By Becky Gillette • Photography by Timothy Ivy
John Lundy grew up on a farm in Tribbett, a small community outside of Leland, where his dad was farm manager. His backyard was 1,000 acres of cotton. He loved ag, and got his degree in ag economics from Mississippi State University (MSU). He would never have dreamed in his early days of a career in politics. But he ended up working in Washington D.C. rising in the ranks to become Chief of Staff for Sen. Trent Lott, who at one time was one of the most powerful politicians in the country serving as Senate Majority Leader.
Today, Lundy is a partner in Capitol Resources in Jackson, one of the top state and federal lobbying firms in the South, with offices in nine states.
“I have the best of both worlds,” Lundy says. “I get to live in Mississippi and raise my family here. But, I also get to work in Washington, D.C.”
One of Lundy’s best friends is Dr. Mark Keenum, president of MSU. The two met while attending Mississippi State, but really got to know each other when Lundy was Chief of Staff for Lott and Keenum was Chief of Staff for Sen. Thad Cochran.
“From both a professional and personal standpoint, I have the utmost respect for John and our long friendship has been very meaningful to me and to my family,” Keenum says. “John combines character and intellect with a wonderful sense of humor. I have long relied on him as a sounding board and one who can be counted on to dispense honest, practical advice.”
Lundy worked for Sen. Lott at a time when bi-partisan cooperation in Congress got a lot of things done.
“I can remember Sen. Lott working with President Bill Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich,” Lundy says. “They balanced the budget. They passed welfare reform. President Clinton and Speaker Gingrich were about as opposite as any two politicians during that time. I watched Sen. Lott bring these two leaders together on issues that were good for the country; and he gave them the credit.”
Lundy started working for Lott in 1990 as he began to move up in the leadership.
“Sen. Lott had a knack of being a natural leader,” Lundy says. “He used to say leadership is doing things in the short term that you don’t want to deal with in the long term; Let’s deal with things now because they only get worse. Before he was elected to the Senate, Lott was the Minority Whip in the House. He was the only member of Congress to be both a minority leader in the House and a majority leader in the Senate.”
Things that stand out about that period of Lundy’s life include being able to help constituents back home.
“Just working with and helping so many people from Mississippi was very rewarding,” Lundy says. “I remember recommending a young man from the Delta for the Navy flight school who was accepted and went on to do two combat missions in Afghanistan. He ended up a Top Gun instructor and is retiring as full commander–all because of me being in a position to help him as an assistant to Trent Lott. One other issue that I will always remember working on was the setting of Mississippi’s duck hunting season one year during the Clinton Administration. Mark Keenum and I had a long meeting with the Administrator of Fish and Wildlife and by the end of our meeting, we had a very favorable outcome for the upcoming duck season. It didn’t hurt our state for Mark to be speaking on behalf of the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee and me speaking on behalf of the Senate Majority Leader. Sometimes when I go back to a Delta Council meeting or even here in Jackson, people will come up to me and say, ‘You don’t remember this, but twenty-five years ago you helped me and my family.’ That is very gratifying.”
While he lived in Washington, Lundy enjoyed coming home, particularly in the fall.
“I would fly into Jackson, rent a car, and drive up Highway 49,” Lundy says. “As soon as I got to Yazoo City, I always stopped to smell the cotton defoliant and gins that were running. It brought back so many memories.”
Lundy graduated from Washington School in Greenville and attended Mississippi Delta Community College before finishing his degree at MSU. While his parents taught him the importance of voting, he had no interest in politics. When he graduated, he went to work at the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Experiment Station in Stoneville.
“I had a great opportunity there to drive all over the Delta and work with a lot of farmers, many of whom I continued working with on Capitol Hill,” Lundy says. “After a couple of years, I went to work for First South Farm Credit. I was basically a banker making production loans to farmers. I really just thought that was what I was going to do. I enjoyed the people. I enjoyed the work. I was still able to work with farmers. Then in 1986, Mike Espy won the congressional seat in the Delta. I wound up going to work for him in Washington as an ag liaison. I remember meeting with several farmers who said, ‘You’re twenty-four years old, don’t have a family and aren’t tied down here. Go work on Capitol Hill for a couple of years; it could change your life.’”
Farming in the late 1980s was tough. Looking back on it, his best memories are of meeting a lot of good people and trying to help them with some of their farming problems. After working for Espy for three years, he went to work for another member who also served on the House Agriculture Committee, Rep. Larry Combest, R-Texas, for about a year until Trent Lott was elected to the Senate. Lott’s Chief of Staff had moved back to Mississippi and Lundy was tapped for the job.
“I had worked in the House for four years, but not in the Senate,” Lundy says. “They are similar in some ways, but very different in others. Those seven years working for Trent Lott provided a lot of great opportunities and fond memories.”
The woman he ended up marrying, Hayley, worked for Sen. Lott before Lundy did. They had been married about five years and had their first child. They decided after eleven years in Washington, it was time to go home.
“So, I wound up deciding to lobby,” Lundy says. “I wasn’t sure if I knew how to lobby, but I did know how not to lobby. After working on Capitol Hill for eleven years, you know who the good ones are and also the bad ones. I worked first for a law firm, Watkins, Ludlum, Winter and Stennis, and then–because of my relationships in Washington–my business started growing. I went out on my own for a couple of years and then joined Capitol Resources and have been here for the past seventeen years. We represent a broad list of clients in Washington, with interests in agriculture, energy, transportation, telecommunications, defense and non-profits.”
While lobbyists are getting some bad press lately with the Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort scandals, Lundy says there are thousands of registered lobbyists, and there are always going to be bad apples in any profession.
“To me, transparency is the best way to alleviate some of the problems,” he says. “There are a lot of people in groups that lobby, but they don’t register to lobby. The profession has changed dramatically over the past twenty years I have been lobbying. There needs to be reform to keep up with the changes. But if you have someone who wants to do something illegally, they are going to find a way to do it.”
Lundy finds it helpful to work with clients he understands and agrees with on the issues.
“There are a lot of people who lobby who will just take any client and do anything,” Lundy says. “Fortunately, we have a great team and work very well together and have developed relationships with clients. Our goal is to represent a client for years. The more we learn about them, the better we can represent them.”
Lundy still has family ties in the Delta. He often visits his father, B.C. Lundy, 92, who lives in a retirement home in Greenville. And Lundy still goes back during harvest time where he will drive a cotton picker or combine on one of his friend’s farm.
The couple now have three daughters, Eliza, 21, a senior at Ole Miss, Anne Marie, 17, a senior at Jackson Academy who plans on attending MSU when she graduates, and Mary Gibson, 14, a 9th grader at Jackson Academy. Lundy enjoys hunting and fishing, and tries to find time to play golf.