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Lobbying firm ByrdGomes now women-owned

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Rebecca Bryd, left, and Kim Gomes, the majority partners in the lobbying firm ByrdGomes pose in Legislative Hall in November. | DBT PHOTO BY ERIC CROSSAN

NEW CASTLE – Kim Gomes and Rebecca Byrd come from very different backgrounds.

Gomes, who grew up in a New Jersey family that rarely talked politics, initially earned a degree in fitness management before pursuing lobbying later in life. Byrd, daughter of longtime state lobbyist and former legislator Bob Byrd, quite literally grew up in politics, spending every June 30 as a young girl sitting at the House Speaker’s podium late into the night as each year’s legislature ended.

Together, they now lead ByrdGomes, one of the two most active lobbying firms in the state, representing dozens of clients ranging from Facebook to Anheuser-Busch, Verizon to Delaware State University. Last year they bought the majority share of the firm from Bob Byrd, who continues to practice as a minority shareholder.

The partners said the reality of a women-owned firm hadn’t really sunk in. Byrd only recognized it when she recently went to get her father’s approval for an expense when she realized she didn’t need to anymore.

“To be fair, it hasn’t necessarily felt like a big change because [Bob] always treated us like equal people in the firm,” Byrd said.

Gomes joined the then-Wood Byrd & Associates firm in 2004 after completing a Master of Public Administration and assessing her future. Ed Freel, a former Delaware secretary of state and UD professor, introduced her to Bob Byrd, who was thinking about the future of his firm at the time. They immediately connected and have worked closely over the past 17 years.

After earning her law degree, Byrd returned to Delaware to clerk at the state Supreme Court, work for then-Attorney General Beau Biden and later serve as deputy counsel to then-Gov. Ruth Ann Minner. In 2009, she joined the family firm that today is known as ByrdGomes.

Both Gomes and Byrd say they are acutely aware that women are still making representative gains in the state legislature – one third of the state Senate and House legislators are women while more than half of state residents are women – and the legal services and lobbying industries.

“It’s not easy. You have to learn how to take up your own space and stand your ground sometimes,” Gomes said.

As they take over the firm, they are preparing for a future in which legislating is increasingly moving online due to the effects of the pandemic. Once-debated features like audio and video streaming in the statehouse are now commonplace, but it doesn’t replace the need for a quality lobbyist, Gomes said.

So much of lobbying is understanding the personal relationships between legislators, their motivations and goals, and how the process works in the statehouse and the executive branch, she noted.

“You’re always going to need boots on the ground. You’re always going to need that person who is actually in the building,” Byrd said.

Both partners also decried the notion that they’re only busy during the roughly six months that the state legislature is in session.

“Just because the legislature doesn’t meet doesn’t mean that you’re not working on a legislative issue. Really big or difficult bills are going to require 12 to 18 months of work,” Byrd said, noting that their firm talks with many of their clients every week.

Aside from bill drafting, ByrdGomes also advises clients on a number of other public and legislative issues, including the state’s bid and procurement process. They make introductions to the right officials to help familiarize their clients with power brokers and assist in navigating the byzantine state processes.

It’s a career that often comes with a nonstop pace, but as the new faces for the longtime firm, Byrd and Gomes said they’re excited about the difference they may be able to make in a field that has traditionally been male-dominated.

“I have two daughters, so there’s a bit of a mentality of ‘Let me chip away at this, so that maybe it’s a little bit easier for them, a little bit different,’” Gomes said.

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