By  on December 15, 2009

WASHINGTON — Jock Nash, a textile industry advocate, Washington counsel and voice for South Carolina textile magnate Roger Milliken for almost 25 years, is retiring.

Nash, who spent virtually his entire career working as the torchbearer — some would say flamethrower — for Milliken, said it was time to “detox” from the Washington political scene.

Milliken, an enigmatic billionaire and chairman of Milliken & Co., has wielded influence and power in the capital’s politics for more than 50 years, endorsing and funding conservative political candidates and shaping the debate over the domestic consequences of globalization and free trade.

Nash has been described as a maverick in his own right, and his retirement at the end of the year is seen as a loss by many defenders of the U.S. textile industry.

“The textile industry is losing its best advocate,” said former Sen. Ernest “Fritz” Hollings, a South Carolina Democrat who served from 1966 to 2005.

Nash, a former Marine Corps officer and Vietnam veteran, attended the University of California at Berkeley on the G.I. Bill and received a bachelor’s degree in political science. He then graduated from Georgetown University Law School.

Nash began working for Milliken, who was not available for comment, as his Washington counsel in 1985. With other industry leaders, he launched a five-year campaign to pressure the federal government to put more restrictions on apparel imports, lobbying for three textile bills that Congress passed three times. Each time the legislation was passed, however, it was vetoed by presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

During Nash’s tenure, the government enacted 10 free trade agreements, two regional free trade pacts and established five trade preference programs, giving hundreds of developing countries duty free advantages to the U.S. market. In addition, the member countries of the World Trade Organization agreed to a 10-year phaseout and elimination of apparel and textile quotas, removing a substantial protection for the domestic textile industry. Global trade went quota-free in 2005.

Nash said the North American Free Trade Agreement between the U.S., Mexico and Canada, and the establishment of the WTO were major blows to the industry.

“It was supposed to create 2 million jobs and we lost 2 million jobs,” Hollings said. “That is the most memorable moment I’ve had with Jock. It’s the one we lost and ever since then, it’s been draining everything.”

The U.S. textile and apparel industry employed about 1.7 million people in 1990, but that number has dwindled to some 404,900, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Although Nash and Milliken were on the losing side of trade battles, their efforts bought some time for the textile industry.

“The pressure from the industry clearly slowed down the so-called globalization, but we understood globalization for what it really was,” Nash said. “It wasn’t some sort of inexorable force that cannot be stopped.”

Auggie Tantillo, executive director of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, said, “Without the strength and conviction of folks like Jock, the final deal that would have been struck on a number of things, including the textile chapters of NAFTA, [and the Central American Free Trade Agreement] and preference programs, would have been more heavily lopsided toward the interests of offshore producers and the importing community.”

In retirement, Nash, 63, plans to travel the country on his new Ducati motorcycle and continue lobbying for changes in campaign finance laws, which he argued have corrupted the political system.

“As our country has run out of the ability to borrow, the only way we are going to redevelop is through creating wealth domestically,” Nash said. “And you can only create wealth domestically with farming, fishing, manufacturing and mining. Those are the only four things…and that is what America has lost through all of this.”

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