The Lobbyist Shuffle

by Talk Business & Politics ([email protected]) 349 views 

The arrival of term limits for state legislators was expected to shift more power away from the legislative branch and into the hands of longtime lobbyists around the state Capitol.

One of the more interesting developments, however, is the changing of the guard taking place among prominent business lobbyists.

Two of the biggest changes involve Bill Phillips and Randy Wyatt.

Phillips is the well-known former schmoozer for Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield. His job was thought by many to be in danger two years ago after he got beat up by the ?any willing provider” managed health care legislation that the Blues fought unsuccessfully.

He survived that ordeal and worked the 1997 legislative session, but his interest in leading the Arkansas Poultry Federation was probably either the cause for his firing at Blue Cross, a contributing reason or a timely excuse. Separations between employers and employees usually involve many extenuating circumstances or issues.

“Then there’s Randy Wyatt, who is leaving the lobbying ranks of Arkla Inc. to succeed lobbyist extraordinaire Don Allen at the Poultry Federation.

The Poultry Federation job was one of the most hotly contested and sought-after positions I’ve seen in a long time. Former Gov. Jim Guy Tucker’s chief of staff, Neal Turner, probably deserves the award for lobbying the hardest for one of the premier lobbying jobs.

“Wyatt has the seemingly daunting task of succeeding Allen, but you have to wonder just how difficult the poultry job is. Members of the Poultry Federation control more jobs and can have more impact on the Arkansas economy than perhaps any other group. Legislators with chicken houses and poultry processing plants in their backyards have little choice but to watch out for poultry interests. The toughest part for Wyatt may be keeping all the poultry people happy.

Plenty of other lobbyists will still be around looking out for their traditional interests. They can take relative comfort in knowing they will have the same key players in the state Senate to deal with. It will be a new day in the House, with at least 50 new members.

It will be worth monitoring to see how lobbying forces attack the challenge of breaking in a new set of legislative players in a short period of time next year.

Early evidence shows we might expect an overhaul at the state Department of Human Services.

“That’s really the only reasonable explanation why outgoing director Tom Dalton, who is moving into the role of welfare czar for Gov. Mike Huckabee, would ask for the resignations of 52 upper-level employees.

The stated reason for Dalton’s request was ?business as usual,” and that makes no sense whatsoever. How many chief executive officers unilaterally put their entire staff of upper-level management on notice as they walk out the door?

Not many, unless there is a sale or consolidation or downsizing effort in play. Surely that’s what is really going on in this case.

The move gives new boss Lee Frazier the opportunity to put his own people into place, eliminate positions, lower salaries, consolidate positions and/or restructure management of the department.

Frazier is an interesting choice to lead the state’s largest and most complex agency. He left one of the top positions at St. Vincent Infirmary Medical Center in Little Rock after being passed up for a second time when the chief executive officer’s job opened. He was part of the management team that helped downsize St. Vincent as hospitals were beginning to cope with the effects of manage health care and increased competition.

With his background in hospital administration, he can be presumed to understand the complexities of Medicaid funding. He also knows how to look for inefficiencies and work past the status quo that government enjoys so much.

Dalton, Frazier and Huckabee would have been better served by offering a better explanation for the action. But now that the damage is done, it’s a rare opportunity to rethink the operations of the monster known as DHS.