Gov.-elect Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced in a news release Friday she will nominate Washington County Judge Joseph Wood as secretary of the Department of Transformation and Shared Services.
Sanders cited Wood's leadership in Washington County as the reason for the appointment.
"Judge Wood shares my enthusiasm for shrinking the size and scope of government by identifying efficiencies and bold reforms to reduce budgets, saving money and providing better services to the hardworking men and women of Arkansas," Sanders said in the release.
Wood, 57, will replace Mitch Rouse, who was appointed secretary by Gov. Asa Hutchinson in July 2022. Rouse had been selected previously as a member of Hutchinson's 15-person transformation transition team, which developed and implemented plans to trim state government from 42 agencies to 15 departments.
Wood said Arkansans expect their government to work for them.
"I am not shy about my desire to serve the state of Arkansas and to help make it a place where businesses grow, families move to, and government stays out of the way," Wood said in the news release. "That's exactly what we have done in Washington County during my tenure as county judge, and I am humbled by the confidence Governor-elect Sanders has in me to ask that I take on this critical work."
The Department of Transformation and Shared Services was created in 2019 after the passage of Act 910 for the purpose of creating a more efficient government through service delivery and collaboration across state government.
The department comprises the Office of the Secretary, the Arkansas Geographic Information Systems Office, the Division of Building Authority, the Division of Information Systems, the Employee Benefits Division, the Office of Personnel Management and the Office of State Procurement.
Wood was one of six candidates who ran in the Republican primary to succeed term-limited Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin, who was elected attorney general in November. Wood lost in the May primary to Leslie Rutledge, the current attorney general who was elected lieutenant governor.
Members of the state's Republican leadership celebrated Wood's appointment on social media.
"Judge Wood is a strong conservative, an effective leader and a friend. Congrats, Judge Wood! Another outstanding selection from Sarah Huckabee [Sanders]," U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Little Rock, posted on Twitter.
State Rep. Mary Bentley of Perryville described the appointment as a "great" pick.
"Few men have the respect and character here at the Capitol like Judge Joseph Wood. He will do an outstanding job for the people of Arkansas," Bentley posted on social media.
Nicholas Horton, founder and CEO of Opportunity Arkansas, an initiative of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission and Winrock International, also lauded the appointment.
"LET'S GO! Congrats my friend and Opportunity Arkansas board member, Joseph Wood," Horton posted.
Lawyer David Westbrook Doss Jr., who served as chief of staff for Asa Hutchinson when Hutchinson was in Congress, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Friday that Wood is "transformational."
"He defies labels," Doss said. "The governor could not choose a better person to cut through the issues we are facing today and bring us together no matter economic status, religion, or race."
Doss noted that Washington County has just under a 4% African-American population but Wood has won twice in a traditionally Democratic county.
"He fits no narrative," Doss said. "He transforms the narrative. Why? The room changes when he steps in. I call that transformative. Sounds like the perfect job for him if we just go by titles."
Washington County Quorum Court member Eva Madison, however, criticized Wood in his role as county judge.
"Wood did not accomplish much during his tenure as county judge, but he allowed the Quorum Court to become plagued with awful partisan politics -- to the point I decided not to seek re-election after serving 6 terms," Madison said in an email.
Wood was elected county judge in 2016 and reelected in 2018. The county is the third-largest in Arkansas with an estimated population of 250,057 and is one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation, according to the U.S. Census.
He helped establish a crisis stabilization unit in the county, and served as chair of Community Economic and Workforce Development for the National Association of Counties, according to the news release. He is chairman of the Community, Economic & Workforce Development Steering Committee, the Veterans and Military Services Committee, and the Broadband Task Force and Advisory Council for the National Association of Counties.
Prior to becoming county judge, Wood was Arkansas' deputy secretary of state under Mark Martin, where he was responsible for the Business Commercial Services and Education divisions and worked with the Elections Division.
Wood was raised in a Chicago orphanage and adopted at the age of 10. He grew up with two brothers and a sister in Chicago, where his mother was an educator and his father was a construction worker, according to the release. He has published two children's books, Saving Joey and Adopting Joey, which deal with foster care, adoption and his life story.
State government currently has 15 executive branch departments headed by secretaries.
Wood is the ninth secretary nomination announced by Sanders. The others include:
• The reappointment of Department of Agriculture Secretary Wes Ward, who has served in the post since March 2015.
• Jacob Oliva as secretary for the Department of Education.
• Mike Mills as secretary of the Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.
• Arkansas State Police Captain Mike Hagar as secretary of the Department of Public Safety and director of the Arkansas State Police.
• The reappointment of Larry Walther as secretary of the Department of Finance and Administration.
• Kristi Putnam as secretary of the Department of Human Services.
• Hugh McDonald as secretary of the Department of Commerce.
• Shane Khoury as secretary of the Department of Energy and Environment.
Sanders also reappointed A.J. Gary as director of the Department of Public Safety. He also agreed to continue as director of the Arkansas Division of Emergency Management.
Sanders, a former White House press secretary for President Trump, will be sworn in as governor Jan. 10, succeeding the term-limited Hutchinson, who has served as governor since 2015.