Remember Billy Tauzin?
Before he took a $2 million a year job with PhRMA, he was a Congressman from Louisiana’s 3rd Congressional District, the seat now held by Charlie Melancon. (In the grand tradition of Louisiana turncoats, Tauzin was a Democrat for most of his political career until he became a Republican in 1995, and in another grand tradition, after he announced he would not run for a 13th term, he attempted to prop up his son as his replacement. Oh and then he parlayed his experience as a Congressman in order to garner a seven-figure salary lobbying for the pharmaceutical industry).
Earlier this week, Tauzin’s sudden resignation from PhRMA seemed to catch many in the DC media off-guard. Maybe it shouldn’t have.
The Democratic takeover of Washington in 2008 left Tauzin, a Republican with few longstanding relationships with the power players in Congress and the incoming Obama administration, prompting the PhRMA board members as early as last summer to contemplate a change.
Finally, some board members were frustrated by Tauzin’s management style, which reflected that of a former politician used to delegating the day-to-day work to staff. They pressed him to hire a chief operation officer, but that didn’t resolve all issues. And, increasingly during the fall debate over health care, the trade group’s top lobbyists with ties to the Democrats became the primary sources of the legislative intelligence critical to the industry, PhRMA insiders said.….
PhRMA’s board began laying the groundwork last fall for finding Tauzin’s successor. News of the search, according to several insiders, was unlikely to stay quiet much longer since the PhRMA job is one of the most coveted private sector jobs in Washington. Tauzin’s salary is $2 million, and he oversees the drug industry’s vast political and lobbying budgets.
But Tauzin on Friday took fate into his own hands and abruptly announced his decision to step down this summer.
In an interview with POLITICO, Tauzin called reports that his board was unhappy with his leadership “bullcrap” and said his decision was “not at all connected to health care reform. The companies have never been more committed to their strategy. They are united as I’ve ever seen them.”
In the end, Tauzin’s announcement took on bigger meaning in large measure because it represents an end to a career filled with enough reincarnations to turn the Louisiana native into one of Washington’s biggest players.
When Tauzin was named president of PhRMA in January 2005, Republicans still ran the White House and Congress and the pharmaceutical industry’s trade association was counted among their staunchest allies.
While his decision to take the job in the middle of his term was decried by good-government groups as the ultimate example of political cashing in, his big salary also made him the envy of his old House colleagues.
A nimble politician who’d survived his own party switch in 1995, Tauzin oversaw a dramatic makeover of PhRMA’s public image. He gave a bipartisan hue to its political giving, brought on Democratic lobbyists and launched a program to provide free or discounted drugs to low-income communities.