Sunday or no, University of Central Arkansas President Tom Courtway got back to me on questions I’d asked relative to the hiring of Sen. Gilbert Baker as a $132,000-a-year assistant to the president for duties including lobbying state and local governments.
Baker was part of a majority resolution of a new lobbying bill in 2011 that exempted term-limited legislators such as Baker from a new one-year cooling off period for legislators who want to become lobbyists. Baker, and now Courtway, insist that Baker won’t immediately begin lobbying when he leaves office in January. Courtway said Baker will have ample other duties at the school, where he once taught music and served in administrative roles for more than 20 years.
“My intention is not to have Gilbert drinking coffee and walking the hallways of the Capitol every day,” said Courtway, who as a former legislator is familiar with the ways of the professional lobbying corps. Much lobbying is not about solicitation of support for specific legislation, but building friends and credibility for when that support IS sought.
Courtway said he might well seek advice from Baker on legislative matters. This is what the rule says in defining lobbying:
“Lobbying” means to communicate directly or solicit others to communicate with any public servant to influence legislative or administrative action.
Communicating with any public servant, including a public servant employed by UCA on strategy for influencing legislation, sounds like lobbying to me. Courtway views the rule differently. But he said he’d review it. “We’re going to comply with the law.” He said if he decided Baker’s help WAS needed in lobbying, he’d register. He noted that he’d registered to lobby himself, but had rarely made an appearance at the Capitol. He said he didn’t expect to change Baker’s position on lobbying as soon as the start of the legislature in January.
But, in short: There is no fixed time on the “cooling off” period.
Courtway said he had not advertised the job opening. He said advertising was the more typical practice, but it was not always necessary and “this was one of those times.” He indicated he’d decided early on that because of Baker’s support for UCA and knowledge of the institution that he was the right pick for the job and an application process would have been a waste of time. He said he’d started talking to Baker about the job during the summer and firmed it up four to six weeks ago. He said there was little in the public record about their discussions, save an e-mail he’d sent to the human resources department about unfilled job slots in his office.
Courtway said Baker, who had tenure as a teacher at UCA, likely would apply for tenure again. But he said that was an academic matter, outside his purview, and would go through the normal procedure within the relevant department. He said it had become practice in recent years at UCA – though not always followed in the past there or at other Arkansas colleges – that administrators who had tenure if they left those jobs to return to faculty slots would take a reduction in pay to the faculty level, not keep the administrative pay. But this is a matter of practice under the current provost, not institutional rule.
Courtway said he saw no conflict in hiring a legislator, even a legislator who’d handled budgetary legislation for UCA. Nor did he see a problem in questions I raised about privileges Baker had enjoyed under a previous administration.
“I made a good decision for UCA,” Courtway said.
He said he’d talked briefly with Baker about some of other political activities, ranging from leadership of a group that fought organized labor to moral issues to a movement to make Arkansas courts more pro-business. He said Baker naturally had a 1st Amendment right to participate and speak on any issue and a legal obligation to report it if he received outside compensation. He said however, that he expected to be informed about it should Baker get involved in other political activities. Courtway said he expected Baker’s time to be devoted mostly to UCA.
Baker himself still hasn’t responded to my questions.