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Article about Chandler Keys

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Mike

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February 3, 2004
BUSINESS & LOBBYING

THE TUESDAY PROFILE
‘Beef guy’ weathers mad-cow scare
A test for the farm boy who rose to a top lobbying spot
By Josephine Hearn

All hell broke lose for the beef industry Dec. 23. A cow in Washington state had tested positive for mad-cow disease, the degenerative neurological disorder that had demolished the beef industry in parts of Europe but had not, until then, appeared on U.S. soil.

Chandler Keys, chief lobbyist for the beef industry, was one of only a handful of staff at the Washington office of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) who hadn’t yet left for the holidays. He swung into damage control.

“I think this is one of those times when an industry and an association are tested,” Keys said. “The minute it breaks, [the public] turns and says, ‘Now what have you done? What are you doing? What are you gonna do?’”

erica lusk
G. Chandler Keys III, chief lobbyist for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, talks tough with policymakers but harbors a sentimental side.

Keys became the voice of the beef industry not only among Washington policymakers but also across the country.

“This is an animal that came from a foreign land into our country,” he intoned to ABC’s “World News Tonight” Dec. 27, referring to the diseased cow’s importation from Canada. “And so we’re back on track to be [mad cow]-free.”

“I went to CNN so much that the cameramen would say, ‘Here’s the beef guy,’” he recalled.

The mad cow scare threw a spotlight on the 43-year-old Keys, whose direct, no-nonsense style has so far helped the industry steer clear of a public backlash.

According to the association’s polling, Americans actually are more confident about the safety of beef now than they were before the scare.

Keys has a reputation for taking the bull by the horns. In fact, he usually takes the bull by the horns, wrestles it to the ground and sends it away whimpering.

“He’s not subtle,” said a former co-worker at NCBA. “People are either Chandler-lovers or Chandler-haters. There’s no gray area.”

During an interview with The Hill, Keys was interrupted by a phone call from the White House. Upset by what he was hearing about an ongoing policy issue, Keys barked into the receiver, “You’re giving us **** sandwiches! **** sandwiches!” He quickly apologized, but the message was clear: Don’t mess with the cattlemen.

In 1998, Keys outraged the Mexican government when he said Mexican cattle “have more diseases than a bad bordello.”

Keys recalls the episode sheepishly: “Yeah, that wasn’t one of my finer moments.” He apologized promptly to the Mexicans.

Keys’s pattern of charging forward with colorful language and then retreating with genuine contrition reveals his two sides: On the one hand, he is harsh and direct, but on the other, he is surprisingly pensive, introspective and even sentimental.

Just moments after the “sandwiches” phone call, Keys’s eyes welled up with tears as he recalled a conversation with his father in a soybean field the morning of Keys’s high school graduation.

“I always get emotional with my dad,” he explained.

His father took Keys and some friends aside as they were clearing rocks out of the field. “You’ve got your whole life ahead of you,” he said. “You have to figure out what you’re good at and do well at it.”

Later, Keys teared up again as he recalled the old farmhouse where he and his three sisters grew up. The beefy cattleman has a soft underbelly.

Gordon Chandler Keys III was raised on a 3,500-acre cattle farm in Maryland, the state where his English ancestors began farming in 1649.

As a youngster, he tended the farm’s Angus cattle. He “pulled calves” in the dead of night, retrieved stray cows from surrounding subdivisions and ate calves’ testicles after castration. In an Eastern-establishment twist on the cattleman’s life, he fox-hunted, too.

His Maryland upbringing was a source of some insecurity when he joined the NCBA as a recent college graduate in 1984.

“When I first started working for the cattlemen, Westerners, especially Texans, were like, ‘OK, does Maryland even have a farm?’” he said.

Then, he mentioned the foxhunting. “They ride little quarterhorses. That’s fine, but I can ride a 17-hand thoroughbred over jumps at full gallop!”

Keys worked Capitol Hill from the very start. He and another young hire at the NCBA were known affectionately by Hill staffers as the “beef boys.”

Along the way to the top beef lobbying spot, which he assumed in 1996, policymakers and colleagues became familiar with his spare language.

“Sometimes people get angry with me because I don’t give them an out. [I say,] ‘Here it is, if you want to be with us, be with us. But understand if you’re not, you’re gonna hear about it,’” he said.

“There’s too many people in this town that play guessing games,” he added. Then, in a mix of jocularity and real self-consciousness, he said, “I hope that no one dislikes me in town based on my charming personality.”

Keys is an anomaly among top Washington lobbyists. He has spent his entire career — almost 20 years — at the same association and, with the exception of a brief stint as an intern in the office of the late Rep. Mike Synar (D-Okla.), he has no experience working on the Hill. (Keys recently became a Republican.)

But friends and former colleagues say his political acumen is second to none.

“He knows where the political capital is best spent,” said a House aide.

And he can count on a broad network of NCBA alumni to smooth relations with the federal government. Both the chief of staff to Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, Dale Moore, and the department’s spokeswoman, Alisa Harrison, developed close friendships with Keys when they worked at the NCBA.

“I didn’t help them get those jobs. The USDA raided my office!” he said cheerfully. NCBA was put on the defensive by a recent Wall Street Journal article that highlighted the significant number of former NCBA employees now populating the Agriculture Department.

Despite an influential network of friends and former colleagues, Keys said he is not “the biggest schmoozer in the world.”

“I’m not a big expense-account guy. This is the cattlemen’s money,” he said. The 106-year-old NCBA represents 230,000 cattle breeders, producers and feeders.

“When I do go out for dinner, I’m expected to go to a steakhouse,” he said.

That comment prompted the obvious question: What’s the best steakhouse in D.C.?
“God, I can’t tell you! If you print this, every maitre d’ that I know will kill me.

They’re all good.” Off the record, Keys named a few familiar establishments.

With Congress back in session and a slate of hearings planned on mad cow, Keys has returned to the damage-control patrol.

“Congress always has the temptation to do a lot,” he said. “We have to take a tonic at these times to make sure we don’t go overboard and then regret the reaction down the road.”

But even as he talks about the future, he gives the impression that these challenging times are all part of a story unfolding from the past.

“I’m deeply grateful to the cattlemen. Don’t know where I’d be without the shot they gave me when I was a snot-nosed kid.”



© 2003 The Hill
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Econ101

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“I didn’t help them get those jobs. The USDA raided my office!” he said cheerfully. NCBA was put on the defensive by a recent Wall Street Journal article that highlighted the significant number of former NCBA employees now populating the Agriculture Department.
 

Jason

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Econ101 said:
“I didn’t help them get those jobs. The USDA raided my office!” he said cheerfully. NCBA was put on the defensive by a recent Wall Street Journal article that highlighted the significant number of former NCBA employees now populating the Agriculture Department.

All that proves is that USDA finds former NCBA employees as competant and valuable.

More and more the jealousy is showing from those who don't understand how things work.
 

Econ101

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Jason said:
Econ101 said:
“I didn’t help them get those jobs. The USDA raided my office!” he said cheerfully. NCBA was put on the defensive by a recent Wall Street Journal article that highlighted the significant number of former NCBA employees now populating the Agriculture Department.

All that proves is that USDA finds former NCBA employees as competant and valuable.

More and more the jealousy is showing from those who don't understand how things work.

Some people are not brown nosers, Jason. They stand on their own. I wish you were as strong.
 

Jason

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I don't see crutches like phony conspiracies around me. Must be standing here on my own.
 

Econ101

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Jason said:
I don't see crutches like phony conspiracies around me. Must be standing here on my own.

With a brown nose.
 
A

Anonymous

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Conman: "With a brown nose."

No, with truth and facts in hand as opposed to a thumbsucking need to blame and play the victim. Poor you Conman!



~SH~
 

Econ101

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~SH~ said:
Conman: "With a brown nose."

No, with truth and facts in hand as opposed to a thumbsucking need to blame and play the victim. Poor you Conman!



~SH~

SH, I am anything but a victim.
 

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