Governor-elect Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced in a news release Tuesday that Gretchen Conger will be her chief of staff.
Conger served as a senior policy adviser to Sanders' gubernatorial campaign and works as deputy director for the governor-elect's transition team. Before coming to Arkansas, Conger worked for Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, first as his legislative director and then as deputy chief of staff.
Conger spent seven years working for Ducey, where she advanced the Arizona Republican legislative agenda, including passing a 2.5% flat income tax, according to the news release. Conger also helped Ducey pass a 20% pay raise for teachers, expand school choice and establish the Arizona Teacher's Academy to recruit more educators to the state. Prior to working for Ducey, Conger was executive director of the Arizona Chamber Foundation and vice president of public policy for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
"Gretchen Conger's proven experience and leadership from her time in the Arizona governor's office makes her the perfect choice to serve as my chief of staff," Sanders said in a news release. "Her dedication during the campaign to develop policy plans and initiatives, as well as her enthusiasm to get to know Arkansans, will help me usher in my bold agenda to take Arkansas to the top and build an incredible, talented team to serve the people of our state."
While working for Ducey, Conger came under scrutiny for a perceived conflict of interest. According to a report from the Arizona Republic, Conger helped push Arizona Department of Revenue officials to issue a tax refund to Carter Oil, an Arizona-based fuel company.
If tax officials approved the refund, it could have set a precedent that also might have benefited Freeport-McMoRan Americas and African Mining, where Conger's father, Harry "Red" Conger, served as president and chief operating officer, by allowing companies to reclassify diesel fuel as "mining equipment" to avoid paying state sales tax.
After working on the tax issue for close to a year, Conger decided to step away to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. She did not violate the state's ethics laws, the Arizona governor's office told the Arizona Republic.
"These accusations were proven false and a ploy by the Left to distract from Gretchen's role in the successful execution of Governor Ducey's conservative agenda, including the largest tax cut in state history, bold education reforms, and greater freedom and opportunity for all," Judd Deere, a spokesman for Sanders, said in an statement to the Democrat-Gazette.
Sanders also announced Tuesday that campaign manager Chris Caldwell will be named a senior adviser to her reelection. Sanders, who will be sworn in during January, will not be up for reelection until 2026. She also announced she will move more than $2.5 million from her campaign to her reelection effort.
Caldwell worked for U.S. Sen. John Boozman and ran his reelection bid in 2016. A native of Bryant, Caldwell also worked for Sanders' father, former Gov. Mike Huckabee, during his 2008 bid for president. In 2017, President Donald Trump nominated Caldwell to the Delta Regional Authority, a partnership between 252 counties and parishes around the Mississippi Delta.
"My victory this month would not have been possible without Chris and the incredible team he assembled, which is why I am pleased that he has agreed to ensure I am well-positioned for reelection in 2026," Sanders said in a news release. "I cannot thank Chris enough for his candid advice over these many years and his leadership of my campaign. I look forward to our continued work together to make Arkansas a better place to live, work, and raise a family."
Sanders will be sworn in as Arkansas' 47th and first female governor Jan. 10. Sanders, a Republican, defeated Democrat Chris Jones and Libertarian Ricky Dale Harrington Jr. in the Nov. 8 general election. She will succeed outgoing Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who was constitutionally barred from seeking another term.
Prior to running for governor, Sanders was the White House Press Secretary for President Donald Trump.