When Eileen Klein moved into her new office as Gov. Jan Brewer’s chief of staff, the first decoration she put up was a Hopi warrior maiden Kachina.
In Hopi lore, the warrior maiden was in the field braiding her hair when she realized her village was under attack. She grabbed her father’s bow and arrows and rushed to the defense of her people, defeating the enemy at the edge of the village.
It’s symbolic, in a way, of Klein’s new role.
“I really like the symbolism, so I like to have her close by. I find her to be inspirational,” Klein said. “I think it’s a good analogy for what’s going on with the state, certainly with the challenges of the deficit and the difficulties of the economy.”
Klein has replaced Kevin Tyne as Brewer’s chief of staff, and now must rush to the defense of an administration that has been under siege for nearly 10 months.
But unlike the maiden in the story, Klein was not standing idly by when her time came to defend the village. An inveterate policy wonk with years of experience in various facets of government, Klein is described by colleagues as having a deeply analytical mind, strong organizational skills, intimate knowledge of the legislative process and a negotiating style well suited to maintaining cordial relations with people, even during tense discussions.
“She’s just the right person at the right time,” said Jake Logan, who worked with Klein on the House staff and at United Healthcare, where he serves as vice president of state government affairs, a position held before him by Klein.
Klein grew up in Gainesville, Fla., but attended Florida State University. She said she decided against her hometown school, the University of Florida, because she wanted a chance to forge her own path away from home, and because FSU had a program that allowed her to combine her studies of business and French.
In Tallahassee, she began a career in government service, working for Florida’s equivalent to Arizona’s Registrar of Contractors.
After transferring to Arizona State University to finish her master’s degree in 1995, she took a job with the Auditor General’s Office and later with the state House of Representatives staff. She later became chief operating officer for Arizona Physicians IPA by United Healthcare and also worked for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
She joined Brewer’s transition team in December, and a month later was named director of the Governor’s Office of Strategic Planning and Budgeting. In addition to her role as budget chief, she took over as Brewer’s finance adviser when Tom Manos resigned in July.
Glenn Hamer, president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said Klein is the ideal person to serve as chief of staff at a time when the governor is facing possibly the greatest financial crisis in state history. Klein not only has an unparalleled understanding of policy and budget issues, he said, but has a keen ability to explain complex issues to others.
“It’s not a surprise to me that she collected responsibility and jobs while she was at the Governor’s Office,” Hamer said.
Klein’s sharp focus is manifested when she talks about her operating style, which involves uniting people under a strategic plan with clearly defined responsibilities and goals, as well as what she describes as “a little bit of business discipline.”
“I like work plans. I like progress reports. I like deadlines. I think people are very motivated by those. And I think people are highly motivated by knowing that if they’re given an assignment, that’s their contribution and they can bring it back and that their opinions are going to be valued,” Klein said.
But when colleagues talk about Klein’s greatest strengths, it’s her keen analytical mind for policy and intricate knowledge of the budget process that gets mentioned first.
“In my opinion, she is the top policy mind in the state, particularly when it comes to issues related to the budget,” Hamer said. “It’s not just being wonkish. … She’s also very, very good at explaining complicated policies.”
Rep. Jim Weiers, a former House speaker, said Klein is one of the smartest people he’s ever worked with, and said she is uniquely qualified to serve as Brewer’s chief of staff during these troubled days at the Capitol.
“There is nobody else in the state who has any more experience and knowledge as to the understanding of the state budget. Nobody,” Weiers said.
Klein’s wealth of experience in government will come in handy as the governor seeks to jumpstart the budget talks that ended in August after lawmakers narrowly rejected the ballot referral the governor sought for her proposed temporary sales tax increase. The drawn-out legislative session and Brewer’s partial veto of the budget left a lot of raw feelings among both Democrats and her fellow Republicans.
Some pinned the blame on Tyne, whose alleged micromanaging of the Governor’s Office was rumored to have caused the resignations of two staffers and hampered Brewer’s agenda. But Klein’s ascension to chief of staff is being viewed with optimism in the Legislature.
Jason Bagley, government affairs manager for Intel Corp. in Arizona and vice president of public affairs for the Arizona Chamber, said Klein has an amicable style and knowledge of the issues that sits well with the people with whom she negotiates.
“You never walk away from a meeting with Eileen feeling upset, even if you didn’t get your way. I think she knows how to listen, and I think that she carefully considers other points of view,” Bagley said.
Legislative Democrats, who often expressed frustration with Brewer during the session, have a high opinion of Klein after numerous budget discussions with her and Manos. Rep. Steve Farley, a Tucson Democrat, said Klein made the Democrats feel like their opinions were being considered, and called her “one of the bright lights of the Brewer administration.”
Democratic Sen. Ken Cheuvront described Klein a tough negotiator, but one who is extremely knowledgeable about the issues and easy to communicate with.
“Since (former Gov. Janet) Napolitano left, it’s been difficult to keep an ongoing dialogue with the eighth and ninth floors, and I think people feel that with Eileen being there that it’s going to be a little more easy to have an open communication,” the Phoenix Democrat said. “I don’t mind somebody who’s a tough negotiator, as long as they’re making arguments based on reality and facts, not just on ideology.”
Klein speaks well of Tyne, but acknowledged that she brings more legislative experience to the table than Brewer’s ex-chief of staff.
After working on the executive side of government in Florida and Arizona, where she oversaw and audited the implementation of policy, Klein said she decided to join the House staff because she wanted to help formulate policy from the front end of the process.
Klein said Tyne was the right person for the job in January, when Brewer’s primary focus was making the transition from secretary of state as she moved to replace Napolitano.
“I think the difference is that I have had some direct experience with the Legislature that Kevin’s background did not afford him,” Klein said. “But organizations need different leaders at different times, and I commend Kevin for the work he did during the transition. He got us well positioned through a very unique time in the state’s history, and so now I think I have a skill set that can help the governor going into the next part of her administration.”
One Democrat who did not always get along with Klein was Napolitano, who had a somewhat memorable exchange with the then-House staffer early in her governorship. During a budget discussion in 2003, Napolitano, who famously preferred staffers to stay quietly on the sidelines while she dealt directly with other elected officials, was unimpressed when Klein took an active role in the discussion.
“Eileen spoke up … and there was some kind of exchange,” said Logan, then a fellow House staffer who was also present during the discussion. “I think she is appropriately aggressive in terms of advocating for her boss, but not in a bad way. I think she’s really just a good, honest straight shooter.”
A former Napolitano administration official said Klein was used to leading discussions among House staffers. When Klein started to do the same during the budget discussion, it didn’t jibe well with Napolitano, also a policy wonk.
Napolitano thought Klein was out of line, the official said. But former Rep. Rob Robson, who was speaker pro tem at the time, said Klein stood her ground.
“I believe that’s probably why her successes have come over the several years since,” Robson said.
Weiers agreed that Klein can be a tenacious negotiator.
“When she knows that she is right and can prove it by the facts that she holds, she’s pretty much of a bulldog,” Weiers said. “I don’t see it as attitude. I see that as a person who’s confirmed of what they know.”
Klein is likely to spend endless of hours of being cooped up in the Executive Tower during negotiations and meetings. But when she’s away from the office, Klein likes to spend her free time outdoors. Klein’s father was a geologist, and as a child she spent a lot of time accompanying him on the job. Today, she still relaxes outdoors, and enjoys hiking, jogging, bicycling and playing tennis.
“It’s how I recharge,” she said.
When Klein relaxes indoors, she enjoys cooking at home or going out to see live bands. Klein is a big jazz fan, and the walls of her office are adorned with pictures of musicians. “The Valley, I think, is a terrific place for that. I think we have a lot of great acts come through and a lot of great venues to go see them,” she said.
While she is incredibly devoted to her job, Klein said it’s important to remember to unwind as well. She is unmarried with no children, but said she has “someone special” in her life and she spends a lot of her free time with her friends Klein may want to enjoy what little spare time she’ll have as chief of staff, because the coming weeks and months promise to be anything but relaxing as the Brewer administration prepares for at least one, and possibly more, special sessions before returning in January to tackle what may be an even greater budget crisis in 2011.
Even if Klein is the right person at the right time, Robson worries that some people may have some unrealistic expectations, given the depths of the problems facing Arizona.
“My only concern is I hope that the world doesn’t want to put the entire burden of everything that’s going on in state government on her shoulders,” Robson said.
But if that burden has to be placed on someone’s shoulders, Weiers is glad Brewer chose Klein to carry the load.
“If anybody can help, I’m sure she is the one,” Weiers said. “And I’m very glad that she has this opportunity.”