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Eileen Klein to become next ABOR president

Gov. Jan Brewer chief of staff Eileen Klein eyes Board of Regents presidency

Eileen Klein (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

It looks like Gov. Jan Brewer will be in the market for a new chief of staff

The Arizona Board of Regents  today voted unanimously to offer its presidency to Eileen Klein, who has served as Brewer’s chief of staff since 2009. The board spent about 30 minutes in executive session before moving into open session, where the regents quickly moved to make the offer to Klein.

Board Chairman Rick Myers said the regents were looking for someone who complements the three university presidents, has senior executive experience, is well known in the state and can understand the complexities of higher education. Klein, he said, fit the bill.

“Our feeling toward Eileen is she’s one of those very special individuals that has the ability to synthesize a tremendous amount of information, and from that, help to narrow in on what are actionable things that can be done that can actually create progress,” Myers told reporters after the meeting. “We felt that she had the executive experience and that kind of executive ability that, in combination with our three academic experts and strong university leaders in our three presidents, that that team of four people was just a great team to help us chart the future for higher education in Arizona.”

Klein said she is honored by the regents’ offer and thanked them for presenting her with the opportunity.

“Arizona’s universities are one of our state’s most important resources for improving the future of our state and the lives of Arizonans,” Klein said in an email to the Arizona Capitol Times. “I am excited at the prospect of playing a key role in further transforming our state’s university system to meet the needs of our growing economy, while making sure that higher education remains an affordable, attainable goal for Arizona families.”

If Klein accepts the offer, she will replace outgoing President Tom Anderes, who announced in July that he would not seek an extension of his three-year contract. Anderes’ contract expires in June 2013, but Myers said he expects Klein to take the reins well before then.

Myers said the regents will vote on Klein’s contract at its Dec. 6 meeting. He did not know exactly when Klein would join ABOR, but expected it to be by early 2013 at the latest.

“I want the governor and Eileen to work out what’s best for the state. So as the governor determines how much longer she’ll need Eileen’s support to get ready for the next legislative session and deal with some of the issues of the state, then we can certainly work that out,” Myers said. “So we have flexibility over the coming months for when Eileen could actually start. We really want to work with the Governor’s Office so that this is smooth transition.”

Klein has no background in higher education, but Myers said that isn’t a concern. She played a key role in many of Brewer’s education reforms. Klein worked closely with the board on its new performance-based funding model for the university system and oversaw a 2011 effort to overhaul the University of Arizona Health Network, according to ABOR.

Klein, who originally joined the administration as Brewer’s budget chief, was elevated to chief of staff in the fall of 2009, while Brewer was mired in a long-running budget fight with Legislature. Klein is regarded as having a very hands-on role on the Ninth Floor, and is widely credited with helping guide the administration through its rockiest point.

Before joining Brewer’s staff, Klein served as chief operating officer of Arizona Physicians IPA, a division of UnitedHealthcare. Klein has 15 years of experience in state government in Arizona and Florida, including as a policy director at the Arizona House of Representatives.

Lobbyist Chris Herstam, a former regent who served as chief of staff to former Gov. Fife Symington, called Klein a “class act” and said he expects her to be an outstanding ABOR president.

“Because of the rigors of her current job, it is natural for chiefs of staff to depart the Ninth Floor after a few years. I’m pleased Klein has decided to stay in the public policy arena. That is very good news for the state,” Herstam said.

Lobbyist Barry Aarons, who also served in the Symington administration, said Klein has done a tremendous job as chief of staff.

“It’s a really, really grinding thing to be up on the Ninth Floor, and I think Eileen has handled it as well as any anybody has,” Aarons said.

Whoever replaces Klein will have some big shoes to fill. The most frequently mentioned candidate is Brewer’s deputy chief of staff Scott Smith, who also serves as director of the Arizona Department of Administration. Smith originally joined the administration as Brewer’s lobbyist.

“He’s got an exceptional background to do that job,” Aarons said. “He’s got that same kind of talent that Eileen has.”

Other potential candidates include policy director Page Gonzales and gubernatorial lobbyist Michael Hunter.

Paul Senseman, who previously served as Brewer’s communications director, said there’s no shortage of talented people in the administration who could take over as chief of staff.

“Obviously, Eileen is a unique and incredibly talented individual who is adored, I know, by the governor and the administration in its entirety. But this administration has been very capable in attracting outstanding talent to lead it,” Senseman said.

Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson said the Governor’s Office had no comment on ABOR’s decision to offer Klein the job.

The regents have yet to negotiate Klein’s contract, but she appears to be in line for a significant pay raise. Anderes earns $300,000 a year as ABOR president. Klein currently earns $165,000 a year.

Regent Mark Killian and Robert Padilla, the president of Clifton Consulting Group in Tucson, were the other two finalists for the position.

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