When the U.S. Senate was ready to deliver its summons to President Clinton, the man charged with the constitutionally awesome task was Sergeant at Arms and Doorkeeper James W. Ziglar, GW class of 1968.
As the chief law enforcement and protocol officer in the Senate, Ziglar is responsible for the management of support services and is authorized to “arrest and detain any person violating Senate rules, including the president of the United States,” according to his office’s publications.
“It’s a job that’s very rich in American political history,” Ziglar told the PaineWebber publication NOW in September 1998.
Ziglar came to Washington in 1964 to work for Mississippi Sen. James Eastland, a conservative southern Democrat, and entered GW as an undergraduate soon after.
“I was an early morning and evening student, working during the day and taking classes around my schedule on the Hill,” Ziglar said in an interview Wednesday.
It was in one of those early morning classes on the first day of his freshman year that Ziglar met the woman he would marry years later.
“I took her out the first night I met her,” Ziglar said. “After that, I only went out on one or two other dates through all of college.”
Ziglar was a social force on campus, joining the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity and involving himself in student government with GW alum and former Student Association President Edward “Skip” Gnehm.
“Fraternities were politically powerful on campus,” Ziglar said. “Their `get out the vote’ organizations virtually controlled campus politics and became the most potent force in student politics. And it’s been good training grounds for Beltway politics.”
Ziglar called the attitude of GW’s administration during his student days “anti-Greek.” Campus liberals at the time called fraternities “white, elitist clubs,” he said.
“GW Greek life was good for developing long-term relationships. It was a good place to socialize and learn organizational skills,” said Ziglar, who has three sons, two of whom are members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon.
“When I was at school in the 1960s there were two things going on: civil rights, and Vietnam. It was the growth of the flower child generation, marked by people like Bill Clinton, and the campus was predominantly liberal,” Ziglar said.
Ziglar followed his days as an undergraduate at GW by earning a degree from the GW Law School and then served as a clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun in the 1970s.
Then he left D.C. in 1973, moving out to work on both the West Coast and on Wall Street for PaineWebber as managing director of the firm’s Municipal Securities Group.
He returned in 1981, when he was appointed assistant secretary of the interior for water and science under President Reagan.
At Pascagoula High School in Mississippi, where he sang in the church choir with Senate Majority Leader and lifelong friend Trent Lott, Ziglar fostered the values he would carry with him throughout his career.
“We grew up together on the Mississippi in a blue-collar town. We’re conservatives, but I don’t know if that describes us completely,” Ziglar told NOW.
“I mean, we’re both somewhat populist at heart, having grown up in working-class families. I think we are conservatives with a compassionate and pragmatic face,” he said.
As for his most prominent job, Ziglar says his ideology doesn’t hinder his Senate duties.
“I was appointed by the GOP majority to be bipartisan . not necessarily non-partisan. I’ve worked up here for a lot of years with Democrats, so I can relate well. In fact, I used to work with the fathers of senators Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Robert Bennett (R-Utah) when they were senators,” Ziglar said.
“The job requires managerial skills and political skills,” Ziglar said. “I came here on Nov. 9. A week later, it was obvious that the impeachment process was heading toward the Senate.
Senate staffers worked night and day for three months until the trial ended last week, Ziglar said.
“Everything from having tables built for the House managers and the president’s defense team, to making sure the TVs and cameras were set up. We went over and over the ceremonial parts, like escorting the chief justice into the Senate chambers,” Ziglar said.
Now that the impeachment is over, Ziglar plans to focus on issues such as security for the Capitol and Y2K technological upgrades for the Senate.
“I’m relieved it’s over with, but I’m reluctant to comment on the merits of the case,” Ziglar said. “I am pleased and proud of the job the Senate did in maintaining the dignity of the process. We did the best we could have under a bad situation.
“I’m hopeful in the long term this will prove to have been healthy for the country – that it will have highlighted the need for honesty and integrity in public office, notwithstanding the verdict.”
And as for its implications for the college students of America?
“I’m not sure that they understand what it means today,” Ziglar said, “but someday they will.”