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Caldwell favored for Delta position; Boozman touts aide for his passion for assisting people, sense of duty

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump will nominate a Little Rock man to lead the Delta Regional Authority, the White House has announced.

Chris Caldwell, 38, is director of special projects for U.S. Sen. John Boozman, a Republican from Rogers, and managed Boozman's 2016 re-election campaign.

If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Caldwell will serve as the federal co-chairman, the regional authority's top job.

The position, previously held by Democrat Chris Masingill of Little Rock, has been vacant since late July.

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Boozman, who recommended Caldwell for the post, said his aide will be an effective leader.

"Chris shares the DRA's commitment and vision for improving economic opportunity in the delta region. He has a passion for helping others, a strong sense of duty to the region and an understanding of what it takes to bring economic growth to our communities. Plus, he is as tenacious as they come," Boozman said Wednesday in a written statement.

A seventh-generation Arkansan, Caldwell will be "a tireless advocate and an asset to the entire delta in this role," Boozman added.

On Wednesday, Caldwell said he welcomes the opportunity to serve.

"I'm just honored and so excited to have the opportunity to work for the administration and humbled to have the confidence of the president," he said.

Caldwell declined to comment on policy matters; presidential nominees generally avoid doing so before their confirmation hearings.

But he expressed optimism about the future.

"I look forward to being able to help do great things in the Delta," he said.

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The agency, which awards millions of dollars in grants each year, "fosters local and regional partnerships that address economic and social challenges to ultimately strengthen the Delta economy and the quality of life for Delta residents," its website states.

The federal co-chairman earns $172,100 per year.

Created in 2000 with the support of then-President Bill Clinton, the Delta authority covers parts of seven states along the Mississippi River plus Alabama, and encompasses 252 counties and parishes, many of them with high rates of poverty.

It has offices in Clarksdale, Miss., and Washington, D.C.

Since its creation, the Delta authority has been supported by key lawmakers from both parties, including Boozman.

In March, the White House Office of Management and Budget suggested eliminating the authority and 18 other independent agencies as part of a cost-cutting move.

The proposal stalled after encountering strong opposition from Boozman and several other lawmakers who represent the Delta.

Caldwell is the son of Rick Caldwell, former Gov. Mike Huckabee's freshman roommate and the manager of his 1998 gubernatorial campaign.

The younger Caldwell is a 2001 University of Arkansas graduate who worked on then-U.S. Sen. Tim Hutchinson's unsuccessful re-election campaign in 2002. Five years later, he joined Huckabee's presidential campaign, driving the candidate around Iowa and serving as his field director in South Carolina.

He helped Boozman, then a U.S. House representative, unseat incumbent Blanche Lincoln in the 2010 Senate race, working as Boozman's political director. Six years later, he oversaw the entire campaign.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who ran Boozman's 2010 campaign, said Caldwell is "very sharp [and] a lot of fun."

She portrayed him as a well-rounded leader, a "very dynamic" Southerner with a "larger-than-life personality."

"He can throw on boots and go out on a farm and get his feet dirty and talk pretty in-depth and pretty knowledgeable about farming issues and agriculture and back roads and four-wheelers," she said. "He can also clean up and put on a nice suit and make his way through a fundraiser pretty aptly as well."

In addition to Boozman, Caldwell is backed by U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., a longtime Delta authority supporter and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

"I am confident in Chris Caldwell's commitment to promote economic growth, better health, and educational opportunities throughout the entire Delta region, and I will support his confirmation," Cochran said in a written statement. "The Delta Regional Authority should have a leadership team in place as soon as possible to meet the region's unique challenges."

In Caldwell, the Delta authority is "acquiring a steady hand," Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a written statement.

"The 252 counties under the Delta Regional Authority will be well-served with Chris Caldwell as its federal co-chair. As a seventh-generation Arkansan, Chris knows the issues that matter to the region, and his experience with Sen. Boozman has equipped him to address those issues."

Masingill, who led the authority for seven years, said he's excited for Caldwell.

"We go to church together. I know him and his family. He is good people," Masingill said. "I think Chris is going to do a great job."

The former co-chairman predicted that Caldwell will work hard to improve the Delta.

"He's had a good tenure with Sen. Boozman and serving Arkansas, and I know he wants to continue that same level of work and commitment and service ... as the new federal co-chair," Masingill said. "Hopefully that learning curve will be short, and he'll hit the ground running."

Lee Powell, director of the Delta Grassroots Caucus advocacy group, said it's good news that the president has tapped someone from Boozman's office to fill the post.

"Sen. Boozman is one of the key champions for the DRA and the Delta in general," the anti-poverty activist said. "We're glad to see [Caldwell] there, and we look forward to working with him."

A Section on 09/14/2017

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