I graduated from college in 1981. At the time, my alma mater, Eastern Kentucky University, and Western Kentucky University were fierce rivals in football, basketball and everything else.
I came back into the world of journalism in 2004, and by then Western graduates dominated the media in Kentucky.
When one of the Western grads was gigging me about being one of the few Eastern grads in a top slot, I said, “Western has all the journalists, but the top lobbyists in the state are Eastern alums. Your grads get to write about it, but our grads get to call the shots.”
That ended that conversation.
It was also a true statement. Year after year, the list of Kentucky’s top lobbyists includes Bob Babbage, Hunter Bates, John Cooper and Gene McLean, who are all proud Eastern alums.
In recent years, Babbage has topped the charts every year.
Babbage is the one who convinced me that the art of lobbying can be a noble profession. Bob refers to his profession as being an advocate for a cause and using strategic planning to help that cause achieve its goals.
He nailed it for me when he said that being a lobbyist was a lot like his early career on Lexington City Council. You build coalitions to get things done.
Like any other field, lobbying can have good people and horrible people. If you read my third book, “Wealth Without Wall Street,” you would think that “Washington lobbyist” and “devil worshipper” were synonymous in meaning.
Maybe that was a little harsh.
I get concerned that lobbyists are paid by big corporations and, unlike elected officials, are not held accountable to the public. Then I realize that many journalists are paid by big corporations and not elected either.
A little reflection might be good before I cast the first stone.
Babbage is an advocate who can always get my time and attention.
Like any good insider, Bob has built a strong, long-term relationship with me. He has been one of my closest friends for 34 years and best man in my first wedding. He was also in the second one, over 20 years later. He was instrumental in helping me launch my structured settlement business, and I served as treasurer, campaign chair and press secretary in his successful elections to Kentucky’s Secretary of State and Kentucky’s Auditor of Public Accounts.
He knows what I am thinking before I say it. And vice versa. I understand the unique traits that made Bob the top lobbyist.
Bob is fearless and possesses incredible energy. He is enthusiastic about everything he does and constantly looking to think outside the box. That energy and enthusiasm fires up everyone around him.
When we worked together, Bob constantly pushed me to broaden my thinking, expand my horizons and never be afraid of working with big dollars and important people – traits that have carried over to this day.
Each of Bob’s three children were born during each of his three runs for statewide office and his wife Laura made a transition from CEO of a health care company to the ministry. Providing for his family became Bob’s overwhelming objective in life.
It’s hard to argue with the results. I was with Bob when he was inducted into the Henry Clay High School Hall of Fame a few years ago, and he said, “It’s hard to believe that a nerd like me produced three of the smartest and coolest kids you will ever find.”
His oldest son, Robert, is doing international business in southeast Asia after going to Vassar on a tennis scholarship, receiving an MBA from Virginia and doing a stint on Wall Street. Julie is at Vanderbilt, writing for the Vanderbilt Political Review and serving as an intern in the executive office of the Ambassador in London.
Like in England. Not the London in Kentucky.
Brian is going to Furman on a track scholarship. I’m not sure where all the Babbage children are going to wind up, but Bob is intensely motivated on giving them a big start.
He is also motivated to maintain a high level of integrity for his firm. It’s a corporate-style environment focused on attracting corporate government relations – people who talk their language.
I’m not sure why so many Eastern grads wound up as successful lobbyists. Babbage, Bates and Cooper all served as student representatives on the school’s Board of Regents and learned how to get things done at that level.
Whatever the reasoning, it’s nice to know I have friends in high places.
And that I get to write about them.
Don McNay of Richmond, Ky., is the best-selling author of “Life Lessons from the Lottery.”