Wes Ward is from the small town of Lake City in Northeast Arkansas and is a graduate of Riverside High School. He earned a bachelor of science degree in agricultural business with an emphasis in agricultural finance from Arkansas State University. Secretary Ward has also earned a law degree (JD), a Master of Laws degree (LL.M.) in Agricultural and Food Law, and a Master of Science degree in Agricultural Economics from the University of Arkansas.
Ward has served in the United States Marine Corps for more than 18 years and has completed deployments and training exercises in Afghanistan, Jordan, and Japan. He currently serves in the Marine Corps Reserves as a civil affairs officer with the Force Headquarters Group in New Orleans, Louisiana. Ward has worked as a field coordinator for U.S. Congressman Rick Crawford and as an adjunct law professor at the University of Arkansas School of Law.
Ward is serving as the third Secretary of Agriculture for Arkansas. He was appointed to the position in March 2015 by Governor Asa Hutchinson. The Arkansas Agriculture Department includes the State Plant Board, the Livestock and Poultry Commission, and the Arkansas Forestry Commission. The Arkansas Agriculture Department is dedicated to the development and implementation of policies and programs for Arkansas agriculture and forestry to keep its farmers and ranchers competitive in national and international markets while ensuring safe food, fiber, and forest products for Arkansans and the nation.
Governor Asa Hutchinson appointed Michael “Mike” Preston executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC) in March 2015.
Since that time, Preston has made successful business-recruitment trips to Japan, China, France, Germany, Israel, Cuba, Mexico, Italy, United Kingdom, New York City, and Silicon Valley. The trips have led to agreements with more than 300 companies to locate to or expand in Arkansas. These companies are investing $8.3 billion and creating more than 17,700 new jobs. The trips continue to play an important role in the state’s economic development efforts.
Before Preston joined AEDC, he served six and a half years as the vice president of Government Relations for Enterprise Florida, the state’s primary economic development organization. During his tenure at Enterprise Florida, he was part of the team that helped create more than 147,000 jobs that paid an average annual wage of $56,437 and generated $10.07 billion in capital investment.
In 2018, Preston was selected to join The Wall Street Journal’s prestigious CEO Council. The invitation-only group connects some of the world’s most ambitious and influential leaders to discuss the issues that shape the future. The members lead companies that collectively employ more than 8 million people, generate $2.9 trillion in annual revenue, and represent 20 countries in a wide range of industries.
A 2005 graduate of the University of Florida, Preston and his wife, Anne, are proud to call Arkansas home. They both volunteer in the community in a variety of ways, including the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Arkansas and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
Department of Corrections
Solomon Graves, Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Corrections, has 14 years of professional corrections experience.
Secretary Graves began his public service career in 2007 at the Arkansas Parole Board. He served there until 2016 in various roles, including five years as Parole Board Administrator.
In March 2016, Mr. Graves was named Public Information Officer for the Division of Correction. In July 2019, then-Secretary Wendy Kelley selected Mr. Graves to be her Chief of Staff. He served in that role for one year before Ms. Kelley announced her plans to retire.
Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson announced Secretary Graves’ appointment as Secretary on July 23, 2020, and the the Arkansas Board of Corrections confirmed him the following week. Mr. Graves began serving as Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Corrections on August 1, 2020.
Secretary Graves served on Gov. Hutchinson’s Transformation Advisory Board from 2017 to 2019 and was appointed to the Transformation Transition Team in 2019.
Secretary Graves earned a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and a master’s degree in public administration from Webster University. He remains an active member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, serving as the Arkansas state director.
On March 25, 2015, Johnny Key was approved by the State Board of Education to be the chief school officer of the Arkansas Department of Education. Governor Asa Hutchinson recommended Key for the position of commissioner.
Under Key’s leadership, the agency has concentrated on student-focused education. The mission is to provide leadership, support, and service to schools, districts, and communities so that every graduate is prepared for college, career, and community engagement.
Before being named commissioner, Key served as associate vice president for university relations at the University of Arkansas System, a position he held since August 2014.
Key began his career in public service in 1997 when he was elected to serve as a justice of the peace on the Baxter County Quorum Court. He was elected to three two-year terms in the House of Representatives, followed by a tenure in the state Senate that began in 2008.
While in the Senate, Key served as chair of: Senate Education Committee; Arkansas Legislative Council Administrative Rules and Regulations Committee; Joint Retirement and Social Security Committee; and Arkansas Lottery Commission Legislative Oversight Committee. He served as vice chair of the Joint Budget Committee; Arkansas Legislative Council Policy Making Committee; Academic Facilities Oversight Committee; and Joint Committee on Public Retirement and Social Security Programs.
Key graduated from Gurdon High School and received a bachelor of science in chemical engineering in 1991 from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. He has received many awards, including the 2013 Legislative Pacesetter of the Year by the Arkansas Campaign for Grade-Level Reading; the 2012 Distinguished Service Award from the Arkansas State University at Jonesboro; 2012 Invest in Life Award from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Cord Blood Bank of Arkansas; the 2011 Guy Newcomb Award from the Arkansas Pharmacists Association; and the 2010 Person of the Year by Arkansas Phi Beta Lambda.
Key and his wife, Shannon, live in Little Rock and have one son, Ryan, and one daughter, Rachel.
Becky W. Keogh has served as the director of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) since 2015. Throughout her career, she has been engaged in a unique range of technical, managerial, and consulting roles across government and private industry. Keogh previously held positions as a vice president and senior consultant for an international environmental and engineering ﬁrm. She served as Deputy Director of ADEQ from 1996–2006. She was subsequently appointed to serve on the Arkansas Geological Commission from 2006–2009. Before her appointment by Governor Asa Hutchinson as director of ADEQ, she was employed in an environmental and regulatory management role for an international energy corporation.
Keogh has been an active member and alumni member of the Environmental Council of the States (ECOS) since 1997. She was elected by her peers to serve as the 2018–2019 President of ECOS.
As director, she has testiﬁed before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, and the Senate Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety. At those committees, Keogh testiﬁed about the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s relationship with the states—speciﬁcally noting the atmosphere of coercive federalism in 2016 and remarking on the evolution and improvement of the relationship in 2019.
Keogh, an Arkansas native, has a degree in chemical engineering from the University of Arkansas. She is married, has three children, and four grandchildren.
Larry W. Walther was appointed to serve as Chief Fiscal Officer for the State of Arkansas and Director for the Department of Finance and Administration on Friday, January 9, 2015, by Governor Asa Hutchinson. The Department consists of two major divisions, the Division of Management Services and the Division of Revenue. The Division of Management Services consists of the Offices of Budget, Accounting, State Procurement, Personnel Management and Intergovernmental Services; the Division of Revenue consists of the Offices of Child Support Enforcement, Driver Services, Excise Tax Administration, Income Tax Administration, Field Audit, Motor Vehicle, State Revenue Office Administration and Revenue Legal Counsel. In his position as Director and Chief Fiscal Officer, Walther also proudly serves on the Governor’s Cabinet. He was officially sworn into office on Tuesday, January 13, 2015.
Before his appointment, Walther was a member of the board of directors for the Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank). Walther was nominated by President Obama on July 21, 2011, confirmed by the U.S. Senate on November 1, 2011, and sworn into office on November 14, 2011, for a term expiring on January 20, 2013, and continued to serve on the board until July 20, 2013.
Walther spent 2008 as the Director of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA). Walther assumed his duties as Director following his confirmation by the United States Senate on March 14, 2008, and official appointment by President George W. Bush. As the Director of USTDA, Walther applied his private-sector expertise in helping to open commercial opportunities for U.S. firms overseas and in so doing, facilitated mutually beneficial partnerships. The USTDA advances economic development and U.S. commercial interests in developing and middle-income countries. The agency funds various forms of technical assistance, early investment analysis, training, orientation visits, and business workshops that support the development of a modern infrastructure, and a fair and open trading environment. USTDA’s strategic use of foreign assistance funds to support sound investment policy and decision making in host countries creates an enabling environment for trade, investment, and sustainable economic development.
Prior to his assignment at USTDA, Walther served for over three years in Governor Mike Huckabee’s Cabinet as the Director of the Arkansas Department of Economic Development (ADED). As the Director of the ADED, he was responsible for the overall direction and management of the Department and for representing the Governor and the State on all matters concerning statewide issues of economic development.
Previously, Walther had an extensive career with SBC Communications, now AT&T. Starting as a Switching Engineer for Southwestern Bell Telephone Company in 1970, he concluded his 30-year career at SBC as the Vice President for Corporate Services and Chairman of the SBC Foundation. In that capacity, he oversaw a philanthropic organization that managed $67.4 million in community and charity giving. In 1989, he was chosen as one of 20 private-sector executives to serve a one-year appointment to the Bush Administration and was assigned to the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
Walther has served on the Board of Trustees of the College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Missouri, since 1992, serving as the Chairman of the Board from 2001 until 2007. In December 2010, Walther was elected Treasurer of the Republican Party of Arkansas and served on the Executive Committee on the Republican Party of Arkansas. In addition, he served on the Board of Directors of Arkansas Easter Seals. Mr. Walther has also been a member of the Executive Board for Quapaw Area Boy Scouts, the University of Arkansas Walton School Of Business Board of Visitors, Downtown Little Rock Rotary, and the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences BioVentures Advisory Board. He is also actively involved in the Fellowship Bible Church in Little Rock, Arkansas. Walther and Janice, his wife of over 49 years, have two grown children, Bill and Mandy, and seven grandchildren.
Dr. José R. Romero was named the Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health in August 2020. He is a member of the Governor’s cabinet and provides senior scientific and executive leadership for the agency.
Dr. Romero is currently the chairman of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), which is providing guidance nationally on the prioritization and distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine.
The ADH delivers over 100 services through the main office in Little Rock and over 90 local health units in each of the state’s 75 counties. These services include immunizations, WIC, outbreak response, vital records, chronic disease prevention, preparedness and emergency response, injury and violence prevention, and suicide prevention. The ADH also includes the Arkansas Public Health Laboratory, which tests for safe food and drinking water, detects inherited genetic disorders in newborns, and provides early identification of infectious diseases. Local, state, and federal partnerships help the ADH to advance its mission and best serve the people of Arkansas.
Romero previously served as Chief Medical Officer at the ADH and was appointed as the interim Secretary of Health by Governor Asa Hutchinson in May 2020. He was Director of the Section of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) and the Arkansas Children’s Hospital from 2008-2020. He is also a Professor of Pediatrics in the Department of Pediatrics at UAMS and has board-certification in Pediatrics and Pediatric Infectious Diseases.
Dr. Romero’s research interests include the molecular pathogenesis, epidemiology, and diagnosis of enteroviral infections, clinical and therapeutic aspects of enterovirus, herpes virus, cytomegalovirus, pediatric tuberculosis, and pneumococcal infections.
Cindy Gillespie serves as the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) Director. She is responsible for leadership and oversight of the department’s efforts, which support the health and well-being of all Arkansans, especially those who are most in need.
Before joining DHS, Gillespie served as a Principal in the Washington, D.C., office of Dentons Public Policy and Regulation practice and a leader of the firm’s Health Policy and Health Insurance Exchange Teams.
Earlier, Gillespie served as a senior advisor to former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, where she led the Commonwealth of Massachusetts interactions with the federal government, and oversaw development and implementation of the Administration’s executive branch initiatives, including playing a leading role in the development of Massachusetts health reforms.
Elizabeth Thomas Smith currently serves as the Arkansas Medicaid Inspector General. Governor Asa Hutchinson appointed Smith to this role in June of 2015; she previously served as the Governor’s Chief Legal Counsel. As Medicaid Inspector General, Smith developed a data analytics division to enhance the discoveries and initiatives, and has increased fraud referrals. She fought to reduce spending in Behavioral Health, which led to overall systemic change as well as criminal charges.
Smith works closely with the Department of Human Services to improve its eligibility systems in order to reduce wasteful spending.
Smith’s career developed along the paths of enforcement and health care law, giving her the right background as Arkansas’s Medicaid Inspector General. Smith began her legal career as a Deputy Prosecuting Attorney for the Sixth Judicial District in 1994 until 2002, when she joined Mitchell, Williams, Selig, Gates & Woodyard, PLLC as an associate specializing in health care defense. Smith returned to state service as an Assistant Attorney General representing state agencies and serving on the legislative team in the Civil Litigation Division in 2004. She was able to combine her interests in health care and state government by joining the General Counsel of the University of Arkansas System in 2006, where she served the UAMS campus and U.A. System in employment litigation, health care compliance, state contracting, and utility regulation.
Daryl E. Bassett is the former Director of Business and Commercial Services for the Arkansas Secretary of State. He previously served as a Commissioner with the Arkansas Public Service Commission for nine years and as Chief Economic Development Advisor to former Governor Mike Huckabee prior to that service.
He is the immediate past President of the Southeastern Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (SEARUC). He has also served as Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Diversity Committee and was a member of the Financial Research Institute for Columbia College of Business Board of Directors at the University of Missouri, Columbia.
Prior to his service in state government, he worked in International and Domestic securities as an Investment Banker with Merrill Lynch. Bassett also currently serves on a number of national Boards of Directors, as well as civic organizations in Arkansas.
Major General Kendall W. Penn was selected by Governor Hutchinson to be the state's 53rd adjutant general on July 2019. General Penn assumed command of the Arkansas National Guard on August 10, 2019, replacing the retiring Major General Mark H. Berry.
General Penn has served as the Executive Director of the National Guard Association of Arkansas. Prior to that, he was the Deputy Commanding General (RC), First United States Army.
General Penn began his military career in 1982 upon enlistment in the Arkansas Army National Guard. He was commissioned a second lieutenant of Infantry upon graduation from the Reserve Officer Training Corps program at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in 1985. Throughout his career, General Penn served in a variety of command and staff positions, including Commander, 1st Battalion, 153rd Infantry and Commander, 39th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, both while deployed to Baghdad, Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Stacy Hurst was appointed director of the Department of Arkansas Heritage by Governor Asa Hutchinson in January 2015. She is responsible for the work of eight separate agencies that identify, protect, and promote the state’s natural, historic, and cultural resources. She serves as the State Historic Preservation Officer, representing Arkansas to the National Trust for Historic Places and as an ex-officio voting member of the Governor’s Mansion Commission. She also served as a member of Governor Hutchinson’s transition team following his election in November 2014. Stacy is a life-long Arkansan who grew up in Pine Bluff and received her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.
Prior to her appointment as Department of Arkansas Heritage director, she was involved for 19 years in general management and marketing for Tipton & Hurst, Inc., a family-owned business started in Little Rock in 1886. Before that, she was vice president of Arkansas Children’s Hospital Foundation, where she was responsible for the statewide Children’s Miracle Network Telethon that raised over $2 million annually in private contributions.
Her record of public service is extensive. From 2002 to 2014, Hurst represented Ward 3 on the Little Rock Board of Directors and served as Vice Mayor from January 2007 to December 2008. As City Director, she was a liaison to the Arts and Culture Commission, the Sister Cities Commission, and the City Beautiful Commission. Hurst is credited with leading the extensive planning effort that resulted in new private investment and revitalization of Little Rock’s Midtown Corridor. Prior to her election to the City Board, Hurst co-chaired the Vision Little Rock Parks and Recreation work group, leading to the creation of the Parks and Recreation Commission, where she served for many years. She currently is serving a second term on the Little Rock Municipal Airport Commission, which manages, operates, and maintains the Bill & Hillary Clinton National Airport.
Hurst believes in the importance of community involvement, having served on the boards of Youth Home, CARTI, the Junior League of Little Rock, the Arkansas Field Office of The Nature Conservancy, First Tee of Arkansas, Boys and Girls Clubs, Little Rock Zoo, Alzheimer’s Arkansas, The Cathedral School, and St. Vincent Infirmary Foundation.
She and her husband, Howard, have two children, a son, Conley, and a daughter, Josie. Conley has completed both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in United States history and will start law school in the fall. Josie graduates from Washington and Lee University in May.
Jami Cook was appointed as the Director of the Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Training on January 14, 2015, by Governor Asa Hutchinson. Prior to her appointment, she served as the Arkansas State Police Program Director, responsible for policies, procedures, training, strategic planning, research and development, and special projects. In 2009, she was appointed as a Commissioner to the Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Training. She started her law enforcement career as a Newport Police officer in 1994.
Cook earned a Bachelor of Arts in Criminology at Arkansas State University and a Master of Arts in Criminal Justice from the University of Arkansas, Little Rock. She and her husband, Nathan, have two children, Jake and Anna.
Amy Fecher is Chief Transformation Officer of Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson’s Office of Transformation, which the governor created in 2016 to streamline state government. She led the Governor’s efforts to pass the Transformation and Efficiencies Act of 2019 – the first reorganization of state government in almost 50 years.
Fecher also is Executive Vice President of Operations at the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, and Governor Hutchinson’s designee to the Delta Regional Authority’s Board of Governors.
Fecher has worked for more than 15 years in the public and not-for-profit sector. She was Director of the Arkansas Department of Rural Services (now a division of AEDC), and she served in former Governor Mike Huckabee’s administration.
In 2017, State Scoop chose Fecher as one of the top 50 women in technology in the nation for her work to transform Arkansas state government.
Fecher is a volunteer coach and mentor with the Miracle League of Arkansas. She also serves on the Information Network of Arkansas Board. Her past service includes positions on the Arkansas Capitol Arts and Ground Commission, and the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council.
Fecher is a graduate of the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, Arkansas. She and her husband, Shawn, have three sons and live in Sherwood.
Colonel (Retired) Nathaniel (Nate) Todd hails from Pine Bluff. He is currently the Director of the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to his current appointment, he served as the Chief Financial Officer for the Central Arkansas Veterans Health Care System, North Little Rock. Prior to his retirement from military service, he served as the Director of Health Financial Policy, Office of the U.S. Army Surgeon General, Falls Church, Virginia.
His previous assignments include Program Director, Integrated Disability Evaluation System, Northern Regional Medical Command, Fort Belvoir, Virginia; Chief Financial Officer, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, D.C.; Transition Chief (Finance), Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland; Chief Financial Officer, North Atlantic Regional Medical Command, Washington, D.C.; Chief Financial Officer, 18th Medical Command Seoul, South Korea; and Deputy Commander for Administration, Reynolds Army Community Hospital, Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
He holds a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Technology from the University of Houston, Houston Texas; a Master of Science in Healthcare Administration from Baylor University, Waco, Texas; and a Chief Financial Officer Leadership Certification from the National Defense University, Fort McNair, Washington, D.C. Todd is a fellow in the American College of Healthcare Executives, board certified in Health Care Management, and a Certified Defense Financial Manager. He is also a graduate of the Interagency Institute for Federal Health Care Executives at George Washington University, the National Security Management Course at Syracuse University, and is a National Security Management Fellow.
Todd entered the Army as a Private First Class after graduating and participating in Junior Air Force ROTC at Pine Bluff High School. He has served in a mix of TOE (field) and TDA (fixed facilities) that include assignments as a Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge, Eye, Ears, Nose and Throat Clinic, Darnel Army Community Hospital, Fort Hood, Texas; Medical Platoon Leader and Company Executive Officer, Third Armored Cavalry Regiment, Fort Bliss, Texas; Company Commander Charlie Company, William Beaumont Army Medical Center, El Paso, Texas; Chief Financial Officer, 2nd Field Hospital, Bremerhaven, Germany; Chief Financial Officer, Chief Clinical Operations, Chief Managed Care and Deputy Commander for Administration, Reynolds Army Community Health Clinic, Fort Sill, Oklahoma; and Chief Budget Officer, TRICARE Management Activity, Office of the Secretary of Defense Health Affairs, Falls Church, Virginia.
Todd served as Parish Council Lay Leader in several Military Faith Communities; Chair of the Trustee Board, Bethlehem Baptist Church, Lawton-Fort Sill, Oklahoma; and studied stewardship at the National Baptist Congress of Christian Education of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. Todd is currently a member of the First Missionary Baptist Church in Pine Bluff.
His awards and decorations include the Legion of Merit, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal (7 OLC), the Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal (3OLC), Joint Meritorious Unit Award (2nd Award), Army Superior Unit Award (2nd Award), Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal (2nd Award), Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Korean Defense Service Medal, Non-Commissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon, Expert Field Medical Badge, Defense Identification Staff Badge, and Order of Military Medical Merit.