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Leveling the Playing Field

Larry Werner Senior Vice President, mCapitol Management

Leveling the Playing Field

Tools for a lobbyist: be practical, pragmatic and persuasive.

Larry Werner embraces those characteristics and more. For nearly three decades, the Albuquerque, New Mexico native has been a premier journalist, government legislative director, and, for the last 12 years, lobbyist. He represents tribal interests in government, both gaming and non-gaming, as a senior vice president for mCapitol Management, a Washington, D.C. company specializing in government relations.

Werner’s 2012 focus concerns tribes seeking to offer online poker.

“It will be important for them to have a level playing field for entrance into the marketplace,” he says. “Tribes will also have to protect their sovereign status in relation to gaming states like Nevada and New Jersey, not to mention state lotteries.”

How does he lobby? Push for one side of an issue, but look at both.

“My role for the tribes is to communicate to federal policy-makers rational reasons why tribes should not be steamrolled,” he says. “Non-tribal gaming interests need to agree that Indian tribes, provided they can effectively regulate the games, should have the same start line. For their part, tribes should be willing to work with the federal government to agree on effective regulation levels without sacrificing their sovereignty.”

Werner appears destined to become immersed in federal policy. His background for constructing a logical argument came from a journalism stint with newspapers in Las Vegas, and Seattle. He was featured on the ABC Nightline program in 1985 for a story he wrote detailing mysterious illnesses among Boeing and Lockheed workers at aerospace plants.

In Nevada, as a political reporter, he met then-Congressman Harry Reid. Werner ultimately became deputy campaign manager for Reid’s first Senate campaign in 1986. It was successful, despite three visits to Nevada by President Ronald Reagan on behalf of Reid’s opponent, Jim Santini.

Werner served as Reid’s legislative director from 1992 to 1998, and Reid became the highly influential Senate majority leader. In Washington, Werner faced high-profile lobbyists and gained an education about how to effectively become one.

“You appreciate how to communicate with people who currently work on the Hill,” he says. “I remember when lobbyists used to come in and try to bully their way into getting what they wanted. That definitely didn’t serve their interests. So, I work very hard in my current role to show respect to the staff. The No. 1 rule of lobbying is to not go around the staff.”

Rule No. 2? Contradict the stereotype of lobbyists seeking only to make rich people richer.

“One issue I worked on with a number of other tribes was to prevent the IRS from taxing as personal income the health care benefits that tribes provide their members,” he says. “Keep in mind that the federal government often does not fully meet its trust obligations to provide health care to Indians. Tribes that had the means stepped into the vacuum and provided Health Care to members. The IRS was contemplating taxing those benefits, and we acted to prevent that from happening.”

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