Governor names new chief of staff; pick worked for Jindal

February 02, 2017 - 2:54 pm
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Gov. John Bel Edwards' leadership team experiences a shake-up later this month, with the Democratic governor's chief of staff exiting after a year in the job and a former Jindal-era Cabinet official named to fill the position.

Edwards announced Thursday that Ben Nevers, a close friend of the governor and a former state senator, is resigning as his top adviser and administrator at the end of February. Nevers is leaving shortly after a deficit-closing special legislative session.

"Following my election as governor, I asked Ben to join this administration when he intended to retire to spend more time with this family. He accepted without hesitation and has done a tremendous job leading this team in our first year," the governor said in a statement.

Taking over as Edwards' chief of staff will be Mark Cooper, the one-time homeland security secretary for Republican former Gov. Bobby Jindal who has worked in several emergency management roles. Cooper will start the position in the spring, with the exact date remaining to be settled.

Edwards said Mark "brings a wealth of knowledge about our state to this role, and I know he'll be an invaluable asset to our state."

"Mark's managerial experience will be useful as we continue to lead Louisiana to a path to prosperity."

Until Cooper assumes the role, Edwards' top lawyer, Matthew Block, will work double-duty as the governor's interim chief of staff.

Nevers, from Bogalusa, has been a friend of Edwards from when the two men were state lawmakers. He ran a pro-Edwards PAC during the 2015 governor's race when he was in the Senate.

"Over the last year and during my time in the Legislature, I turned to Ben for guidance, support and prayers, and he has delivered on each," Edwards said.

Cooper, a Bossier City native, resigned as head of the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness in July 2011, to take a job leading emergency-management efforts for Wal-Mart at its stores around the world. He's been based at Wal-Mart Stores Inc. headquarters in Arkansas for the nearly six years since then.

Cooper was the GOHSEP director for more than three years, shepherding state response efforts through hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2008, the Gulf Coast oil spill in 2010, Mississippi River flooding in 2011 and several tornadoes in Louisiana.

"I have always had a sincere interest in the well-being of the state and have called Louisiana home," Cooper said in the statement released by Edwards' office. "I look forward to this next opportunity and supporting the governor and his team."

Before joining the Jindal administration at its start in 2008, Cooper had been deputy fire chief with the Los Angeles County fire department and worked in several other Los Angeles government roles.

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