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Kirk Adams resigns as Ducey staff chief, Senate speculation rampant

Kirk Adams, chief of staff for Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, will leave his post next month, and the announcement has set off predictions that Ducey will appoint his longtime right hand man to the U.S. Senate seat now filled by Jon Kyl.

Ducey's office sent out a press release praising Adams' work in glowing terms Monday morning. Adams, who served as the Republican governor's top lieutenant for his entire first term, will leave his post on Dec. 14, the release said.

The move was quickly interpreted by a wide swathe of journalists and political insiders as setting up Adams to be appointed to the Senate.

Adams said in the release that he is "looking forward to new opportunities outside of state government." He said on Twitter that he is "excited to return to the private sector." Later Monday, the governor announced that Adams will be replaced by top Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato.

Adams rebuffed questions that he is seeking the appointment, but was mum about what his plans are after leaving his government position.

Kyl, a former senator, was named to replace U.S. Sen. John McCain in September after the death of the Republican stalwart, but only committed to serving on an interim basis. Ducey's office said at the time that Kyl had agreed to fill the seat "at least" through the end of the year.

The departure of Adams may indicate that Ducey is not preparing to appoint U.S. Rep. Martha McSally to the Senate. McSally just narrowly lost a Senate election to U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, but many observers had prognosticated that she could be tapped to take the other Arizona seat. Some political insiders have indicated that McSally may be cool to the prospect of potentially running another two Senate campaigns in a very short period.

Under state law, McCain's seat must be filled by an appointed Republican, until an election can be held in 2020 to determine who will hold the office for the balance of the term, which runs through 2022.

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If Kyl leaves office after the beginning of the congressional session in January, Sinema, the just-elected Democrat, will become Arizona's senior senator.

Kyl, who served in the Senate from 1995 through his retirement after the 2012 election, was the second-highest ranking Republican senator, the minority whip, but was the state's junior senator for his entire time in office.

Adams was one of the names floated as a possible appointment after McCain's death, and his impending move out of the governor's office could be a sign that he's at the top of the list now.

Adams, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 2012, sent Ducey his letter of resignation on Nov. 12, saying that he had "no specific plans in place for what comes next for me."

"I have determined over the course of the last many weeks that the time has come for me to move on, regardless (of) the outcome of the elections," Adams wrote to the governor. "There is no specific event or issue that brought me to this conclusion, and I have no complaints. I have only a gut feeling that now is the time."

Adams told Ducey that "I feel that my skills and abilities are at their peak and I hope to put them to beneficial use.... I have plenty of gas left in the tank."

Adams told reporter Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services that he's not angling for the appointment, and doesn't plan to resume his work for Koch Brothers-funded conservative lobbying groups. But he wouldn't offer any specifics about his plans.

High praise

Ducey's release included an exuberant assessment of Adams:

"Kirk Adams has been a critical member of my team and key to our successes — leading the 2014 transition committee, serving as chief of staff since day one of my first term and most recently seeing our team through one of the most historic legislative sessions in state history," said Governor Ducey. "Kirk's long list of accomplishments prior to joining our team has grown exponentially over the last four years thanks to his unrivaled talent, policy depth, remarkable leadership and ability to build consensus among Arizona stakeholders. I am grateful to Kirk for his service and for his work to build an exceptionally talented team that will help continue Arizona's success as a national leader for opportunity, jobs and economic growth."

Adams, a native Arizonan, helped lead the Governor's Office staff through a number of significant events from tackling a billion dollar budget deficit, to the negotiation of Proposition 123, a measure that settled a long-standing lawsuit and increased K-12 school funding by $3.5 billion over ten years, to the historic 2018 legislative session which saw the success of the governor's key legislative priorities including increasing teacher pay 20 percent by the year 2020, and the unanimous passage of the Arizona Opioid Epidemic Act. Earlier this year, Kirk oversaw the governor's efforts to honor the late Senator John McCain during the memorial services hosted at the Arizona State Capitol. ​​

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"I will be forever grateful for the opportunity I've had to serve as Governor Ducey's chief of staff," said Adams. "The decision to leave this role is not one I made lightly — I've often said I have the best job in the country, and that is attributed to the governor's leadership and the exceptional team we built over the last four years. While I will miss the job and every member of the governor's office, I am looking forward to new opportunities outside of state government."

Adams previously served in the Arizona House of Representatives, first elected in 2006, and was elected as House Speaker just two years later. He is an Aspen Institute Rodel Fellow and previously served as chairman of the Arizona Leadership Council for the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB). Kirk's four-year tenure as chief of staff exceeds the average length of service for a gubernatorial chief of staff, which is less than three years according to the National Governors Association.

According to his resignation letter, Adams is set to take a family vacation in New Zealand at the end of December.

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Kirk Adams giving a speech in October 2017.