospective client I pitched was State Auto Insurance. They eventually asked me if I was interested in a full-time position, which I accepted.

At State Auto, I fully developed their government relations operation and tripled the size of their political action committee–with the assistance of a very cooperative CEO, I must add.

PIP: So what’s in store for 2011?

Allison: At the state and federal levels, Republicans should remember what helped get them elected in November, and where the nation was just two years ago. Generally, voters remain frustrated with government and eager for change. That phenomenon helped elect President Obama and now gives us Speaker Boehner, Governor Kasich, Speaker Batchelder, etc. If voters feel ignored regarding government spending and job creation, there could be a significant backlash in two years. I think the state of our economy on August 1, 2012 will significantly drive the next election cycle’s results.

Certainly in Columbus, Governor-elect Kasich is honoring his campaign pledges as he builds his team and budget. When I worked in the Governor’s office, I thought the $1-2 billion state budget hole was a challenge; these guys have an $8-10 billion hole with which to deal. There will be change and pain, but there will also be opportunity for those who have innovative and efficient ways to provide essential services.

What happens next in D.C. is harder to predict. Divided federal government and a 2012 presidential race will likely produce much gridlock and periodic flashes of compromise. We Ohioans need to appreciate where we fit in the new D.C. paradigm. The last House Speaker from Ohio was Nicholas Longworth, who served from 1925 to 1931. Now comes Speaker John Boehner, with many new faces in our Congressional delegation as well.

In the U.S. Senate, we have Senator Brown and his relationships with the Obama Administration. In January, Rob Portman will become our junior senator. Rob is a well-grounded and respected D.C. veteran. I am proud to have helped with his campaign, and to call him a colleague.

PIP: What else should our readers know about you?

Allison: I married a law school classmate (Kim) who initially practiced in state and local tax, but now runs her own independent insurance agency.  Kim served on Hilliard City Council for a term, and served on the Franklin County GOP Central Committee.

We have two great kids, Ben (14) and Kate (11), who are the center of our lives. Both are active in sports and other extracurricular activities, and we dedicate many nights and weekends to supporting them. They are smart and wonderful, and I am fully biased.

I am a politics junkie. I monitor political websites and blogs seven days per week. I also enjoy reading biographies of political and business figures, and really appreciate stories where politics and business converge. This past year, I joined the Ohio State Golf Club and have tried to improve my mediocre golf game.

PIP: Read anything lately that you would recommend?

Allison: Here are some of my recent favorites:

  • The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst by David Nasaw
  • The Teapot Dome Scandal: How Big Oil Bought the Harding White House and Tried to Steal the Country by Laton McCartney – Great stories about the “Ohio Gang.”
  • The Man Who Sold America: The Amazing Story of Albert D. Lasker and the Creation of the Advertising Century by Cruikshank and Schultz – More Harding connections and stories about the development of the modern public affairs campaign.
  • Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. by Ron Chernow – A great “Ohio” story.
  • Liar’s Poker by Michael Lewis – A read about the birth of the bundled mortgage business.
  • When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management by Roger Lowenstein
  • Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco by Burrough and Helyar – A “classic.”

PIP:  Thanks for your time and good luck to you!