Clovis News

Villines packs up, looks to life after Legislature

Clovis Republican Mike Villines quietly ended his legislative career by cleaning out his state Capitol office Tuesday.

Villines, however, isn't done with politics as he moves back into the private sector after three terms in the state Assembly and an unsuccessful campaign for state insurance commissioner.

He plans to open a consulting and public relations business that builds not only on his time in the state Legislature, but also a career as a public relations executive that was put on hold when he ran for office in 2004.

Most people don't understand how government works," Villines said this week. "The policy behind it. What it takes to get things done. I understand how to help people that need help."

Villines plans to open an office somewhere near the Capitol, as well as another in Fresno.

He can't accept clients until today, but said he has three or four possibilities to help start his new venture.

"I'm hopeful -- but, I'll tell you, I'm going out on faith and hard work," he said. "I could fall flat on my face. Who knows?"

Colleagues said they expect success.

"Mike has a great deal of talent," said Juan Arambula, a Fresno Democrat-turned-independent who, like Villines, also faced term limits. Arambula cleared out his state legislative office last week.

"As Republican leader, he became even more immersed in a wide variety of areas," Arambula added. "I think Mike will do very well in" the government-and-public-relations world.

Craig Schmidt, a former Pacific Gas & Electric Co. executive who now has his own consulting business, agreed. It was Schmidt -- agriculture director for then U.S. Sen. Pete Wilson -- who hired Villines as an intern. At the time, Villines was attending Fresno State.

"His work ethic has not changed," Schmidt said.

"He was just as enthusiastic and hard working as a college student as he was as a legislator."

That insight, hard work and dedication will be needed, political watchers said, for Villines to break into Sacramento's insular world of political consulting.

Villines has some background both in business and public relations, as well as government.

Long before he was elected to public office, he worked as an "advance man" for Wilson -- then governor -- a job that gave him the responsibility of coordinating public appearances.

He later served as chief of staff for former Assembly Member Chuck Poochigian, a Fresno Republican later elected to the state Senate and who is now a 5th District Court of Appeal justice.

After that, Villines became a co-owner of Panagraph Inc., a Fresno advertising company that is now part of Astone Thielen. Villines brought public relations expertise to the business.

Though Villines was known in the local business community, he was picked out of relative obscurity in 2003 to run for the 29th Assembly District.

At the time, Republican Steve Samuelian was the Assembly member. He was stopped -- but not cited -- by Fresno police on Parkway Drive, an area known for prostitution.

The incident, the second time Samuelian had been stopped on Parkway Drive, cost him the support of several influential local Republicans, who sought someone to challenge him.

That person was Villines, who went on to win the 29th District seat.

In the term-limits era, Villines rose to become Assembly Republican leader, but stepped down amid pressure from anti-tax conservatives, who blasted him for supporting new taxes in a February 2009 budget deal.

"I think I was a good representative for the area," Villines said.

As he prepares for the future, Villines has moved his family to Sacramento, which will allow him to be home with them most evenings.

He moved over the summer from Shaver Lake so his three children could start school up north.

The cabin at Shaver is sold, but he and his wife, Christina, still own their Clovis home and hope one day to return to it.

In the meantime, Villines hopes to use his Legislative experience -- both good and bad -- and "pass that on to corporate clients."

He hopes to make the state more business-friendly by pushing for tax reform and a state spending cap as well as infrastructure improvements such as high-speed rail.

"I intend to build a statewide business," he said. "To work my tail off and keep my head down."