ILTA Staff Spotlight: Andy Wright, Vice President of Legislative Affairs
ILTA Staff Spotlight is an ongoing feature that allows our members to get to know the ILTA staff better. This month our new vice president of legislative affairs, Andy Wright, is in the spotlight.
Andy, what’s your background? How did you come to ILTA?
I grew up in the mountains of the far southwest corner of Virginia in a little town with no traffic lights and fewer than a thousand souls. It was a great place for an idyllic childhood. I went to the local Methodist college, Emory and Henry, and then to the University of Virginia School of Law.
I returned to Southwest Virginia to practice law as a partner in a small firm. When a friend of mine decided to run for Congress, I took a leave of absence to manage his campaign. We defeated a 20-year incumbent surprising everyone, including ourselves. I extended my leave, intending to come to Washington for two years, help him get established and reelected and then return to my law practice. I never went back, and after nearly three decades I am happily still here in the Washington area.
I was very lucky that the only job I had on Capitol Hill was as chief of staff, and I held that position for two different members for more than 12 years. Since then, I have worked in Washington and several state capitals as a lobbyist and association executive. Prior to founding my own company, Wright Strategies, LLC, in 2014, I was president of the Satellite Broadcasting and Communications Association, led the Washington office of an international public affairs firm, and was a partner in a national law firm. During that time, I have become a subject matter expert in energy and environment issues.
I am proud to have been twice recognized by The Hill magazine as one of Washington’s “Top Lobbyists,” but I am even prouder that a Washington Life magazine survey of Capitol Hill staffers singled me out as one of Washington’s “friendliest” lobbyists.
When I heard that ILTA was looking for a VP of Legislative Affairs, I jumped at the chance. I see this industry as a critical link in the nation’s transportation infrastructure, and I am excited to be working with Kathryn Clay, Peter Lidiak and our entrepreneurial member companies to help give this industry the presence and voice it deserves on Capitol Hill.
What’s your proudest professional or academic achievement?
I can tell war stories all day, but there are three lobbying achievements of which I am particularly proud:
I created and led a diverse coalition working to modernize the United States' electricity grid. We were responsible for persuading Congress to add the Smart Grid title to the Energy Independence and Security Act. The law created a program to help utilities fund the rollout of the Smart Grid. We then successfully advocated for more than $4 billion in appropriations to fund the program. The law and the money produced a giant step forward for implementing Smart Grid technology.
During the climate change debate, I helped form and lead a coalition of the nation’s largest coal-burning utilities. We explained to lawmakers the cost and disparate impact of some of the proposals under consideration. No climate change legislation ultimately passed Congress, but we were pleased that the final Senate bill reflected all the coalition’s top priorities.
I formed a grassroots coalition of firefighters, police and emergency medical technicians to help advance a telecommunications company’s public policy position. While serving as president of the organization, we successfully turned the coalition into an ongoing advocacy group with more than 40,000 members. The group successfully obtained federal and state funding to solve telecommunications problems and to address other issues of importance to first responders.
And now the “speed round":
What are you currently reading?
I am reading Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham. I am a history nerd, and I think Jefferson is one of the most interesting of the Founding Fathers. Also, when I attended Law School at the University of Virginia, we always spoke of “Mr. Jefferson” as if he just stepped out to get a coffee.
Can you play any musical instruments?
That depends on your definition of “play.” Back in high school band I played a mean euphonium, but that has been a while.
Maker’s Mark bourbon, rocks, with a twist of lemon. And, of course, Virginia wine! My fiancée and I are trying to visit all the Virginia wineries, and happily they keep opening more. We are up to 108.
I suspect you can tell from my accent that I like both kinds of music – country and western. Along with bluegrass.
I have a wonderful rescue dog named Lizzie. She is part beagle and part dachshund. Maybe a little alley cat thrown in as she is the only beagle in the world who hates water.
What’s the first career you dreamed of as a kid?
As I turned out to be a lawyer and a lobbyist, you will probably be shocked to know that I studied to be a Methodist minister. Some people would call that a180!
Who’s your hero?
I have several historical heroes, but in the modern era I would say Congressman John Lewis of Georgia. He is a great civil rights leader, who at only 23 was chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. In that role he was one of the six leaders who organized the 1963 March on Washington, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Congressman Lewis is a man who was reviled and literally beaten almost to death for his beliefs. He persevered and played a pivotal role in ending legalized racial segregation in America.
At which store would you like to max out your credit card?
Definitely Amazon. I buy pretty much everything there.
What was your favorite toy as a kid?
My “Flexible Flyer” wooden sled. Fastest sled in town!
If you could have any one superpower, which would you choose?
Mind reading! What an awesome lobbyist would that make?!
Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your 18-year-old self?
1. Cherish your family – you won’t have them forever.
2. Get over yourself. You don’t know everything; in fact, you pretty much know nothing!
3. Shut up and listen. (See above)
4. Take responsibility for and learn from your mistakes – you are going to make a lot of them.
5. Be quick to forgive, others first, but also yourself.
6. Try to put yourself in other’s shoes and treat the janitor and the CEO with the same respect.
7. Just dive in and try not to worry so much – it doesn’t help.
8. Save, save, save!
9. Remember where you came from. (You can take the boy out of the Hills, but you should never want want to take the Hills out of the boy.)
10. Nothing good happens after 2 AM.