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Politically loyal staffers get sharp pay increases under former House speaker

 

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Just as he was preparing to leave office, then-House Speaker David Gowan announced that every employee of the Arizona House of Representatives would receive a modest 3 percent salary increase, a boost he said was “a gesture of appreciation and to keep up with inflation.”

But records show a handful of staffers who made six figure salaries, many of them loyal to Gowan, received much bigger raises under Gowan’s tenure.

The Arizona Capitol Times requested the records while Gowan was still in office, but they weren’t provided until the current House Speaker, J.D. Mesnard, took over.

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David Gowan

The records illustrate a pattern of spending that came under question by Gowan’s own caucus.

The records show that between Gowan’s ascension to speaker in January 2015 and his departure from office in November 2016, the former speaker increased the cost of payroll for top House departments by 25 percent, and gave five-figure raises to several of his most loyal political employees.

While many of the House salary increases were commensurate with new titles and responsibilities, some of the chamber’s top staff, including several political consultants hired by Gowan and let go before Mesnard took over this year, received raises without taking on new roles or responsibilities.

House GOP spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham, who departed from the chamber to work on the Donald Trump presidential campaign and is now spokeswoman to First Lady Melania Trump, saw her salary at the House jump from $100,000 to $109,000, in less than two-years as a House employee. Grisham’s title and responsibilities remained unchanged in that time.

Others received significant raises with only minor title changes associated with the increases.

Brett Mecum, Gowan’s close longtime friend and one of his first hires to the House, started as the speaker’s strategy and communications employee, a position paying $100,000. But by the end of Gowan’s two-year term, Mecum was making $116,000 as Gowan’s second deputy chief of staff for external affairs.

Dan Godzich, policy adviser to then-Majority Leader Steve Montenegro, added the role of education policy adviser to his title, and received a $13,000 bump, bringing him up to $103,000.

Several Democratic staffers also received sizeable raises under the previous speaker, including the minority party’s general counsel, Rhonda Barnes, who saw a 10-percent bump, bringing her to $110,000, and House Democratic spokeswoman Murphy Hebert, who also received a 10 percent increase bringing her to $79,000. Even with the raises, those positions were paid far below the same positions on the Republican side.

And the top staffers Gowan hired already came in at a significantly higher pay rate than their predecessors, part of a pattern of spending that in Gowan’s first four months as speaker, led half of his caucus to sign a letter calling for oversight on his spending of the chamber’s $14 million budget.

For his part, when Mesnard took over as the chamber’s leader in January, he shrunk costs of top House partisan staff.

While Mesnard’s chief of staff, Michael Hunter, earns $158,000 – the highest of any House staffer in recent years, and significantly more than previous House Chief of Staff Tami Stowe, who earned $134,000 – most of the other top partisan staff earns less than their predecessors.

Amilyn Pierce, the chamber’s deputy chief of staff, earns $100,000, in comparison to the $132,000 and $116,000 that Gowan’s two deputy chiefs of staff earned. Josh Kredit, the House’s top lawyer, earns $120,000, compared to the $132,000 that former House lawyer Rob Ellman was paid. And House Director of Communications Matthew Specht earns $90,000, a sharp decrease from his predecessor, Grisham, who left the chamber with a $109,000 annual salary.

In total, House majority staff salary costs have decreased by more than $116,000 under Mesnard, who actually hired one more full-time employee than Gowan had.

Those savings cancelled out the additional $25,000 in spending on Democratic partisan staff this year.

Mesnard said he offered Democrats more money from the House budget to provide their partisan staffers with pay increases, in an attempt to create some level of parity between Democratic and Republican pay.

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