Eileen Klein has made a significant mark on state government in the three years she’s served as Gov. Jan Brewer’s chief of staff, and if she leaves to head the Arizona Board of Regents she will be sorely missed at the Capitol. But her departure is not expected to bring many changes in the way the Governor’s Office operates.
When Klein was promoted from Brewer’s budget director to chief of staff, it was viewed by many at the Capitol as a sea change. Klein took over as Brewer’s top staffer during a tumultuous time when the new governor seemed to have trouble getting her footing. That time was defined by a prolonged fight with the Republican-controlled Legislature over the budget and the Republican governor’s proposed sales tax increase.
Things are far more stable now, and most don’t expect a wholesale change in the way the Governor’s Office operates.
“The governor has established kind of what her direction is and what her style is,” said lobbyist Barry Aarons, who served in the administration of former Gov. Fife Symington. “That’s not going to change. And I seriously doubt the new chief of staff will be from outside the administration, so it’s going to be somebody who is knowledgeable about what her modus operandi is and, I suspect, someone who has been around for a while. I don’t see a whole bunch of change up there. I don’t even see a change in style.”
Senate President Steve Pierce, R-Prescott, said Klein will be missed. But her departure won’t change the relationship between the administration and the Legislature, he said.
“Whoever comes along afterwards, I believe we’ll still get along just fine,” Pierce said. “There’s a lot of good people up there.”
The Board of Regents voted on Oct. 10 to offer its president’s position to Klein. Klein has not yet said whether she will accept the position. ABOR Chairman Rick Myers said he hopes to have a contract completed by early December.
Like Aarons, other Capitol observers said they expect the next chief of staff to come from within the ranks of the Governor’s Office, which would ensure continuity as Brewer heads into her final two years as governor.
Most view Scott Smith, who serves a dual role as Brewer’s deputy chief of staff and director of the Arizona Department of Administration, as the top contender. Earlier in Brewer’s tenure, Smith served as her official lobbyist.
Page Gonzales, Brewer’s director of policy, and Michael Hunter, her lobbyist and tax policy adviser, are also mentioned frequently as possible replacements for Klein.
“If I were a betting man, I would bet that she would probably go with one of her very apt internal people,” said lobbyist Kurt Davis, another former Symington staffer. “And I think from that standpoint, they’ve been working cohesively as a team for a long period of time. So from that standpoint, I think you’d kind of see full steam ahead.”
Brewer said she doesn’t think much will change in terms of the way her administration operates if Klein leaves.
“We’ll always miss Eileen,” Brewer said. “She’s been stellar. She’s been wonderful. She guided us through some very difficult times, which I’m very grateful to her for. But we will move on and we will get people there that will do the same great job, moving Arizona forward.
I think that you deal with people with different personalities and different ways of managing and different ways of communication. But we all want the same thing. We want a great state and I think that we will have that happening.”
Joe Kanefield, who served as Brewer’s general counsel, said Klein’s departure will be felt, and that whoever replaces her will have big shoes to fill. But they’ll also have the blueprint she’s established, he said.
“I think she set in place a good model for success. And I would assume that whoever replaces her will continue to follow her lead,” said Kanefield, who now works for the law firm Ballard Spahr.
That doesn’t mean things won’t change at all. Lobbyist Chris Herstam, Symington’s former chief of staff, said Klein’s departure won’t be disruptive, but people will have to get used to a chief of staff with a different style.
“Stylistic changes can impact accessibility and can impact how quickly calls are returned to outsiders,” Herstam said. “A chief of staff’s stylistic change can impact cabinet meetings. It can impact relationships with agency directors. And a new chief of staff can even impact relationships with the Legislature. However, I stress again, there are talented people already on the Ninth Floor that still have great relationships with the Legislature and a keen understanding of state government.”
Former House Speaker Kirk Adams said the Legislature’s relationship with Brewer was “pretty rough” early in her administration. Brewer vetoed several proposed budgets and even sued the Legislature.
“Part of the problem with that was the communication from the Ninth Floor wasn’t very good,” Adams said. “It was very spotty. That changed when Eileen became chief of staff. She had an in-depth understanding of the Legislature and knew all the personalities. That, in hindsight, was the beginning of being able to actually put forth some responsible and doable budget solutions.”
The Brewer administration, which had been floundering for its first eight months or so, bounced back after Klein took over. Brewer and the Legislature eventually reached a budget deal that included a successful special election for the governor’s proposed temporary sales tax hike. The governor became a national figure after signing the illegal immigration bill SB1070. And Brewer was able to push through an ambitious personnel reform bill.
Davis called Klein one of the most influential chiefs of staff in modern Arizona history. The types of changes that occurred under the Brewer administration can’t happen without a governor who sets out ambitious objectives, he said. But they also can’t happen without someone to run the mechanics as well.
“Eileen has driven policy initiatives,” David said. “She has had a major impact … in dealing with arguably some of the worst budget conditions in state history, as well as personnel reform and dealing with the immigration issue. She has been involved in significant public policy for the state. This has not been a caretaker administration. This has been a change administration.”