Sinema’s Comms Director Joins ROKK Solutions
WASHINGTON — John LaBombard, currently communications director for Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., is leaving Capitol Hill after 15 years to join the public affairs firm ROKK Solutions as senior vice president.
“We are excited to welcome John to the team,” said ROKK Partner Kristen Hawn.
“John has a successful track record of communicating in challenging political environments and his extensive work with ‘red state’ Democrats brings a unique perspective that will complement our existing team and deliver added strategic value for our clients,” she said.
Prior to joining Sinema’s staff, LaBombard worked for Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and former Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.
In those roles, he served as a senior communications advisor on virtually every significant congressional debate over the past decade, and has been a key player in handling issues ranging from aviation and telecommunications to Pentagon contracting, campus sexual abuse and health care reform.
Now, helping to smooth the transition in Sinema’s communications operation as he prepares to start his new job in about a month, LaBombard told The Well News he was actually a theater and music education major in college when the outbreak of the Iraq War galvanized his interest in politics and all things government.
“I was an arts kid in the early 2000s, and by the fall of 2006, I was actually interning on Capitol Hill,” he said.
“It feels like a million years ago,” he laughed. “But it was a really interesting time.”
It was the year the Democrats rode a wave of voter unrest and secured a majority in both houses of Congress for the first time since 1994.
Led by a string of victories in the Northeast and Midwest, Democrats gained 21 seats in the House, far more than the 15 required to ensure Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., would be the first woman to become speaker of the House.
In the Senate, a nail-biter ended when the Republican incumbent in Virginia, George Allen, conceded to Jim Webb, his Democratic challenger, giving the Democrats a 51-49 advantage in the chamber.
“A lot of fascinating people came into the Senate that year and I basically spent a few weeks dropping my resume, along with batches of cookies, off at the transition offices for people like Claire McCaskill and Sherrod Brown and Jon Tester … and somehow, I weaseled my way into an interview for a staff assistant position in Jon Tester’s office.”
“The rest is history,” LaBombard said.
Now, looking through the rearview mirror at his experience on the Hill, LaBombard said like any job, working on Capitol Hill and in politics on a daily basis can sometimes feel “normal” and “maybe even run of the mill,” but then, “you’re reminded with some frequency what extraordinary work you’re engaged in and what a unique experience it is to be a small cog in the machine that is looking at big issues of national scope.”
“And that’s especially true when, as I was, you’re working for members that are deeply involved in those debates,” he said.
“It really has been an incredible privilege to work for three senators who had a lot of similarities, and yet were also very unique,” LaBombard continued. “All three played integral roles and were important voices in really interesting national debates.
“With Jon Tester, I started working for him when President Obama took office and we were starting to debate the Affordable Care Act, among the other legislative battles in that early era of his presidency.
“With Claire McCaskill, some of the biggest issues we dealt with involved trying to find new ways to curb sexual violence and addressing wartime contracting issues. And that’s on top of working on her national book tour and her being a surrogate for presidential candidates.
“And then, of course, … Sinema has been deeply involved over these past couple of years in just about every major national issue,” he said. “So it’s been really wild and humbling and really, really interesting to have a foot in that world and see what the inner workings of these decision-makers are actually like.”
Though he admits leaving Capitol Hill is a bittersweet experience, LaBombard said moving to Rokk Solutions seemed like the perfect fit, arriving at the right time.
“To be honest, I was not in a huge rush to leave the Hill and wouldn’t have left for something that I didn’t feel was right for me,” he said.
“One thing that made joining Rokk Solutions appealing to me is the way they do their work, which is not just a hat tip to bipartisanship. They’re serious about it. Their bread and butter is having insight in both parties and a commitment to having people who are really good communications strategists from both sides of the aisle shaping their campaigns for their clients.
“That’s something that, at least in my conversations with folks in the private sector, [is] pretty unique in a boutique firm,” LaBombard said.
“The other piece of it is I’m just so excited to work with Kristen, and with Rodell Mollineau and Ron Bonjean, the cofounders of Rokk Solutions. Every single person I’ve talked to about them, on Capitol Hill, in the administration, friends in the private sector, say the same thing: ‘Yes, they’re obviously brilliant political strategists and communicators, but they’re also really good people.’
“So I’m really excited for a new adventure where I get to help folks in the private sector tell their stories in a way that will resonate with decision-makers in Washington,” he said.
Asked about how he’ll utilize his deep experience on the Hill in his new role — he’s officially a senior vice president at the new firm — LaBombard grew reflective.
“With respect to my time on Capitol Hill and in the Senate, I worked primarily with red state Democratic senators … and people who were really unique in everything from their approach to legislating to their approach to media,” he said. “But one of the things that makes them all similar is that they represent constituencies that are really diverse and often have competing, and sometimes contrary and diverse, views — even on the role of the federal government itself.
“And what I’ve learned is that the way you represent people with diverse yet equally valid views is you get down to basics, and you get down to core messaging principles that resonate across the political spectrum,” he continued. “That’s something, in my limited experience with them, that the folks at Rokk bring to the table. … And I, of course, hope to supplement that.
“Most of my communications training revolved around solving problems and exercising ownership over particular issue areas … figuring out a way to tell a story that will functionally solve a problem.
“And part of that experience was learning how to frame a message so that it will appeal to anyone and everyone, and not just to liberal Democrats or conservative Republicans,” LaBombard said. “What you want is a message that is equally compelling to normal, everyday people … especially people who are really engaged in politics.”
Pausing a moment, he added, “I think that’s a good, tried and true strategy for messaging and in politics in general, but I think it’s especially true for private sector clients, whether those clients are big employers or smaller nonprofits or trade associations. The one thing they all want is for their story to be told in a way that resonates on Capitol Hill.
“They can’t afford to have people providing them strategic messaging advice who only know how to message to one party, or who only know how to message to the political parties in general,” he continued. “I think these private sector folks benefit most when they are working with people who really know how to tell stories, regardless of what the administration is, regardless of who the majorities are on Capitol Hill. That’s what Rokk does. And I hope to contribute to that.”
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