What (and who) is in the governor's cabinet?
Appointees for big agencies and key staff decisions will have a direct impact on your life. Here are the people you need to know.
The people who surround the state’s top elected official — her department and agency heads and the staffers — are nearly as influential as the governor herself.
Agency leaders and key staffers will, in many ways, more directly shape state policies than the governor who signs them. They decide how laws are implemented. Their leadership will determine whether longtime workers stay on the job or quit. And that affects the kind of service you receive from your government.
While appointments and staffing decisions sometimes seem like inside baseball, it’s exactly the opposite: You’re far more likely to interact with a staffer or agency head than you are to get an audience with the governor (or any other elected official, for that matter). It’s not just that you go to state agencies for services like driver’s licenses or construction permits — you breathe the air and drink the water here.
If they do a good job, you’ll probably never hear about the people who lead Arizona’s largest and most important agencies. But if something goes wrong, you’ll almost certainly know their names.
“Agency director appointments enable a governor to really shape state government and the way it interacts with Arizonans,” Beth Lewallen, our go-to policy wonk and owner of Italicized Consulting, said. “These agencies oversee many aspects of our day-to-day lives, from air quality to state park facilities to prison operations and protections for our most vulnerable populations.”
Gov. Katie Hobbs, whose office didn’t respond to requests to talk for this article, has already tapped many of her top staff and agency appointments, though some big ones, like the Department of Corrections and the Department of Administration, are still outstanding. (A full list of appointees and key hires so far is at the end of this newsletter.)
So far, Hobbs’ picks have largely aligned with her background and priorities, though she’s kept a few Ducey appointees on as well, at least for the time being. Her inner circle is largely made up of staffers from the Secretary of State’s Office. She’s selected people who share her background in social services nonprofits to lead agencies that provide those services to Arizonans.
Former Gov. Doug Ducey’s agency heads reflected his government-as-business philosophy and largely came from the corporate world. By contrast, Hobbs’ approach has been to “select someone who's been at the table for a long time rather than put someone new at the table,” as one Capitol source put it.
Hobbs will face a much more hostile crowd than Ducey as she attempts to get her nominees to lead state agencies confirmed in the Republican-controlled state Senate. Ducey’s appointments typically sailed through — he was a Republican governor seeking confirmation from a Republican-led Senate. Now, the Democratic governor will have to contend with a farther-right state Senate at a heated moment in state politics. Already, some lawmakers (though not the ones who vote on confirmations) have said they don’t want some of her picks confirmed. Still, appointees can serve for a year without confirmation.
“Some of them will have a particularly difficult time, but I would also predict that the vast majority of them will not,” former Ducey chief of staff Kirk Adams told us. “I would predict that there'll be some high-profile heads on a pike.”
There will be controversies
Inevitably, some agency appointee will become the source of bad headlines after fumbling a part of the agency’s work. It happens in every administration. And while the work of agencies is largely non-political, they can become political liabilities.
Adams said the Ducey administration wanted people aligned with the governor’s policy ideas who also had experience running large organizations. He recalled one former Gov. Jan Brewer agency head who, when asked how he was doing in the job, said the job was “too big.” That person didn’t continue in the Ducey administration.
The Ducey administration had its share of agency controversies, some of which led to resignations and firings. But the former governor also had a penchant for sticking by his nominees, even after the public had turned on them.
The one-time head of the Department of Economic Security, Tim Jeffries, dubbed “Director J,” eventually was fired, but not until he’d fired tons of staffers for being bullies, made a bunch of motivational videos and expanded an agency police force that stockpiled guns and ammo. Former parks director Sue Black was fired after personnel complaints and allegations she didn’t protect archeological sites. Tony Bouie, the former lottery director, resigned after misusing state vehicles. During the pandemic, whole agencies and their directors, like the Department of Health Services and DES, came under constant fire for bungling the response.
When agency leaders go south, the key is to diagnose the problem and who’s at fault quickly, then “air your dirty laundry as fast as possible,” Adams said.
Sandy Bahr, the longtime director of the Sierra Club's Grand Canyon Chapter, hopes to see Hobbs appoint agency directors who understand their service is to the public, not any single elected official. Ducey’s administration consolidated more power in the executive tower, and agency directors often hesitated to step out of line with the Ducey agenda, even if it was the right thing to do for the public, she said.
“They have a lot of impact on our daily lives,” Bahr said. “And under the Ducey administration, they were defunded significantly. I always say defunded and defanged, but I don't necessarily think of enforcing the law as a fang. We have these laws for a reason.”
But so far, Bahr hasn’t been thrilled with all of Hobbs’ choices. Environmental groups and conservationists were disappointed when Hobbs kept Ducey’s director of the Department of Water Resources, Tom Buschatzke, likely as a way to provide continuity on critical water issues as the state faces a dire water future.
Bahr said she saw the pick as a “real missed opportunity,” though Buschatzke won’t face any hurdles getting confirmed by the Senate.
Still, she said, “Staying the course only makes sense when you're going in the right direction, and that certainly has not been the case with water.”
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Hobbs appointments for agency directors
Department of Transportation: Jennifer Toth, formerly the director of Maricopa County’s transportation department, will take over. She was previously state engineer and deputy director of ADOT.
Department of Administration: Elizabeth Alvarado-Thorson, ADOA’s deputy director, will move up to lead the agency. She was previously the state’s human resources director.
Department of Economic Security: Angie Rodgers, the president and CEO for the Arizona Food Bank Network, will lead the department. She’s worked for decades in public policy research and advocacy in human services. She previously served as human services policy adviser in the administration of former Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano.
Department of Health Services: Dr. Theresa Cullen will come to the role from the Pima County Public Health Department, where she was the director. A medical doctor, Cullen has a long work history for health organizations.
Department of Child Safety: Matthew Stewart first worked as a child safety specialist, moving up in the department over the years before leaving in 2020. He’s criticized the department’s racial disparities in child safety, ProPublica has reported.
Department of Environmental Quality: Phoenix’s deputy city manager and lawyer Karen Peters will take over the directorship. She’s an environmental and water expert who helped write laws on the topics over the years.
Department of Water Resources: Tom Buschatzke won’t need to move offices — he’s staying on as director, where he’s served since 2015. He’s held various water management roles over 40 years.
Department of Public Safety: Jeff Glover, the Tempe Police chief since 2020, will take over the state’s law enforcement agency.
Department of Corrections: Ryan Thornell, currently the deputy corrections commissioner in Maine’s corrections system, was nominated to lead Arizona’s prisons agency.
Department of Revenue: Rob Woods, the Ducey-appointed revenue director, will remain on under Hobbs.
Arizona Commerce Authority: Sandra Watson, a Ducey appointee, will remain the president and CEO of the economic development agency.
Office of Tourism: Lisa Urias will come from the Arizona Community Foundation to lead the tourism office.
Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System: Carmen Heredia, the CEO of community health organization Valle del Sol, will lead the agency.
Department of Housing: Joan Serviss, a longtime housing advocate, will lead the department, which will likely have an expanded mandate in the Hobbs administration. Serviss was the director of the Arizona Housing Coalition.
Department of Juvenile Corrections: Another Ducey holdover will continue to lead the department. Doug Sargent, an Air Force veteran, moved up in juvenile corrections over the years before he was appointed director in 2022.
State Parks and Trails: Current parks Executive Director Bob Broscheid will keep the job. He previously led the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Division.
Arizona Game and Fish Department: Ty Gray will remain the leader of the department he’s worked in since 1993. He was appointed as director in 2017 by the Arizona Game and Fish Commission.
Department of Liquor Licenses and Control: Ben Henry, the deputy director of the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, will take over to lead the liquor department. He’s been in law enforcement for more than three decades.
Department of Emergency and Military Affairs: Current DEMA director Maj. Gen. Kerry Muehlenbeck will keep her job. She’s the state’s Adjutant General. She was appointed in 2021.
Department of Veterans’ Services: Lt. Colonel Dana Allmond will join state government as the director of DVS. Allmond ran for the state House in 2022 as a Democrat, losing narrowly in a Republican-leaning district.
Department of Forestry and Fire Management: Tom Torres, a decades-long US Forest Service employee, has a lengthy record of wildfire and forest management.
Residential Utility Consumer Office: Longtime consumer advocate Cynthia Zwick will lead the office. She served as executive director of Wildfire, a nonprofit focused on helping low-income people access resources.
Governor's Office of Youth, Faith and Family Director: Tonya Hamilton, a longtime public servant in the courts and corrections in Arizona, will lead the office.
Registrar of Contractors: Martín Quezada, the longtime state lawmaker, has a new gig leading the agency which oversees contractors.
Department of Gaming: The gaming agency will be led by Jackie Johnson, a former legal counsel for tribes with experience in tribal gaming and regulation.
State Land Department: Robyn Sahid, an economic developer who spent many years with the City of Phoenix and later in the San Jose, California, mayor’s office, will be in charge of the department.
Key Hobbs staffers
Chief of staff: Allie Bones follows Hobbs from the SOS, where Bones was the assistant secretary of state. She’s worked in various government and advocacy roles in Arizona.
Director of communications: C. Murphy Hebert also comes to the Ninth Floor from the SOS, where she served as communications director. She ran communications previously in the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office and for Democrats in the Arizona House.
General counsel: Bo Dul, the former general counsel and state elections director at the SOS, will join the Hobbs administration as top lawyer. She most recently was senior counsel at the States United Democracy Center.
Office of Strategic Planning & Budgeting director: Another SOS move, Sarah Brown was the office’s chief financial officer and human resources director. She previously worked in the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office.
Director of policy: Tracy Lopes, a former Assistant District Attorney, will direct policy for Hobbs. Lopes has also been a law professor and administrative law judge at DES.
Director of public affairs: Will Gaona also served at the SOS under Hobbs, where he was legislative affairs director. He’s worked in various local government and nonprofit roles in Arizona.
Director of operations: Ben Henderson, a one-time Ducey staffer, will return to the governor’s tower. He was previously director of operations and deputy budget director under Colorado Gov. Jared Polis.
DEI director: Ariel Morin, a state employee who’s focused on human resources principles and diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, will serve as Hobbs’ DEI director.
Tribal affairs director: Jason Chavez, most recently the elections outreach manager at the SOS, will join his former colleagues who’ve moved to the Ninth Floor. Chavez is a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation from the San Miguel Community in the Chukut Kuk District.
Southern Arizona office director: Marisol Flores-Aguirre, a lifelong Tucsonan, will lead the southern outpost of the governor’s office. She has nearly two decades of experience in both public and private sector roles.
Hobbs appointed an ADOA director a few hours after we initially published this story.
Edited to add: Buschatzke does not need to be confirmed by the Senate. The Senate GOP confirmed that when an agency director without a fixed term remains on after a new governor takes over, they do not face a nomination or confirmation process.