Nel­son Ed­ward Pea­cock

As as­sis­tant sec­re­tary for leg­isla­tive af­fairs, Nel­son Pea­cock keeps Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Janet Napoli­tano ap­prised of con­gres­sional con­cerns and is­sues. His friends say his small­town back­ground and po­lit­i­cally in­volved fam­ily pre­pared him for the

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - HIGH PROFILE -

‘It’s amaz­ing how a lit­tle town like Mc­Crory and Fayet­teville and the peo­ple I met gave me every­thing I needed to get where I am.’


WASHINGTON — From a Woodruff County town of less than 2,000 to the halls of power in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal, Nel­son Pea­cock learned long ago that he wanted to be in pub­lic ser­vice.

It wasn’t that he ever saw him­self in Washington — in fact, it seems far more likely that fam­ily, deep Arkansas roots, a cer­tain sense of com­pla­cency and the Ra­zor­backs could have eas­ily kept him in Arkansas. But once he got to Washington in 1998 on a bit of a spon­ta­neous urge to check out what was pulling so many fel­low Arkansans, Pea­cock, now 42, quickly de­ter­mined he was meant to stay.

At the time, Bill Clin­ton was in the White House, Pea­cock’s younger brother, Den­ver, was do­ing ad­vance work around the world for the pres­i­dent and Hil­lary Clin­ton, and Pea­cock was prac­tic­ing law in Lit­tle Rock. He felt as if he was watch­ing a once-in-a-life­time op­por­tu­nity pass him by.

“It took me a lit­tle while to wake up and re­al­ize I had this great op­por­tu­nity. ‘What am I do­ing?’” he asked him­self.

The fact that the two broth­ers ended up a part of what was for many for­tu­nate and am­bi­tious Arkansans the whirl­wind years of the Clin­ton pres­i­dency was not sheer hap­pen­stance. Pea­cock’s fam­ily’s po­lit­i­cal in­volve­ment goes back to his ear­li­est mem­o­ries. He grew up a child of the Demo­cratic Party of Arkansas.

Pea­cock was born in Fayet­teville to Joe Nel­son Pea­cock, who was then pur­su­ing a law de­gree at the Univer­sity of Arkansas, and Ann Reed Pea­cock, who taught at Farm­ing­ton and Bentonvill­e high schools. Upon the el­der Pea­cock’s

grad­u­a­tion, the young fam­ily set up shop in Mc­Crory — pop­u­la­tion 1,535 at 2009’s count — and opened the Pea­cock Law Firm. His mother wrote the ti­tle in­sur­ance, and un­til she died last year at 63, Mc­Crory re­mained the Pea­cocks’ fam­ily home and gath­er­ing place.

Joe Pea­cock had been reared on a ranch in the even smaller town of Beedev­ille, in neigh­bor­ing Jack­son County, and Ann Pea­cock grew up on a straw­berry and cotton farm in Bald Knob in White County. The cou­ple met at a horse show. She was the rodeo queen; he was a bar­rel rider.

Nel­son Pea­cock calls his child­hood in Mc­Crory “un­event­ful.” He was an ath­lete who ex­celled in bas­ket­ball and golf. The Pea­cock boys were so­cia­ble, invit­ing friends over to play on the al­most full-length foot­ball field they marked off on a lot ad­ja­cent to their house and host­ing bas­ket­ball games into the night. With the only din­ing-out op­tion in town be­ing a Tas­tee Freez, they were ac­cus­tomed to fam­ily meals around the ta­ble at home.

Pea­cock did well in school and ma­jored in busi­ness at the Univer­sity of Arkansas, then fol­lowed in his fa­ther’s foot­steps through law school in Fayet­teville. “That was re­ally the only place I was ever go­ing to go be­cause my par­ents went up there and loved it.” He was on track to be­come an Arkansas lawyer. THE CLIN­TON CON­NEC­TION

In 1974, when Nel­son Pea­cock was 5, Joe Pea­cock ran for the state House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and went on to rep­re­sent Mc­Crory for eight years; to­day, he is a mem­ber of the Arkansas Pa­role Board. In 1978, Bill Clin­ton launched a suc­cess­ful gu­ber­na­to­rial cam­paign, and Ann Pea­cock be­came a ded­i­cated, life­long sup­porter. She served as a re­gional cam­paign man­ager, cam­paigned and raised funds for him through each sub­se­quent race, and ul­ti­mately saw both of her sons work for Pres­i­dent Clin­ton. Clin­ton spoke at her Mc­Crory funeral last year.

“We knew the Clin­tons ever since I was a lit­tle kid,” Nel­son Pea­cock says. “I re­mem­ber him com­ing to the house with the state trooper. Den­ver and I would go out and play in the state trooper’s car. Ob­vi­ously, we had no idea that he was ever go­ing to be­come pres­i­dent.”

Or as Den­ver Pea­cock elab­o­rates on be­half of his modest older brother, “Ob­vi­ously, we didn’t know back then that some day the fam­ily con­nec­tion would lead to op­por­tu­ni­ties for both of us to serve our coun­try work­ing for a pres­i­dent from Arkansas — and in Nel­son’s case, he’s now served in two pres­i­den­tial ad­min­is­tra­tions.”

When he first moved to Washington, Nel­son Pea­cock en­rolled in the Ge­orge Washington Univer­sity School of Law for a mas­ter’s of law de­gree. School gave him the flex­i­bil­ity to travel to do ad­vance work for the pres­i­dent when called, as did his first fed­eral ap­point­ment as deputy di­rec­tor for in­ter­gov­ern­men­tal af­fairs at the Jus­tice Depart­ment. In that role, he co­or­di­nated the re­la­tion­ship be­tween At­tor­ney Gen­eral Janet Reno and law en­force­ment and other of­fi­cials at the state and lo­cal lev­els, as well as the in­ter­est groups that worked on their be­half.

Pea­cock’s friends from Arkansas agree the depart­ment was a good place for Pea­cock to start.

“I have al­ways thought Nel­son had a strong sense of right and wrong, a feel­ing of what is jus­tice, what side to get on, so I’ve al­ways re­spected that about him,” says former state Rep. Will Bond, a friend of Pea­cock’s since law school and to­day the Demo­cratic Party of Arkansas chair­man.

When Pea­cock first moved to Washington, he and Jan Wil­liams, then work­ing for the U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture, were room­mates. They had been friends since col­lege.

“Once he got into Jus­tice, he knew how to work well with the ca­reer peo­ple, which is key be­ing a po­lit­i­cal ap­pointee,” says Wil­liams of Lit­tle Rock. “He’s a proud Arkansan, he’s never gone up there and tried to hide be­ing from Arkansas. I think a lot of peo­ple don’t do that.”

‘As far as be­ing bet­ter pre­pared, it’s night and day com­pared to where we were.’

On the other hand, in some ways Pea­cock’s friend Bond is sur­prised he has lasted as long as he has in Washington.

“Nel­son used to be an avid duck hunter, and they don’t do a lot of that up in D.C., so I’m not sure I thought he’d ever leave Arkansas.”


As tends to hap­pen with po­lit­i­cal jobs, when Al Gore lost the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion to Ge­orge W. Bush in 2000, Pea­cock and most of his col­leagues in the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion lost their jobs. To­gether with his former boss at the Jus­tice Depart­ment, Brian de Val­lance, Pea­cock tried his hand in the pri­vate sec­tor, seek­ing to de­velop a tech­nol­ogy that would as­sist law en­force­ment per­son­nel in stay­ing bet­ter con­nected. The ven­ture didn’t pan out, so, en­ticed by the chance to make good on a dream of work­ing for a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date from Arkansas, Pea­cock headed up ad­vance work in New Hamp­shire for re­tired Gen. Wes­ley Clark’s 2004 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

“I al­ways felt a bit cheated be­cause I didn’t get in on the ground floor with Clin­ton,” he re­calls. “I wanted to give that a shot, so I did.”

Af­ter Clark with­drew from the race, Pea­cock learned from Hunter Bi­den, who had worked in the Com­merce Depart­ment un­der Clin­ton, that his fa­ther, then-Sen. Joe Bi­den, was hir­ing staff for the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee.

The job was per­fect for him, Pea­cock says. Again sign­ing on to work for some­one he knew was well­re­garded in Washington but had no way of fore­see­ing would be­come vice pres­i­dent, Pea­cock be­came se­nior coun­sel for Sen. Bi­den, which in­volved leg­isla­tive work in sub­jects that had be­come in­te­gral to Pea­cock’s ca­reer: law en­force­ment, crime and home­land se­cu­rity. He also worked on in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty rights and patent re­form is­sues and the con­fir­ma­tions of Supreme Court Jus­tice Samuel Al­ito and Chief Jus­tice John Roberts. Hang­ing on his wall at the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity to­day is the ac­com­plish­ment of which he is most proud: shep­herd­ing the pas­sage of the PRO­TECT Our Chil­dren Act (Pro­vid­ing Re­sources, Of­fi­cers, and Tech­nol­ogy To Erad­i­cate Cy­ber Threats), which Pres­i­dent Ge­orge Bush signed into law in 2008.

“That bill is prob­a­bly my crown­ing achieve­ment,” Pea­cock says. “It’s a bill about go­ing af­ter child preda­tors and was ac­tu­ally fea­tured on Oprah. Most of the work there didn’t bear any fruit leg­isla­tively, but that’s just the way it is; it’s hard to get some­thing passed. So we were re­ally lucky to get that through.”

Vice Pres­i­dent Bi­den ac­knowl­edges Pea­cock played a sig­nif­i­cant role in the bill’s suc­cess.

“Nel­son was an in­valu­able as­set to my team on the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee,” Bi­den said. “Dur­ing his five years as my se­nior coun­sel, his po­lit­i­cal and le­gal in­sights were es­sen­tial in cre­at­ing and pass­ing nu­mer­ous bills, in­clud­ing the PRO­TECT Our Chil­dren Act of 2008. It is no sur­prise that the ef­fec­tive lead­er­ship and pas­sion for pub­lic ser­vice he demon­strated while on my staff has led him to fur­ther suc­cess at the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity.”

Through his friend­ship with Hunter Bi­den and grow­ing re­la­tion­ship with Joe Bi­den (in­clud­ing cam­paign­ing for him for two weeks in Iowa dur­ing the 2008 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign) Pea­cock says he be­came close to the fam­ily. He has taken the train to the Bi­den home in Wilm­ing­ton, Del., for cel­e­bra­tions and to brief the se­na­tor. Pea­cock says he is grate­ful for the chance to have worked for Bi­den.

“You be­come part of their ex­tended fam­ily; you just be­lieve in the cause,” he says. “It was great to work for him be­cause he had so much bi­par­ti­san cred­i­bil­ity that when he came out and did some­thing, ev­ery­one kind of knew that it was com­ing from a good place.”

Per­haps the bi­par­ti­san per­spec­tive Pea­cock so ap­pre­ci­ates was con­ta­gious. Three years ago, he mar­ried Su­san Shey­bani of Mis­sion Viejo, Calif., at the time a com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor for the National Se­cu­rity Coun­cil and pre­vi­ously an as­sis­tant press sec­re­tary for the Bush-Cheney cam­paign in 2004. Their wed­ding fell on the Au­gust 2008 week­end book­ended by the Demo­cratic and Repub­li­can national con­ven­tions.

“I’ve said that a Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­can is about like an Arkansas Demo­crat,” Pea­cock says. To­day, she is an as­so­ci­ate at Booz Allen Hamil­ton con­sult­ing firm, where her clients in­clude the Of­fice of the Di­rec­tor of National In­tel­li­gence and the un­der­sec­re­tary for de­fense in­tel­li­gence. In April, the cou­ple wel­comed a daugh­ter, Lily Ann Pea­cock, named af­ter his mother. HOME­LAND SE­CU­RITY To­ward the end of Bi­den’s term in the Se­nate, Pea­cock’s port­fo­lio in­creas­ingly en­com­passed home­land se­cu­rity, in­clud­ing port and rail se­cu­rity is­sues. As Joe Bi­den was mov­ing into the vice pres­i­dent’s of­fice, Pea­cock served on the tran­si­tion team for in­com­ing Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Janet Napoli­tano, ap­pointed while serv­ing a sec­ond term as Ari­zona gov­er­nor. Pea­cock had re­mained close with Brian de Val­lance, his former boss at the Jus­tice Depart­ment, and then-Gov. Napoli­tano’s di­rec­tor of fed­eral re­la­tions. At Home­land Se­cu­rity, de Val­lance be­came her se­nior coun­selor.

Pea­cock says he was at­tracted to the op­por­tu­nity of work­ing di­rectly with a cabi­net sec­re­tary, par­tic­u­larly Napoli­tano, whom he knew and ad­mired. In March 2009, he joined the depart­ment as deputy as­sis­tant sec­re­tary for leg­isla­tive af­fairs, and in Au­gust 2010, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama ap­pointed him as­sis­tant sec­re­tary for leg­isla­tive af­fairs.

In this role, he serves as li­ai­son be­tween Congress and Napoli­tano, to whom he di­rectly re­ports. He is the first point of con­tact for mem­bers with home­land se­cu­rity-re­lated con­cerns, and he of­ten ac­com­pa­nies the sec­re­tary on travel to districts and meet­ings with mem­bers as her prin­ci­pal ad­vi­sor on rel­e­vant leg­is­la­tion and mem­bers’ in­ter­ests.

“He is a great leader and brings a sense of calm­ness and fo­cus to a depart­ment that can quickly be pulled in thou­sands of di­rec­tions,” says Michael Stroud, a deputy as­sis­tant sec­re­tary for leg­isla­tive af­fairs. “Nel­son is able to as­sess sit­u­a­tions and present co­gent and co­her­ent, as well as po­lit­i­cally prac­ti­cal, so­lu­tions to the prob­lems faced by the depart­ment. I would also say that Nel­son’s faith in other peo­ple’s abil­i­ties is what makes his team do the best they can for him — they don’t want to let him down.”

Napoli­tano says Pea­cock’s job de­mands that he jug­gles the tasks of work­ing di­rectly with law­mak­ers key to cer­tain is­sues and ap­pro­pri­a­tions, pre­par­ing her and other staff for giv­ing con­gres­sional tes­ti­mony, and keep­ing up with the 108 con­gres­sional com­mit­tees that have over­sight over dif­fer­ent com­po­nents of the depart­ment.

“He has a very good sense of how to rank things in terms of im­por­tance, how to strate­gi­cally ap­proach large is­sues and how to work that line be­tween the ex­ec­u­tive branch and the leg­isla­tive branch, how to build a bridge across those things,” Napoli­tano says.

With to­day’s 10th an­niver­sary of the Sept. 11, 2001, ter­ror­ist at­tacks, Pea­cock has been pre­par­ing Napoli­tano for con­gres­sional hear­ings eval­u­at­ing the depart­ment’s im­prove­ments in pre­pared­ness.

“We just is­sued a re­port on 10 years since 9/11, and it has all the things that this depart­ment has done that would have pre­vented a 9/11 at­tack if we had had this in place then,” he says. “As far as be­ing bet­ter pre­pared, it’s night and day com­pared to where we were.” In par­tic­u­lar, he says, dif­fer­ent peo­ple and dif­fer­ent agen­cies with dif­fer­ent in­for­ma­tion are sig­nif­i­cantly more adept at con­nect­ing the dots in data.

Sept. 11 con­tin­ues to fac­tor into the daily work of the 230,000 Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity per­son­nel.

“For us, 9/11 is the rea­son this depart­ment was cre­ated, com­pletely,” Pea­cock says. “None of us would be here work­ing and do­ing the work that we’re do­ing with­out it.”

Last month, Pea­cock was able to bring his Arkansas and Washington lives to­gether. Napoli­tano spoke at the Univer­sity of Arkansas Clin­ton School of Pub­lic Ser­vice and af­ter­ward had din­ner with Pea­cock and his fam­ily and long­time friend Gov. Mike Beebe — the two were gov­er­nors at the same time.

“It was a bit sur­real in that my two worlds rarely col­lide,” Pea­cock says. “In D.C., I do a type of work that I feel is com­pletely for­eign to my friends and fam­ily back home, so this helped, I sup­pose, put a lit­tle con­text into what I do for them. Hav­ing that ex­pe­ri­ence with my dad was the best part of it.”

Pea­cock says he doesn’t let foot­ball sea­son go by with­out catch­ing a Ra­zor­backs game. And when he can’t make it home, he has a cir­cle of Arkansans to call the Hogs with in Washington.

“If there’s a bet­ter or a more se­ri­ous Ra­zor­back fol­low­ing in the mid-At­lantic, I’d be highly sur­prised,” says Rob Walker, who was spe­cial as­sis­tant to Trans­porta­tion Sec­re­tary Rod­ney Slater dur­ing the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion and a col­lege class­mate of Pea­cock’s. “It’s some­thing, es­pe­cially up here, we all share. We kind of take pride in the peo­ple from Arkansas.”

So does Pea­cock: “It’s amaz­ing how a lit­tle town like Mc­Crory and Fayet­teville and the peo­ple I met gave me every­thing I needed to get where I am.”

Arkansas Demo­crat-gazette/sta­ton BREIDENTHA­L

Arkansas Demo­crat-gazette/sta­ton BREIDENTHA­L

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