Speculation begins over who will be Gov. Hutchinson’s next chief of staff

by Steve Brawner ([email protected]) 281 views 

The governor’s chief of staff is one of the most important positions in state government, and Gov. Asa Hutchinson is looking for a new one.

On Monday, Michael Lamoureux, announced he was stepping down from that post at the end of May. Asked if a potential replacement is ready, Hutchinson said, “No, I wanted to give some time to think about it and might take advantage of that opportunity to restructure the office or at least consider it, so we’ll see where that goes.”

Hutchinson could look to his current senior staff. Jon Gilmore, his deputy chief of staff and Hutchinson’s 2014 campaign manager, is young but experienced and respected. Senior advisor Betty Guhman was Hutchinson’s chief of staff when he was under secretary for Border and Transportation Security at the Department of Homeland Security in 2003-05, and then was a partner with Hutchinson in the Hutchinson Group, a consulting firm.

One Republican officeholder who said he did not “have reliable information” said, “I think there are only really two names that would make sense to me, and that would be the deputy, Jonathan Gilmore, or the governor’s longtime senior advisor, Betty Guhman. Anybody outside of those two would be a surprise.”

Another Republican officeholder, however, saw Gilmore and another senior staff member, Director of Policy Kelly Eichler, as the most likely choices to come from Hutchinson’s senior staff. Guhman has years of experience with Hutchinson but only came to the Capitol after his election in November 2014.

Senate Majority Leader Jim Hendren, R-Gravette, said, “I know there’s a couple of different options. There’s some in-house. There’s some outside, so I know he’s looking at those things, and he’ll probably get some input from others.”

Hendren said the new chief of staff will have big shoes to fill. The chief of staff and deputy chief of staff must advise the governor, interact with agencies and organizations, and work with the Legislature – an area where Hendren says Lamoureux excelled. Before serving as chief of staff, Lamoureux was a state legislator and Senate president pro tempore.

Hendren said the ability to work with legislators is especially important for Hutchinson, who came to his office with no experience in the state Capitol – unlike his predecessor, former Gov. Mike Beebe, a longtime lawmaker. That means a legislator could be considered.

“Obviously, his first one was a legislator, and I don’t think there’s any doubt that he’s probably looking at some members of the General Assembly and to see is there one of those that would be an appropriate fit. So I think it’s within the realm of possibility, but I can’t say that there’s anyone that’s definitely getting a hard look right now, but I think it’s possible,” Hendren said.

Asked if he might serve in that role, Hendren, who is Hutchinson’s nephew, laughed and said, “I think it’s probably illegal anyway, so no.”

Hutchinson said Monday he could consider a staff reorganization. Hendren said the chief of staff and deputy chief of staff can share many of the same roles.

“How they structure that, whether that changes, or whether it continues to be the same, I don’t know,” Hendren said. “But I think those are the roles that whether one person does that or they split that between the chief and the deputy, I don’t know.”

Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, said he and the governor have discussed traits and personalities but not specific people. He said the chief of staff needs to be loyal and able to work the process. Legislative experience is helpful but not required. Dismang has the same position, president pro tempore, that Lamoureux had before he became chief of staff. So what about him?

“It is not me. … Yeah, that’s settled,” he said.

Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, believes the governor has a succession plan in mind. Collins said the recent controversy regarding the Little Rock School District would make him, if he were governor, “want to do this very carefully so that I don’t create any kind of kerfuffle.”

Collins was referring to Education Commissioner Johnny Key’s decision not to renew Superintendent Baker Kurrus’ contract and instead to hire Bentonville Superintendent Mike Poore. The surprise appointment has led to protests in Little Rock.

Describing the type of person who could serve as chief of staff, Collins said, “I would hope that that person would understand both the legislative things of this business as well as the executive side, somebody that is very collaborative, and then somebody that can manage a lot of balls in the air. Legislators tend to be fairly high maintenance individuals. When you’re in a senior role like that, you’ve got a lot of things coming at you very fast. There’s lots of moving parts. And you’re part of a relatively new administration that’s already in motion doing lots of big things.”