Reports have been circulating for several days about a legislative lobbying push to have Gov-elect Asa Hutchinson choose former legislator and one-time Huckabee budget director Ted Thomas to succeed the retiring Richard Weiss as director of the state Finance and Administration Department.
Some quick thoughts on that:
* COMPANY YOU KEEP: Thomas’ supporters include Sen. Jason Rapert, not known for cool-headed judgment. Also Sen. Bart Hester, who believes, as Rapert does, in political blackmail. You punish enemies. Rapert vows to get judges whose rulings he doesn’t like, for example. Hester has vowed to vote against University of Arkansas budgets because of statements Chancellor David Gearhart has made supportive of Fayetteville’s civil rights ordinance. Hester and Rapert, big Second Amendment men, don’t think much of the 1st Amendment. Do they think Thomas is cut from the same cloth?
* PARTISANSHIP: A Republican administration is going to be Republican. But the state has been spoiled by Weiss, who’s negotiated administrations from Clinton to Tucker to Huckabee to Beebe. Thomas is an intensely partisan political consultant. Many in the legislature hired him to run slash-and-burn campaigns against political opponents, in primaries and against Democrats. That’s the nature of political campaigns these days. But it’s a fair question to ask whether the state’s top fiscal officer can set aside that history in overseeing a vast financial department that must work with people of all political coloration. Thomas will be no match for Weiss in the personality department, even admirers of his abilities agree. An ability to work with others (though no doubt having a velvet fist), has served Weiss well.
* ACCESS: if this is shaping up as a done deal (which it seems to be since, Thomas was a top campaign consultant to Hutchinson), the new governor should require from Thomas a promise to operate as Weiss has operated. He’s accessible to a fault. When mistakes are made he admits them. I’ll have a quick way to assess things. In the Weiss administration, a call to his office is promptly put through to him unless he’s on the phone or in a meeting. If he is engaged, he calls back. Or one of his assistants does. Let’s get strictly personal about it: Will Ted Thomas take my phone calls? That has not been his practice in the past.