10 Questions With National Federation of Independent Business CEO Dan Danner

PHOTO: Dan Danner likes golf, office parties, and lawsuits that challenge the constitutionality of President Obama?s health care law.
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Two-thirds of Americans oppose "Obamacare," according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll this month.

One of the groups that has challenged the health care law's constitutionality is the National Federation of Independent Business. The man behind that group is a Jimmy Buffett-loving electrical engineer and self-described creature of Washington named Dan Danner.

We sat down with Danner to ask him 10 questions. The whole interview was 45 minutes and 5,000 words long, so here's the condensed version.

First, tell us your story. Once upon a time ...

I'm an electrical engineer with an MBA. Fortunately, I determined early on I'd be a terrible engineer, and that was a good career move. I started my career at a steel company in Ohio in a marketing role, but under the heading of 'all politics is local,' I got involved in school board campaigns and city commission campaigns, on-the-ground politics and eventually got into lobbying, public affairs for this steel company in Ohio. So I spent a good deal of time in Columbus as a lobbyist and a slot opened here in the steel company's office. I was transferred from Ohio to Washington. I worked for them in a lobby shop here for a number of years, and then in the early 80s, it was not lost on anyone that the steel industry was not in a good place and was starting to shrink pretty dramatically. And although I was confident I wasn't about to be shrunk, I had an opportunity to work at the White House. I went to the White House in early '86 in the Reagan White House as a business liaison in the office of public policy. The secretary of commerce for most of Reagan was a guy named Mac Baldridge, from the West Coast, he was one of the original sort of Reagan kitchen cabinet. And about two years before the end of Reagan's second term, Mac Baldridge passed away. Fell off a horse. The incoming secretary of commerce was a guy named Bill Verity, who was the then-retired president, CEO and chair of the steel company I used to work for, called Armco Steel. Even though he ran this big steel company, I knew him and his wife and his kids, and so when he was announced as the secretary of commerce, he called me and asked me to join him. He had been in and out of Washington but had never worked in Washington, and he said: 'There are people I'm meeting with I don't know why I'm meeting with, friends who say they can't get through the gatekeepers to meet with me. This whole thing is a mess – would you just come over here and fix it and make it work? And whatever you need to do to do it, you got it.' So I spent two years as his chief of staff.

I stayed a little while when Bush won and Mosbacher was the incoming secretary. I was a little burned out. I spent 3-plus years at George Mason University working for the George Johnson, the president of George Mason. He was a wonderful visionary to build a university from an extension of UVA to what it is today, but pretty quickly I missed Washington, and one of the things – it's like being in Kansas. It's a little closer now, but then, one of the first things that happened was, I was going across campus to talk to some professors about some grant or something, and I came back to my office at six o'clock, and the building was locked. I was like, what? That's not what I was used to.

The whole pace — I love the pace of Washington. I love that things are always happening. So that convinced me early on that it was a nice place; it was a great challenge. I thought the White House was political until I went to a university. They make the politics we talk about here look small.

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