News & Politics

Meet the Influencers

Conversations with some of the folks on Washington's 2021 Most Influential People list

Capitol Hill from Pennsylvania Avenue

Click here to view Washingtonian’s list of most influential people in and around DC.

In the era of #MeToo and Time’s Up, her center will play a role in efforts to turn protest into legislation.

Fatima Goss Graves

President and CEO, National Women’s Law Center

“We house and run the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund at the National Women’s Law Center. We have been able to assist thousands of people over the last three years, which has been a tremendous thing to be able to do proactive work, even at a time when we had to devote a lot of resources to fending off attacks from [the Trump] administration. . . . What we are doing is upending the idea that it is okay to have workplaces that are not safe. We are putting forward the principle that people should be able to work with safety and dignity, full stop.”

—As told to Marisa M. Kashino

Intellectual-property laws, privacy regulations, and immigration policy all impact the video-game industry.

Stanley Pierre-Louis

President and CEO, Entertainment Software Association

80 – Number of ESA employees.

Number of Issues He Lobbies On – Approximately 10 including intellectual property, trade, privacy, immigration, and e-sports.

14 –  Number of years he’s lived in DC.

143,000 – Number of People in the U.S. Employed by Video-Game Companies.

36 – Number of Gaming Company Members

Number of U.S. players – 214 million play video games one hour or more per week

Fun fact – Had both President Barack Obama and Justice Elena Kagan as law-school professors.

Banking is a huge industry—and has a huge army in Washington.

Rob Nichols

President and CEO, American Bankers Association

$21.2 trillion – Total size of industry.

5 million – Number of PPP Loans Issued by Banks In 2020.

358 -Number of ABA Employees.

32 -Number of years he’s lived in DC.

50 – Number of major issues he’s currently managing. “from PPP implementation to anti-money-laundering rules to new financial-inclusion initiatives”

45 pounds – Size of king salmon he caught in 2013

2.07 million – Bank employees in the U.S.

7–10 – Daily Zoom Meetings Involving the CEO

5,033 – Number of banks in the U.S.

8–10 – handwritten notes he writes in a week

Self-driving cars are going to be big for drivers—and complicated for policymakers. Photograph of Wilson courtesy of Cherie Wilson

Cherie Wilson

Director of Federal Affairs, General Motors

Hometown: Germantown.

What was your first policy-related job?

“An internship after my junior year at the University of Pennsylvania, at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation—which was paid and had housing.”

What kind of car do you drive?

“Buick Enclave.”

Do you know how to change a tire?

“Um, no.”

What is it like to lobby for an iconic brand?

“Literally everyone has a story with the brand or the company—either a family member who worked for GM or fun family road trips in a GM car. It helps me in my job because almost everyone has a connection.”

How do you effectively lobby on things like the climate, where car companies are usually under attack?

“With great receptivity. Legislators want to hear from the business industry. We’re creating jobs and have committed $27 billion over the next five years for electric and autonomous vehicles, so legislators see that as a proof-point.”

How do you lobby officials who have extremely different points of view?

“Local connections help get policymakers and their staff to hear your concerns. GM employs almost 86,000 in the US in 118 facilities and sells through 4,092 dealers.”

What do you do to relax?

“Peloton. And actually, I’ve had many good conversations about Peleton with members of Congress.”

—Catherine Merrill

Would changing how we vote make America less polarized? That’s one theory from this student of good government.

Lee Drutman

As he watched Donald Trump’s rise and pondered the viciousness of 21st-century American politics, Lee Drutman turned to the 18th century. From his desk at New America, the center-left think tank where he’s a senior fellow, he scoured the writings of the framers and contemporary scholars in search of a root cause. “It started to become clear to me,” he says, “that maybe the problem was the two-party system itself.”

Drutman has emerged as a leading champion of a set of reforms designed to rethink voting. In 2020’s Breaking the Two-Party Doom Loop, he argues that Washington’s D’s-vs.-R’s death match can be de-escalated via viable third—or, heck, even fourth—parties. He says multiparty democracy, and the moderating effect it might produce, is achievable by changing how we elect lawmakers. Instead of our winner-take-all system, Drutman advocates “proportional voting,” in which the party that accumulates 40 percent of the votes in a state, for instance, might get 40 percent of its congressional seats. Among other things, this would address dangerous radicalization of the GOP—an issue that became frighteningly clear on January 6. “By opening up space for proportional representation,” he says, “you allow for a center-right party to emerge that’s separate from the far-right party, and to compete alongside each other rather than fighting over control of one party—which is a battle that the center-right is increasingly losing.”

—Luke Mullins

He’s in email inboxes of Washington’s China watchers. Photograph courtesy of Bill Bishop

Bill Bishop

Author and Publisher, Sinocism

If you’re not a China-policy junkie, you likely haven’t heard of Sinocism. But to folks who work on issues relating to the country, Bill Bishop’s newsletter is crucial—and a classic Washington publication: the niche newsletter that everyone in a certain sector has to read. His roughly 90,000 readers are investors, executives, analysts, diplomats, and scholars who look to him for insight that might drive government policy or stock values.

Bishop, a DC resident and Sidwell Friends grad, grew up in Chevy Chase. He brings his own perspective on China, which comes from a decade-plus in Beijing, where he started the newsletter. “People wanted a broader and deeper view of what was going on when I lived there,” says Bishop, “so I tried to give them a more granular, deeper view of what I was seeing and reading.” This includes everything from updated lists of industries restricted from doing business in China to provinces facing heating shortages to Chinese leadership’s latest reaction to Starbucks.

Being proficient in the language helps Bishop, who sees himself less as a journalist and more as a mega-editor: “Because I speak Chinese, I am able to weave in the Chinese perspective and curate information from both Chinese and American sources.”

The cofounder of CBS MarketWatch and former CEO of a Chinese virtual-gaming company, Bishop has a wide lens, which he has used to expand his influence. “China is too big and too complex to have a one-stop shop for news,” he says, “but by pulling sources together, I became a useful tool for journalists, who in turn amplified me to a broader audience.”

—Catherine Merrill

A Beltway veteran works the corridors of power as a new activist generation helps drive the news. Photograph by Paul Morigi/FLICKR

Hilary O. Shelton

Director to the Washington Bureau and Senior Vice President for Advocacy and Policy, NAACP

When Hilary O. Shelton reflects on last summer’s racial-justice protests, led in large part by Black Lives Matter, he says he’s reminded of the role that the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee played during the civil-rights movement of the 1960s. Then, like now, a group of mostly young people were fighting racism through activism—and doing so via a new, less traditional organization than the one that employs Shelton, head of advocacy for the venerable NAACP.

“We appreciate them,” says Shelton of Black Lives Matter. “They’re involved in a very successful way in making sure a bright spotlight is pointed where the problems are.” He sees his job as elevating those demands to the halls of Congress, where lawmakers have the power to turn some of their solutions into policy.

As protesters took to the streets over the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, for instance, Shelton worked on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which includes a number of reforms to reign in use of force and increase police accountability. He’s been pushing for new hate-crimes legislation as well. But because institutional racism isn’t limited to the criminal-justice system, neither is Shelton’s agenda—he’s working on healthcare, economic, education, and environmental issues, too. Looking at the new administration and Congress, he’s hopeful the NAACP can make some headway: “We’ve got a lot of friends.”

—Marisa M. Kashino

The Church has been outspoken about issues involving migrants. Photograph courtesy of Mario E. Dorsonville

Mario E. Dorsonville

Auxiliary Bishop of Washington and Chairman of the Committee on Migration for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

“During the last four years, it has been a very difficult time for everything that the Church in the United States relates to with refugees and immigrants.

“We are in a very particular path where we have been working, advocating, and trying to become the voice of the voiceless, the presence for those who really need to undertake the most difficult poverty in this world, that is to be invisible. I’m speaking about our undocumented brothers and sisters that for years have been here in this country, working and giving the best to the economy, to the communities, to the church, to the nation. What we really tried to do with all these efforts is to humanize.

“When we see children in cages, taken away from their parents, destroying the family—that is a moral obligation for the bishops, for the priests, for the Catholic Church to say, ‘This is not right.’ We advocate for family reunification, in terms of immigration, because it’s important for us to keep the family concept in order to favor the future of this society. This country has been built in our ability to recognize the importance of family life. If we really want to have a stronger country, we need to have stronger families.”

—As told to Daniella Byck

How much change will Biden bring to energy policy? Firms ask McNally to read the tea leaves. Photographs courtesy of Bob McNally

Bob McNally

Founder and President, Rapidan

As the energy industry contemplates an about-face from Trump-era policies, companies are scrambling to understand the shifting environment in Washington. Enter Bob McNally, head of the consulting firm Rapidan and one of the go-to figures for understanding international energy policy.

“What I enjoy most is just providing something scarce in Washington, which is objective, informed analysis and perspective on the oil market,” says McNally. “With energy, it’s often smart/stupid, not left/right.”

It’s a familiar Beltway niche: the insider who masters something arcane, yet—to a certain audience—crucially important. In this case, the audience is hedge funds, oil companies, and commodity-trading firms as well as government agencies, and the insider cred comes from McNally’s experience on George W. Bush’s National Economic Council and National Security Council.

While he originally considered becoming a history teacher, McNally finds that providing overviews on energy policy allows for a similar exploration of geopolitical context. He has testified before Congress about issues such as the effect of Libya’s political conflict on oil prices, where the conversation shifts organically from commodities to history. (Oil prices are also the subject of his book, Crude Volatility.)

“When I get called by a liberal House Democrat who happens to be a personal friend and asked privately for my view on something, and he knows I’m going to tell them what I really think,” says McNally, “that makes me very, very proud.”

—Daniella Byck

Antitrust is the rare cause that resonates on the right and left. Photographs courtesy of Sarah MIller

Sarah Miller

Executive Director, American Economic Liberties Project

When Sarah Miller began working on monopoly issues in 2015, she became an expert in what blank stares look like. “It was hard to get meetings with congressional staffers,” she recalls, laughing. When a friend learned she was studying monopoly power, he replied: “I haven’t heard the word ‘monopoly’ since the Microsoft case.”

Miller has come far since then—and so has her cause. Once considered a crusty policy backwater, corporate concentration and monopoly power are now pressing economic issues. Just ask Facebook or Google, both of which face cases from the federal government. The public support for those federal interventions got a big boost from Miller, whose previous work under Washingtonian Influencer Barry Lynn included leading a campaign called Freedom From Facebook, which argued that the Menlo Park tech giant should be broken up years before the idea would reach the policy mainstream.

But Miller, whose time in Washington has seen her ascend into a series of elite policy circles, is hunting larger game than just Big Tech. Her concern is how corporate concentration affects all sectors of American life. “The incredible amounts of economic and political power that now sit on the top of virtually every industry in our economy,” Miller charges, have effectively become “engines of inequality.”

She senses this might be the movement’s moment. Miller wants Congress to expand its work around Big Tech into finance, agriculture, telecoms, and healthcare. “It’s a chance that I don’t know we get again if we fail,” she says. “We’re feeling very ambitious.”

—Benjamin Wofford