Tim Steller: No job too small for Brewer, apparently

2013-04-05T00:00:00Z Tim Steller: No job too small for Brewer, apparentlyTim Steller Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
April 05, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Arizona's Department of Veterans Services has 366 employees.

It's one of at least 16 state departments, not to mention dozens of other state offices and agencies. Total state government employment: around 36,000.

Former state Rep. Terri Proud was set to become one of them - taking a relatively humble $40,000-a-year administrative assistant job - until a strange political eruption this week. Gov. Jan Brewer not only reached down into the bureaucracy to nix the hire but fired the man who wanted to hire Proud, the widely praised Veterans Services Director Joey Strickland.

The whole episode makes you wonder whether Brewer is carrying out retribution in a way that in the end, hurts Arizonans.

"I would hope that the governor is not micromanaging to the point that she's hiring and firing administrative assistants," Foothills Republican state Rep. Ethan Orr told me Wednesday. "My management style would be that if you hire somebody to run a department, you trust them to run the department."

Both Orr and Republican state Sen. Al Melvin described Strickland, who was originally appointed by Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano, as an excellent director.

"He's done a stellar job running that department," Melvin said. "I just cannot believe he's not there anymore."

The ax fell Tuesday, after Brewer learned of Proud's hiring through an Arizona-Sonora News Service story published that day in the Star. In the story, Proud questioned women's ability to serve in combat due to their menstrual cycles.

Strickland said, in a letter to Brewer, how that day, "your chief of staff and assistants came to my office and demanded my resignation."

Brewer spokesman Matt Benson did not back down from the decision when I spoke with him Thursday. He said Brewer had ordered Strickland not to hire Proud more than a year ago, when she was still in the Legislature. She would have had to resign from the Legislature to take the job then.

"There was a direct order given not to hire this individual," Benson told me. "The director chose for whatever reason to disregard that."

The job was not one with civil-service protection. Department of Administration spokesman Alan Ecker explained to me Thursday that many administrative assistants to directors are classified as at-will, or "uncovered," employees.

Let's be clear that Terri Proud was, in my mind, a terrible legislator - sanctimonious, strident and shallow. Among the lowlights of her term were several examples of pandering:

• She wrote a bill, later signed by Brewer, allowing public high schools to teach the Bible's influence on Western civilization.

• She pushed bills at Marana's behest trying to undercut Pima County's bond program, a program that this year was vindicated completely by a state audit.

• She told a constituent in an angry email exchange that women should be forced to watch an abortion before they may have one.

Brewer may well have disapproved of any number of Proud's political moves - Proud comes from the Republican Party's right wing and Brewer from the corporate faction. But does that justify Brewer going to such lengths to ensure she doesn't work in state government?

Benson would not give me a reason for Brewer's original order not to hire Proud, adding, "There's not a personal reason."

But how could you describe an order not to hire a certain person as anything but personal?

Benson did tell reporter Bethany Barnes that Proud's "questionable judgment was on display this week with some ill-chosen public remarks regarding women in the military."

For his part, Strickland said he did not understand when he offered Proud the job last month that Brewer's order was meant as a permanent command, but rather as one that covered Proud's time as a legislator.

Strickland is a retired Army lieutenant colonel as well as having five years in the director's job. He should have known he needed to check this hire out, not just because of Brewer's hesitation but also because of the possible appearance of political favoritism.

But from the information Brewer has made available, Proud was right Thursday, when she described the firing of her and Strickland as an "overreaction."

Not only does it mean the loss of a strong department head, but it raises the question of just how much the governor gets involved in state hiring decisions.

On StarNet: Go to azstarnet.com/politics to read more about local and state government and political news.

Contact columnist Tim Steller at tsteller@azstarnet.com or 807-8427. On Twitter @senyorreporter.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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