I first met Kate O’Beirne, my new colleague at the Department of Health and Human Services, in 1986. At the time she was the deputy assistant secretary for legislation, and what an impression she made.
Kate, who died on Sunday at age 67, was physically striking: a tall brunette with large eyes, a big smile, and a strong New York accent. She was friendly and engaging, but within seconds, one realized that she was a fountain of information and politically shrewd. She was a no-nonsense gal from Manhattan, a veteran of the rough and tumble of New York’s urban and ethnic politics, able to read allies and opponents alike with uncanny accuracy.
HHS was a bureaucratic empire with many powerful kingdoms, a vast complex of law, rules, and regulations built over decades by liberal legislation. During President Ronald Reagan’s second term, the HHS assistant secretary for legislation, Ron Docksai, Kate’s boss, was an aggressive and innovative champion of conservative initiatives.
Not surprisingly, conservatives jokingly referred to the Office of Legislation as an outpost of “The Free French.”
Kate’s job was to sell Reagan’s agenda on Capitol Hill. Continuous, regular, and friendly engagement with folks on the Hill was routine. Following the president’s lead, she made as many friends in Congress (and among congressional staff) as possible, securing Reagan’s GOP base. She also built relations with centrist Blue Dog Democrats, while trying to charm liberal Democratic opponents into minimal cooperation with a slim hope of compromise.
She was perfect for the task.
When Reagan’s welfare initiatives were being considered on Capitol Hill, Rep. Charles Stenholm, D-Texas, a leader of the Blue Dogs, organized a conference of House Democrats and asked Kate to make the case on behalf of the Reagan proposal with Rep. Tom Downey, D-N.Y., speaking in support of the liberal alternative.
Kate knew Downey personally, and was eager to engage with him. It was unusual for an agency congressional relations officer to debate a member of Congress in such a setting. Then again, Kate was anything but conventional. Her performance, her mastery of policy detail, was nothing short of stunning.
At the close of the Reagan administration, Kate joined The Heritage Foundation as deputy director of domestic policy, serving under Stuart Butler. In 1991, I succeeded her, inherited her terrific domestic policy staff, and enjoyed having her as a professional colleague for a second time.
Meanwhile, Kate ascended into Heritage senior management and became Heritage’s vice president for governmental relations. There she assembled a stellar team, including Mike Franc, who handled relations with the House of Representatives, and Rick Dearborn, whose portfolio was in dealing with the Senate. Mike’s House experience was rich and extensive. As for Rick, Kate told me, “He speaks Senate.”
When the GOP captured the House of Representatives in 1994, Heritage had already been widely acclaimed as a powerhouse of policy innovation in so many areas: urban enterprise zones, tenant ownership of public housing, privatization of government functions, health care reform, welfare reform, tax reform, entitlement reform, free trade, and the strategic defense initiative.
When the new members of Congress arrived for their orientation, Kate felt that Heritage should play offense: compete directly with Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government for the freshman congressional class. Heritage did.
“Look, Bobby,” she said, “If we are an 800-pound gorilla, we should act like one.”
Kate’s talent, accentuated by an endearing Irish charm and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of good humor, was the raw material of service. She served Reagan, The Heritage Foundation, National Review, and her many colleagues and friends who worked with her during her stellar career as an editor, writer, and television personality. Loving God and her neighbor, she leaves this life as a good and faithful servant. Well done.
Read more here: http://dailysignal.com/2017/04/26/remembering-kate-obeirne/ by Robert Moffit Originally posted on http://dailysignal.com/