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Five Questions for DeWitt Zemp, partner with Southern Strategy Group

By W. Thomas Smith Jr.

Southern Strategy Group – the Columbia, S.C.-based element of the nation’s largest lobbying firm, Strategy Group – owns and operates some 18 offices in 13 states across the Southeast and the Midwest as well as on the West Coast. And partner DeWitt Zemp is but one of the reasons why the regional firm has become synonymous with solutions. 

Zemp along with partners Brandon Dermody, Jeff Griffith, and Heather Smith are also why decision-makers – looking to navigate through the complexities of 21st century politics – are increasingly looking to broad-based teams, like Southern Strategy Group, that not only have a grasp of state and national politics, but have the necessary national and international reach with which to draw on expertise.  

Experience and resourcefulness are keys. 

Prior to joining Southern Strategy Group in 2005, Zemp – a former aide to U.S. Presidents George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush; and who also served S.C. Governors Carroll Campbell and David Beasley, and the S.C.  Department of Commerce under Gov. Jim Hodges – served as the senior director for Governmental Affairs with Moore & Van Allen, PLLC on issues related to government, policy, and regulatory affairs.

We recently sat down with Zemp and discussed his service as a White House aide, what makes this South Carolina team of lobbyists unique, and why he calls the Palmetto State home. 

W. Thomas Smith Jr.: What makes Southern Strategy Group unique among lobbying firms nationwide? What does it offer that other similar firms do not? 

DEWITT ZEMP: Southern Strategy Group was founded in 1999. The S.C. / N.C. office was opened in May of 2005. Prior to opening the S.C. office, the principal partners spent their entire professional careers working within 23 state capitols and the federal government. Together, our team has a combined 75 years of regulatory and governmental affairs experience. Our lobbyists have served in the halls of the United States Senate and the House of Representatives, for three S.C. governor’s office’s, within various U.S. cabinet agencies and the Executive Office of the President in the White House. 

Southern Strategy Group offers its clients unparalleled access to top decision-makers on the local, state, and federal level. Often, elected and appointed officials need the advice and guidance from a firm like ours to present them with the necessary real-time information to protect their business interests and provide the opportunities for their businesses to grow. Our multi-national team provides the experience, expertise, and relationships to achieve these results. 

The advocacy we undertake on behalf of our clients is grounded in a culture that emphasizes vigorous and passionate persuasion. Our team possesses the professionalism and training to be aggressive and effective advocates. Our relationships cultivated over years of friendships with elected and appointed officials earned the trust and loyalty of leadership on the state and federal levels. We are dedicated to our mission of bringing quality governmental affairs services to our clients throughout the nation and on Capitol Hill. 

Our firm is part of the largest lobbying firm in the nation. The advantages of hiring a national lobbying firm can be seen on day one. We’ve made the strategic decision to find the very best lobbyists who have lived and practiced within their own state, and we opened fully functional office to serve our clients with a new method to help them better achieve their goals. Legislative and local initiatives gain momentum as they move from state to state. Our team has the unique ability to get ahead of by being part of a larger team that devises and implements methods and strategies for dealing with those issues. 

Our team strives for balance between executive branch, legislative branch consulting, advocacy and business development opportunities both within our national network of clients and throughout the U.S.  

Our areas of expertise include to a broad range of issues for corporate and individual clients including pro-business public policy, state, federal and international contract opportunities, K-12, higher education and counties/municipalities healthcare, Medicaid, Medicare, transportation, energy, insurance, defense, foreign affairs, national security. 

We understand the business cycle. We know that corporate goals are based on quarterly deliverables and that those deliverables need to be executed in a timely manner. In the current political and economic environment, business needs to take every advantage available to them as well as create advantages in order to be successful. 

Smith: Share with us some of your firm’s successes in terms of influencing or shaping policy direction? I’m specifically talking about that which you are most proud of. 

ZEMP: There are very few issues that we take on that we are not successful – or have not been successful – at moving policy (and legislative policy initiatives) forward on behalf of our clients. We are very proud of that fact.  After serving 25 years in the state and federal government in operations and policy roles, I have a unique perspective of the approach to developing solutions and crafting strategies that move our clients issues in the direction that is both good for the state and has a pro-business impact.  I’m very proud of our team’s pro-business, market-based approach to solving the state and federal policy issues. 

Smith: You’re also involved with a strategic security planning and advisory-consulting team, Describe what this is specifically, and how you are involved? 

ZEMP: While in the White House I spent a great deal of time working with security and White House Communications.  I was lucky enough to work with a professional team of former federal security specialists. As a result of those experiences, I became very closely acquainted with security methods, operations and processes which has served me well after leaving the White House. Many of those same methods, operations and processes can be – and have been – applied to security needs both in the public and the private sector. 

Smith: You served as an Aide to both Pres. George H. W. Bush and Pres. George W. Bush as the Director of Financial Management and Planning and Deputy Director of Special Advance Operations. Please share an anecdote from your White House service. 

ZEMP: Obviously, the highlight of my government service to was to serve this country in the White House (Executive Office of the President). Having the opportunity to put service before self has been an experience that I hope everyone in this country has the ability to participate.  

Both my parents served in the Navy prior to their professional careers, and both had a strong commitment to serving this country. Two of my brothers also joined the Navy. And I was honored to be appointed to the Executive Office of the President.  Without getting into specifics, I’ll say that having been privileged to travel across the globe with our Commander in Chief and the leader of the free world to over 60 countries, and having worked closely with world leaders, kings and queens and their staffs has given me renewed optimism of how we as a country have the ability to positively influence world affairs.  It has also educated me in the way other countries and businesses from around the world operate and solve problems. 

Smith: Aside from the fact that this is your home, why have you set up shop in South Carolina? 

ZEMP: South Carolina is a great place to nourish and grow a small successful business. I’m in love with S.C. I was blessed with growing up in Charleston and having lived in the Palmetto State my entire life.  This is the place I want my children to be raised. Moreover, it’s easy to commute to Washington, D.C. as well as anywhere in the Southeast from Columbia.  We live in a great place to build a successful business, and we live a good life with great people and even better friends. I have traveled the world, and this will always be my home.

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– W. Thomas Smith Jr. is a former U.S. Marine rifle-squad leader and counterterrorism instructor who writes about military/defense issues and has covered conflict in the Balkans, on the West Bank, in  and Lebanon. He directs the U.S. Counterterrorism Advisory Team. He is the author of six books, and his articles appear in a variety of publications. Smith’s website is uswriter.com.