Gov. Nikki Haley’s new chief of staff is a Boston-area native and USC graduate with a reputation for keeping a cool head and building relationships while working for Columbia law firms and the state attorney general’s office.
Bryan Stirling will take over as chief of staff on Oct. 15 for Tim Pearson, who – after leading Haley’s successful 2010 race for governor – is departing to run Haley’s political operation. Stirling, 42, will earn $128,750 a year, a $21,000 raise from his job as a deputy attorney general and the same amount Pearson was paid.
Stirling has spent the past five years working for state attorneys general Henry McMaster and Alan Wilson, helping get legislation passed in the General Assembly. In his new role, he could help repair Haley’s relationships with lawmakers, said veteran Republican political consultant Richard Quinn of Columbia.
“There’s a lot of hostility with the governor’s office in both chambers,” Quinn said. “The leaders think she’s not willing to work and collaborate with them.”
While respected for his work as Haley’s campaign manager, the 30-year-old Pearson had “an aura of making political decisions (based on) what was good for the governor,” said Quinn, who ran campaigns for Wilson and McMaster, including McMaster’s bid for the GOP nomination against Haley. “Bryan will promote what’s good for the state.”
Stirling is not a “yes man,” Quinn said. “We can expect the governor to hear his point of view, even in cases when she doesn’t want to hear them.”
Stirling was not available for interviews Tuesday but said in a statement, “I’m excited about the opportunity that lies ahead.”
Stirling worked as a special assistant to then-U.S. Transportation Secretary Andrew Card after college and the S.C. GOP after graduating from USC law school. He spent 10 years in private law practice, including with McMaster, before joining the attorney general’s office, where Stirling prosecuted domestic violence cases and oversaw office administration and budgets.
McMaster said Stirling has sound judgment about the intersection of law and politics. He worked on high-profile cases, including a fight over water rights with North Carolina and federal health-care reform, and helped push legislation that stiffened laws on gangs and domestic violence. Stirling also worked on GOP presidential campaigns and would lead the advance team when President George W. Bush visited South Carolina, McMaster said.
Card said Stirling was mature beyond his years while working for him as a personal assistant. The two have kept in contact over the years with Stirling texting updates on Gamecock football games to his fellow USC grad.
“He’s grounded, and he doesn’t get flustered,” said Card, a former chief of staff under George W. Bush. “He respects everyone he works with and is pretty well respected on both sides of the aisle.”
Haley said she is excited to have Stirling join “Team Haley.”
“Bryan has the experience, relationships and leadership qualities that will make the transition seamless and ensure our administration continues to deliver results for the people of South Carolina,” Haley said in a statement.
Democrats also responded positively.
State Rep. Bakari Sellers, D-Bamberg, tweeted: “I applaud @nikkihaley(’s) new pick as chief of staff. Experience and integrity are how I define Brian Stirling. Maybe now SC can work together.”