It’s not been a particularly great week for Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy—despite what interviews over bowls of oranges might suggest. A judge has ruled he can personally be sued for the loyalty pledge firings that marked his entrance into office, the Legislature mustered the votes to reverse his sweep of funds and the recall effort against him got a much-needed injection of legitimacy on the eve of its launch.
It’s with that as the backdrop that the governor’s office announced Wednesday that Chief of Staff Tuckerman Babcock—the man widely considered to be in the driver’s seat of many of the decisions—was demoted to a senior policy adviser position. Some kind of shake-up in the governor’s office had been rumored for weeks.
Babcock will reportedly keep his $160,000 annual salary while transitioning into the official title of senior policy advisor for strategic affairs. Former policy advisor Ben Stevens will move into the role of Chief of Staff, reportedly graduating from a $150,000 annual salary to $175,000.
In the statement, Babcock described the move as his idea.
“This is a move I requested of the governor which allows me to concentrate on the areas I can best serve the governor’s agenda,” he said. “This will be a smooth internal transition. I have enjoyed working with Ben these past eight months and know he is more than qualified to serve as chief of staff to Governor Dunleavy.”
According to the Anchorage Daily News report, the role of “senior policy adviser for strategic affairs” will cover work “pertaining to the Legislature, communications, policy and more.” In the eight months in office, Dunleavy has seen the majority-Republican Legislature turn against him and his communications plans have generally focused on state-funded advertising campaigns targeting his opponents and boosting his allies.
Those campaigns are one of the items the recall group has cited as grounds to remove the governor from office.
Still, many have pointed at the Babcock’s role as chief of staff as the source for much of the governor’s divisionary tactics and strong-arm attempts to cow the Legislature. Even though his move doesn’t take him out of the office, it was generally lauded when the news broke.
Dunleavy’s newly minted chief of staff in Stevens doesn’t come without its baggage, though.
Stevens presence in the administration has raised eyebrows thanks to his alleged involvement in the Veco scandal. Stevens resigned from the Legislature in 2007 after collecting more than $240,000 in consulting fees for Veco but was never charged with a crime even though the company’s vice president testified that he had bribed Stevens.