From his K Street office in Washington, D.C., Robert J. “Bob” Kabel can see a freight train headed straight for the Grand Old Party. “To say rapidly changing attitudes about same-sex marriage—especially among younger voters—is a major challenge for the Republican Party is an understatement,” said Kabel, a longtime Washington insider who represents D.C. on the Republican National Committee. One of the RNC’s first openly gay members—and the first to chair a state Republican committee—Kabel has no patience for the right-wing social agenda. “The party needs to get back to its core economic and foreign policy principles and stop focusing so much on social issues,” he said.
Before the 2012 GOP convention, Kabel drafted language opposing a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in the D.C. Republican Committee’s platform. It was the only state party committee to show up at the convention with a platform draft endorsing “full and equal protection under the laws and the Constitution” for “all individuals, without regard to sexual orientation.”
A lifelong Republican, Kabel was also a pioneering gay activist. He became involved in the Log Cabin Republicans, the nation’s largest GOP organization dedicated to representing gay and lesbian conservatives and allies, in the late 1980s, and continues to serve on its board. He chaired the group from 1993 to 1999. He believes the crushing defeat GOP candidates suffered in the 2012 elections has convinced some of his fellow Republicans of the importance of reaching out to the LGBT community and other minorities.
“The Republican congressional leadership is very supportive of two openly gay Republicans running for the House of Representatives from Massachusetts and California,” he said. “That’s a good sign.”
Kabel’s career in government began when he joined the staff of Tennessee Governor Winfield Dunn after law school. He also volunteered as a speechwriter for Tennessee Senator Howard Baker. He headed to Washington nearly four decades ago to serve as legislative director for Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana. Baker, then Senate majority leader, recommended him for a job on President Ronald Reagan’s staff as a special assistant for legislative affairs. He worked in the White House from 1982 to 1985. “Baker and Lugar are two of our great national statesmen,” Kabel said.
As an attorney and lobbyist with the global law firm Faegre Baker Daniels and its consulting division, FaegreBD Consulting, where he has practiced since 2002, Kabel mainly works with clients in the financial services industry to shape federal legislation and regulation. He was involved in developing the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which requires financial institutions to inform consumers of their information-sharing practices and safeguard sensitive information, and, more recently, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. He also helps companies establish and expand their presence in Brazil, Mexico and other Latin American countries.
Kabel is a native of Cincinnati and earned his B.A. from Denison University. He was attracted to Vanderbilt Law School because of a scholarship offered to Denison graduates. “I didn’t get the scholarship,” he says, “but meeting Professor Bob Covington (’61) when I visited the school was the tipping point in deciding to go to Vanderbilt.” After moving to Washington, Kabel earned a master’s degree in tax policy at Georgetown University Law