A Fond Farewell to a Dear Friend


James Gattuso (December 1, 1957 – July 23, 2020) has left behind a profound legacy of devotion to family and commitment to liberty.

After earning undergraduate and law degrees at the University of Southern California and the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), respectively, James quickly stepped onto the national policy stage. Because of a focus on regulatory law, James absorbed the teachings of Armen Alchian and Harold Demsetz at UCLA. As a result, he brought to Washington a commitment to honest inquiry, property rights, and free market economics.

He worked under the legendary Bob Pepper at the Office of Plans and Policy at the Federal Communications Commission before being detailed to work at the White House as associate director of Vice President Quayle’s Council on Competitiveness. It was at this time that James established a relationship with Fred Smith and the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

The Council was the focus of deregulatory activity during the Bush administration and led to President H. W. Bush’s 1992 State of the Union announcement of a 90-day moratorium on agency rulemaking, which was followed by a 120-day extension.

James joined CEI in 1997 and served as vice president for policy until 2002, when he returned to the Heritage Foundation after working there early in his career. CEI Senior Fellow Marlo Lewis remembers that time this way: “James was a virtuoso policy scholar, colleague, and human being. The perfect choice to help Fred Smith lead CEI.”

I first met James in 1995 when he played a central role in a working group designing a legislative blueprint to radically downsize the Federal Communications Commission. (I had barely graduated from the ranks of intern.) The next year, he became my boss when I joined him at Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE) as a policy analyst. He tutored and mentored me with infinite grace and good humor.

To be sure, James wielded a brutal, slashing red pen, the end of which had invariably been chewed upon, while he examined each word to make sure it added to the argument being made. He pushed me to probe the economic incentives that were emerging from the massive regulatory response to the 1996 Telecommunications Act. He did so in a gentle way that encouraged a thorough look at both how regulation is made and its effects.

James authored a widely circulated, if underground, list of 10 Rules for Policy Analysts. With characteristic good humor and brevity, they cover the essentials of how to get ahead and have a productive career in policy development. The topics include plagiarism, reading original source materials, working with the press, and overconfidence. Two of those, you should avoid.

He loved CEI, the people who make it special, and our role in a movement toward expanded economic liberty. Fred Smith was a groomsman for James’s marriage to his beloved Dana. I truly learned the depth of his affections for CEI in late 2015 when we had candid conversations about the consideration I gave to the recently open role of president. In 2017, he joined us for an early gathering focused on the administration’s transition that helped to launch CEI’s Alfred Kahn Dinner Series and set the strategy for continued deregulation of the communications marketplace.

CEI board member Michael Greve likens James to a libertarian Walter Payton, whose nickname was Sweetness—a moniker that described both his genuine amiability and the exquisite skill he displayed as an NFL Hall of Fame running back. Mike wrote to me last weekend: “In a game of inches, these guys managed four-plus yards per carry. They both died way too early. You had to see it to believe it.”

James Gattuso was respectful without being stuffy. He accepted setbacks with dignity and grace. He laughed quickly and without malice. He cared about career and accomplishments, and was widely recognized for them, but not more than his family and his principles.

I miss him greatly, as do his many friends. The world is a little less bright without him.

Requiescat in pace