As Gov. Jan Brewer prepares for a session that will be dominated by budget deficits and taxes, she’ll have a new, experienced hand to help guide her following a recent staff shake-up that sent several of her top policy advisors to state agencies.
Brewer named Michael Hunter, the Senate majority’s senior policy advisor for budget and finance, as her new legislative liaison. Hunter will replace Scott Smith, whose long-rumored move to the Arizona Department of Administration happened on Dec. 17, when Brewer tapped him to replace interim director David Raber.
Christy Smith, the governor’s deputy counsel, will take a similar position at the Department of Administration as well. Human services advisor Chistina Estes-Werther will take over Smith’s spot, while Steven Killian, a partner in a Mesa agriculture and real estate business, will join the Governor’s Office as an assistant policy advisor.
Some Capitol insiders questioned the appointment of Hunter, who is known as more of a policy wonk than lobbyist. But others said he would be a good fit.
“This guy is solid as a rock,” said lobbyist Chris Herstam, of the firm Lewis & Roca. “The dominating issue for the next few years will be finances and the historic budget deficit. Hunter will fit like a glove on those issues.”
Hunter isn’t the natural lobbyist that Smith is, but he has lobbying experience with the Board of Regents and worked closely with lawmakers during his time with the Arizona Tax Research Association, Herstam said. And he will work closely with top staffers like Richard Bark, Eileen Klein, Brian McNeil and Paul Senseman, who have extensive experience working with the Legislature as well.
“You would’ve been correct if it had been two years ago and an inexperienced Brewer was becoming governor. You would’ve needed maybe somebody with … instant special lobbying talents. But you’ve got to look at the whole picture here,” Herstam said.
Senate Chief of Staff Wendy Baldo said Hunter will help maintain a good working relationship between the Senate and the Governor’s Office.
“I think it was a wise move on the governor’s part to pick Michael up,” Baldo said. “He’s very talented and he has a combination of kills that is difficult to replace.”
Lawmakers who worked with Hunter during his four years at the Senate said they were sorry to see him go, but said he was a good pickup for the Governor’s Office.
Sen. Jack Harper called Hunter one of the most knowledgable people at the Legislature.
“He had a wealth of knowledge. The Legislature always seems to lose some of their best people to the executive branch,” said Harper, who will move to the House in January.
Rumors that Smith would leave the Ninth Floor for the Department of Administration, where he served as deputy director of operations before joining Brewer’s staff, began swirling in Oct. 2009 after Chief of Staff Kevin Tyne left the Governor’s Office. His departure left many observers wondering if other staffers would leave as well.
One insider speculated that Smith would be the last major staffer to leave before the 2011 legislative session. Another insider, however, said there is a lot of speculation at the Capitol that Bark, Brewer’s deputy chief of staff for policy, and Senseman, her communications director, would return to the private sector soon.
Senseman said he would still be with the Governor’s Office when the 2011 session begins in January. But he wouldn’t comment on whether any key staffers, including him, would leave after the session ends.
“Lord willing, we’ll see,” Senseman said when asked whether he would remain past the 2011 session. “We don’t make any predictions or speculate about where staffing is going to be until we have an announcement on it.”
– Reporter Luige Del Puerto contributed to this story