Governor Abbott announces major staff changes

Texas Governor Greg Abbott is making some changes to his senior staff.

AUSTIN, Texas -- Gov. Greg Abbott announced changes to his senior staff Monday afternoon. 

Abbott's current Chief of Staff, Daniel Hodge, is leaving after working with the governor since his campaign for Attorney General in 2002.

“I have been privileged to have Daniel Hodge by my side dating back to my tenure as Attorney General, bringing excellence to the organizations in which he has served. I am truly grateful for his commitment and service to the State of Texas,” said Governor Abbott. “I also want to extend my deepest thanks to the rest of my staff for all they have done to enact conservative policies and preserve the freedom that Texans hold dear. With their help, we achieved the many priorities I set forth since I came into office, and they helped make Texas a better place."

With two regular sessions and a special session under his belt, the announcement of new staff comes as no surprise to many political insiders - partly because of where Abbott is politically. With no serious challengers, Abbott is preparing for another term in office.

In fact, during Monday's announcement, Abbott said he has big ideas for the next legislative session.

"For the new team, our immediate focus will remain the same as it has been in my current team. And that is to continue the recovery and rebuilding process following Hurricane Harvey," Abbott said." But as we go forward, there are also some big ideas that I plan to tackle in the upcoming session."

While he wouldn't say what those ideas are -- he said this new Chief of Staff and team of advisors and directors will play a vital role.

Abbott provided the following information on each staff member:

Luis Saenz will serve as Governor Abbott’s Chief of Staff. Saenz is currently the Principal and Founder of Saenz Public Affairs and has been actively involved in conservative politics at all levels of government for over 25 years. Saenz began his professional career at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. He previously served as Appointments Director for Governor Abbott and has also served in senior staff positions for Texas Governor Rick Perry, was Chief of Staff to former Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn and has worked as an aide to former U.S. Senators Phil Gramm and Kay Bailey Hutchison, and former Congressman Henry Bonilla. Saenz is a native of Carrizo Springs, TX, and he is a graduate of St. Mary’s University in San Antonio.

Steven Albright will serve as Governor Abbott's Senior Advisor for State Operations. Albright previously served as the Governor's Budget Director. Prior to joining the Office of the Governor, he served eight years as Chief of Staff in the Texas Senate for Senator Robert Nichols, as well as Policy Director for the Texas Senate Committee on Transportation. Albright also served as a legislative director and Chief of Staff in the Texas House of Representatives. He has more than 16 years of experience in the legislative and executive branches of Texas government, including 22 regular and special legislative sessions focusing on natural resources, transportation and finance-related policy. Albright graduated from The University of Texas at Austin and received a Master’s in Public Administration from Texas State University.

Reed Clay will serve as Governor Abbott’s Counselor and Chief Operating Officer. Clay currently serves as the Governor’s Deputy Chief of Staff. He has worked alongside Governor Abbott for 8 years, having previously worked at the Texas Attorney General’s office prior to transitioning to Governor Abbott’s gubernatorial administration in 2015. Clay has also served as a litigator for the U.S. Department of Justice. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Wake Forest University and masters and law degrees from Duke University.

John Colyandro will serve as Governor Abbott’s Senior Advisor and Policy Director. Colyandro currently serves as the Executive Director of the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute, and the Executive Director of the Texas Conservative Coalition, a legislative caucus.  He previously served as Director of Policy and Research for Greg Abbott's campaign for Governor (2014), and as Director of Policy for Greg Abbott's campaign for Attorney General (2002).  He is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin.

Walter Fisher will serve as Governor Abbott’s Legislative Director. Fisher previously served as Texas State Senate Parliamentarian from 1996-2014. Prior to this, he served as Assistant Parliamentarian for the Texas House of Representatives. Most recently he was Senior Advisor to Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick in 2015. Fisher is a graduate of the University of Texas.

Sarah Hicks will serve as Governor Abbott’s Budget Director. Hicks is currently the Assistant Vice Chancellor and Director of State Relations at the Texas A&M University System. She previously served as the Committee Director of the Texas Senate Committee on Finance and was a legislative aide to former State Senator Steve Ogden. Hicks holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Texas A&M University.

Matt Hirsch will serve as Governor Abbott’s Deputy Chief of Staff and Communications Director. Hirsch currently serves as Governor Abbott’s Communications Director, a role he has held since the Governor announced his gubernatorial campaign in 2013. He has previously worked in various communications roles on Presidential, U.S. Senate and Governor campaigns. Hirsch is a graduate of the George Washington University.

Peggy Venable will serve as Governor Abbott’s Appointments Director. Venable is currently serving as a Senior Visiting Fellow for the Texas Public Policy Foundation.  She has worked at the highest levels of government, having previously served in the administrations of Presidents Reagan and H.W. Bush. Upon coming back to Texas, Venable worked on public policy and grassroots campaigns, serving 20 years as the Texas director for Americans for Prosperity and its predecessor, Citizens for a Sound Economy. Venable is a graduate of Texas State University and has a master’s degree from Baylor University.

Tommy Williams will serve as Governor Abbott’s Senior Advisor for Fiscal Affairs. Williams currently serves as the Vice-Chancellor for Federal and State Relations for the Texas A&M System. Prior to working in the TAMU System, Williams was a Texas State Representative from 1997-2003, and a Texas State Senator from 2003-2013. While in the Senate, he served as Chairman of three different committees: the Administration Committee, the Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, and the Finance Committee. During his legislative career, Williams was a respected leader on budget, education, transportation and tax issues. He graduated with a BBA in Accounting from Texas A&M. 

The staffing changes will go into effect Oct. 1. 

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