His gubernatorial campaign over, Amann returns to Capitol as a lobbyist

It was slow going. Everyone had a kind word for the returning James A. Amann, the former speaker of the House, as he headed for the elevators in the Legislative Office Building.

He interrupted one conversation to return the greeting of a passing lawmaker, Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven. He called after her, “Thanks for calling me back, Toni!”

Getting calls returned is how Amann makes his living now. Six weeks after ending his campaign for governor, Amann is back in Hartford, trying out life as a lobbyist.

“I haven’t burned too many bridges over my life,” Amann said, laughing. “People actually pick up the phone when I call.”

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After ending his gubernatorial campaign, former House speaker James A. Amann is back at the Capitol as a lobbyist (Mark Pazniokas)

A one-year, revolving-door ban on his lobbying the legislature expired in January. From Feb. 22 to March 29, he registered four clients, who will pay him $50,900, according to Amann’s ethics disclosure forms.

It is a modest start.

A lobbying partnership involving another former speaker, Richard J. Balducci, made $408,000 last year. A firm led by a third, Thomas D. Ritter, makes more than $1 million annually.

Overall, lobbying in Connecticut is a $38.6 million annual business.

Lobbying wasn’t the plan. Amann he left the legislature to run for governor. He gave it a year, announcing in January 2009. He quit Feb. 11, 2010, struggling to raise money or get traction in the polls.

“Tom Ritter always told me that no matter what happens in politics, make sure you always have one or two or three doors open,” Amann said.

Amann has several: He has a marketing and promotion company, building on show-business contacts he made passing a tax-credit program for the film and television industry.

He played a role in putting together a Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton concert to be taped for television at the MGM Grand at Foxwoods Casino & Resort on April 10.

The project took him to Nashville for a dinner with Rogers and the singer’s wife.

“That was kind of nice,” he said.

He has a couple of government-affairs clients in Washington. And now he is lobbying in Hartford.

Amann, 53, a Democrat of Milford, was elected to the House of Representatives in 1990, serving for nine two-year terms, including one term as majority leader and two as speaker.

He made plenty of friends, starting his first year, when he was elected chairman of the freshman caucus, a job that required political sense and the schmoozing abilities of a cruise director.

As speaker, he was quick to defend his caucus, even if it meant crossing swords with Gov. M. Jodi Rell, whose approval ratings hovered somewhere between Gandhi and Mother Theresa.

When Amann thought in April 2005 that Rell was being holier-than-thou, he called the governor “Snow White,” an image quickly adopted by The Courant’s editorial cartoonist, Bob Englehart.

His departure from the legislature was awkward.

His successor, Christopher G. Donovan of Meriden, offered him a $120,000-a-year-job as an advisor. Even many House Democrats objected, and Amann never started the post.

Instead, Amann discovered all the contacts he had made over the years had value, even as his gubernatorial campaign fizzled.

On Feb. 22, 11 days after he ceased to be a candidate, Amann registered as a lobbyist for his first client, Thermaxx, a West Haven manufacturer owned by a family he’s known for years.

With a credit card, he paid a $75 fee at the Office of State Ethics, filled out a form that disclosed his expected fee as $26,400 and got a laminated blue badge that says, “Lobbyist.

Two days later, he added a second client, DMG Studio Holdings, a partnership that wants to establish a film studio in an old factory in Stratford. His expected fee: $12,000.

One of Amann’s pet projects as speaker was the passage of a tax credit for the film and television industry, a project that introduced him to producers and entertainment entrepreneurs.

He signed up Pay Less Auto Glass of Hartford on March 15. Expected fee: $5,000.

On March 29, he registered a fourth client, Affinity Health of Norwalk, a seller of durable medical equipment, a business that requires state approvals for Medicaid reimbursements.

Affinity, which expects to pay him $2,500 a month for three months, has a new hospital-type bed it wants approved by the state for the disabled.

Last week, Amann carried a brochure to a meeting at the LOB to talk about how the bed can save the state money by preventing bed sores and other complications.

Amann always could sell.

In college, it was Cutco knives. Later, he sold cars, word processors and cellular phones before his elected to the General Assembly in 1990.

“I hear you’re one of us now,” one lobbyist said, passing him.

Amann smiled and nodded, making his way toward the bank of gleaming brass elevators.

“So far, so good,” he said. “I’m having fun.”