The Doug Elmets Story, Part 1

From the Sacramento Business Journal - October 14, 2013

If ubiquitous name, mellifluous voice or natty appearance of public affairs consultant Doug Elmets seems familiar to you, it could be that over the years you’ve read, heard or watched him on TV raising money for KVIE (whose board he once chaired) — or serve as a spokesman for several American Indian tribes and/or their casinos, Veterans of Foreign Wars and ARCO.

Or, a few years back, for Pres. Ronald Reagan.

“I guess I was always in the right place at the right time,” he says over lunch at Lucca. Born in Des Moines and educated at the University of Iowa, where he was active in student politics, Elmets says that “through a friend of a friend” he started his career when he went to work in Washington, D.C. as an intern for Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, who’s represented the state for more than three decades. Through Grassley, “I met a guy named Lyn Nofziger and his two deputies, Lee Atwater and Ed Rollins.”

Here Elmets pauses and smiles, knowing he’s just dropped some very serious GOP names. For young readers: Nofziger, who died in 2006, was a White House adviser to both Pres. Richard M. Nixon and Reagan, and had been the latter’s press secretary when he was California’s governor. Atwater was a controversial political strategist for Reagan and the first Pres. Bush, and was only 40 when he died in 1991. Ed Rollins, still with us, is a campaign consultant.

Elmets gets a wide-eyed look and his mouth opens slightly, as if to say, Can you believe how lucky I was when I was so young? He might have started out lucky but everyone liked him — enough so that every weekday he’d volunteer his time from 5-8 a.m. with Nofziger and his crew at the White House “then go back to the Senate to do my internship from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., then go back to Nofziger’s for a few hours. Eventually, Lyn just hired me, because I probably looked exhausted.”

As energetic as he is, exhaustion plays a role in another lunchtime tale. Elmets says he was recruited to be John Connally’s driver when the former Texas (and former Democratic) governor ran for the Republican presidential nomination early in the 1980s. Again, for younger readers: Connally had been seriously wounded years before when he rode in the same motorcade as Pres. John F. Kennedy the day JFK was assassinated, Nov. 22, 1963. OK, back to the story.

“Connally was in Iowa for a 48-hour, non-stop campaign swing,” Elmets says, “and after driving him all over the state and going without sleep that long, I finally turned to his advance man, a guy named Jack Something, and said, ‘Listen, just because that bullet didn’t kill Gov. Connally in Texas doesn’t mean I’m not about to by driving off the road.”

Elmets says the advance man “read me the Riot Act and told me I’d never survive in politics.”

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