A major Democratic consulting firm is building a new public affairs practice and launching a paid fellowship program intended to increase diversity in the party’s consultant class.
Left Hook, a firm that works with major congressional candidates and committees, is launching the fellowship program this fall and bringing on a new veteran campaign operative to run a public affairs division, according to details shared first with POLITICO. The effort is part of a long-term goal to increase the diversity in their own ranks in the hopes of pushing the party to further develop talent pipelines for women and people of color.
The firm has hired Shripal Shah, a veteran Democratic operative who was mostly recently a vice president at the super PAC American Bridge 21st Centruy, as a partner to lead the public affairs division. The new fellowship will pay college students $20 an hour in an effort to provide hands-on training to create a more diverse pool of talent for the party in the future. They will also partner with other organizations within the party to develop diversity, equity and inclusion programs.
“Our goal here is to create a talent pipeline or a farm system of sorts,” Shah, who is Indian American, said in an interview, “so that the next generation of political strategists are coming into this industry with skills and experience so that when the time comes to hire for these individual campaigns, there’s an existing pool of diverse talent that comes with that baseline experience that we have helped create.”
Left Hook is a relatively new firm, having launched in early 2017 before working on major House races in 2018 as the party took back the chamber. They have also worked with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Sen. Mark Kelly’s victorious campaign in Arizona last year. Their leadership say they have prioritized diversity in their hires since they launched: Six out of nine partners are women or people of color, and 47 percent of the staff are women and 47 percent people of color, according to figures provided by the firm.
The effort comes as the the party and broader political universe grapple with continued diversity issues. The current Congress is the most diverse ever, but there’s still a major lack of diversity among staff, POLITICO reported earlier this year. Some operatives and lawmakers in the Democratic Party continue to push for solutions. A new consulting firm led by three women launched earlier this year, and Meredith Kelly, a veteran Democratic operative, is also a partner at a new advertising firm.
Raghu Devaguptapu, a partner at Left Hook and former political director at the Democratic Governors Association, said it’s “pretty clear” the consulting world has a diversity issue.
“I spent the majority of my career as one of the few people of color in the room where decisions are made,” Devaguptapu said. “Persuasion communications in politics has changed, and the Democratic coalition that has proved to win statewide races has changed. Having firms and having the cultural competency to understand how to communicate to the new and evolving coalition is critical to the success of the party.”
Shah, who has previously worked at three major Democratic committees — the DSCC, DCCC and Democratic National Committee — said the party now recognizes the imperative to increase diversity. The goal of the new program at Left Hook is creating specific plans that will have long-term benefits. He said there are ongoing conversations about working with other progressive organizations to build out similar programs.
“As recently as a few years ago, we’re still struggling to convince even people in our party that it was important to have diverse perspectives and backgrounds in the table when making decisions on how we run our races, how we run our party,” Shah said. “That has changed increasingly for the better in recent years, and 2020 is a great example. I think that now our challenge is to actually act and take that next step forward.”
Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.), one of the firm’s clients, praised the new effort in a statement.
“The work they’re doing to diversify the ranks of our party’s operatives has potential to have a lasting impact,” Aguilar said. “I hope others will follow their lead.”