The HighGround team provides its clients with a success-oriented, diverse team of media, public and government affairs experts. We specialize in dealing with complex issues on behalf of clients that face challenges or seek opportunities on a variety of governmental and public affairs levels. Many of these issues involve interfacing with local, county, state and federal government entities, developing diverse coalitions, and crafting thoughtful media strategies.
The firm is small and all principals are actively engaged in the company’s portfolio of clients. We have over 50 years of combined experience on Arizona issues. This translates into unparalleled connections and a unique understanding of Arizona.
Chuck Coughlin has over 30 years of experience in Arizona public affairs, lobbying, politics, and strategic messaging. Coughlin founded HighGround 20 years ago, spanning three Presidents, five Governors, eight Senate Presidents, and seven Speakers of the House.
Mr. Coughlin is a four-time honoree as “Best Political Operative” from the Arizona Capital Times and was also previously named “Person You Would Least Like as a Political Opponent.” Coughlin and his team have been recognized multiple times for its campaign work by Campaigns and Elections and have earned more than two-dozen awards from the American Association of Political Consultants including “2014 Campaign Excellence Public Affairs/Advocacy Campaign of the Year” for Governor Brewer’s Medicaid Restoration.
Coughlin has played a key role in several recent major public policy issues including higher education; reliable and affordable power generation; the Yes on 480 public hospital bond; Medicaid Restoration; battling against the dangers of energy deregulation; and the passage of Proposition 100 – the temporary one-cent sales tax increase passed by 64% of Arizona voters to stabilize the State’s budget in 2010. Mr. Coughlin is also passionate about State Trust Land Reform and illegal immigration reform – two key issues that he believes are critical to Arizona’s future economy.
Coughlin was asked to serve by then-Secretary of State Jan Brewer as the Chairman of her Transition Team when she became Governor in 2009. As the Transition Team Chairman, Coughlin assembled a diverse team of business and community leaders who recommended to the Governor her executive management team, senior policy positions, cabinet recommendations and coordinated her swearing in ceremonies. He served as lead strategist for Governor Brewer’s 2010 bid for a second term.
Before founding HighGround, Coughlin was the Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Fife Symington. He was responsible for day-to-day management and implementation of all media, legislative and community relations programs for the Administration. Prior to joining the Governor’s staff, Coughlin managed the Governor’s 1994 re-election campaign.
Prior to joining Symington, Coughlin was the Regional Government Relations Manager for Waste Management of North America (1992-94), Director of Public Policy and Legislative Affairs for Attorney General Grant Woods (1990-91), Senior Account Executive for Nelson/Ralston/Robb Communications (1988-90), Director of Government Relations for the Mesa Chamber of Commerce (1986-88), and Finance Director for McCain for Senate (1985-86).
Mr. Coughlin lives in Arcadia with his wife Patricia, who excels in government, community, and business engagement as a Government Relations manager for the Salt River Project. Chuck is active in his Arcadia neighborhood, is on the board of directors for the Roosevelt Row Community Development Corporation (CDC) and serves on the East Valley Partnership Board of Directors.
Douglas C. Cole joined HighGround in 1998 after building a successful public-sector career in the U.S. Congress, the Arizona Governor’s Office and the Arizona Legislature.
Besides his legislative work, Douglas Cole has been integrally involved in many political campaigns ranging from gubernatorial campaigns (Arizona Governors Jan Brewer and Fife Symington), to congressional (Congressman John J. Rhodes, III), to Secretary of State (Arizona Secretaries of State Betsey Bayless and Jan Brewer), along with numerous statewide initiatives. Additionally, Cole was the Arizona Communications Director for Sen. John McCain’s 2000 presidential bid. Cole began his professional career as a staff assistant/intern to then-Congressman John McCain (R-Arizona) in 1985.
Before joining HighGround, Cole was the Director of Communications for the Arizona House of Representatives. In this position, he was a member of the House’s top management team and was the chief spokesman.
Prior to his top House position, Cole served as Arizona Governor Fife Symington’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications and was his chief spokesman from 1991-97. As the Governor’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Cole had oversight of the Governor’s offices for Press, Public Affairs, Community Relations, Boards and Commissions, Constituent Services, and the Governor’s Tucson and Flagstaff offices.
Cole served as Press Secretary to Congressman John J. Rhodes, III (R-Arizona) in Washington, DC from 1987-91 during which time Rhodes was a ranking member of the Interior and Insular Affairs Committee. He was the Public Information Assistant for the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, the operating agency for the Central Arizona Project, from 1985-87 in Phoenix.
Douglas Cole graduated cum laude from The American University, School of International Studies, in Washington, DC. His curricula included studies at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark.
Mr. Cole is a frequent commentator on Arizona politics in the Arizona media. He also guest lectures on the media and politics.
Cole served as a public member of the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments for six (6) years, the Constitutional commission that selects judicial candidates for gubernatorial appointment to the Arizona Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals. Mr. Cole served for eight years on the Maricopa County Commission on Trial Court Appointments. Mr. Cole served for almost 20 years as a member and chairman of the Phoenix Ahwatukee Foothills Village Planning Committee and served on the Arizona 2012 Centennial Board and Foundation.
Douglas Cole is a fourth-generation Arizonan, born and raised in Pinal County. He is married to Megan Kintner and has two sons and a daughter. He is licensed as a Private Pilot.
Paul Bentz, Vice President, Accounts and Strategy, has more than a decade of experience in strategy, messaging, and campaign management. He was recently named to the inaugural “40 Under 40” class from the American Association of Political Consultants. During his time with the HighGround team, he has been at the point of a wide variety of major public policy and campaign issues. He also specializes in public opinion surveys and understanding the Arizona electorate.
He worked extensively on the “Restoring Arizona” effort to help restore Arizona’s Medicaid program – which won the “2014 Campaign Excellence Public Affairs/Advocacy Campaign of the Year” from the American Association of Political Consultants. He also recently managed the Yes on 480 campaign, a nearly $1 billion dollar public hospital bond effort in Maricopa County. The bond issue was able to overcome concerns over a tax increase and overwhelmingly pass with 63.4% of the vote.
Mr. Bentz has managed a wide variety of congressional, state, and local candidate campaigns including Governor Jan Brewer’s successful bid for a second term in 2010.
He has provided strategy, public opinion research, and messaging on several other key Arizona policy issues and campaigns including electricity deregulation with the Arizona Power Consumers Coalition, Build the South Mountain freeway coalition, education reform, and Proposition 100 – the temporary one cent sales tax for education and public safety.
His efforts on behalf of HighGround’s clients have resulted dozens of Pollies and several Reed awards for creative campaign endeavors including the “Arizona Sing-A-Long” frog puppet video, the “Do the Math” whiteboard, and awards for direct mail, signs, and creative phone calls.
Mr. Bentz graduated magna cum laude from the University of Arizona where he studied Mathematics and Political Science. He has used his background in mathematics to build a burgeoning public opinion practice conducting accurate surveys for candidates, schools, and organizations.
He is frequent media commenter on public issues offering commentary, tweets, and even live blogging several events. He has been panelist at several conferences hosted by Campaigns and Elections. He has also been a guest on several media programs and public panels as a public opinion and voter turnout expert.
Paul is married to Charlotte and they live in Goodyear with their three daughters. He also is an active member of his church serving on leadership teams and playing in the church band.
Courtney McKinstry is the latest addition to the HighGround team. The firm’s clients will greatly benefit from her broad experience as a proven governmental relations strategist who works across partisan lines in order to achieve her client’s goals. McKinstry specializes in working with key elected officials and stakeholders to build support on policy issues.
Before joining HighGround, Ms. McKinstry served for two years as the Legislative Affairs Director for Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, where she had a proven track record of success including securing millions of dollars in additional funding for the agency.
In 2016, McKinstry was named “Best Government Lobbyist” by The Arizona Capitol Times.
Prior to her time at the Attorney General’s office, she was Majority Research Analyst in the Arizona House of Representatives where she worked with legislators and key stakeholders to create and analyze the impact of legislation. Ms. McKinstry served the Committee on Public Safety, Military and Regulatory Affairs, as well as the Committee on Insurance and Retirement. Ms. McKinstry was also a Legislative Assistant at the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs. McKinstry began her public affairs career as a Legislative Research Intern at the Arizona State Senate.
Courtney McKinstry is a graduate of
Patrick J. Cunningham brings broad public sector experience and public affairs consulting to HighGround. He recently served as the Phoenix Criminal Division Chief in the US Attorney’s office, supervising federal criminal prosecutions, victim and witness services and asset forfeitures. Previously, he was Deputy Director of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality from 2003 through 2009, appointed first by Governor Janet Napolitano in 2003 and reappointed by Governor Jan Brewer in 2009. Before that, Mr. Cunningham worked for 12 years in the Arizona AG’s office as Chief Counsel, Environmental Enforcement Section and Criminal Division.
In the 1980s Mr. Cunningham was a Captain in the US Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps where he prosecuted and defended criminal cases in Germany as a trial attorney. He prepared more than 130 briefs and motions and argued on behalf of the United States in criminal appellate proceedings before the Courts of Appeals for the Armed Forces and the US Supreme Court.
Mr. Cunningham was awarded the Michael J. Brophy Distinguished Service Award from the State Bar of Arizona in 2010, and named Arizona Capitol Times’ “Leader of the Year” in Public Policy for the Environment in 2009. He is from Kingman and received his bachelor’s in 1976 from the University of Michigan, graduating cum laude. He earned his law degree from ASU in 1979. Mr. Cunningham and Highground do not provide legal services to HighGround clients.
Jennifer Liewer is a seasoned communication professional with more than 15 years of experience working for private and public sector organizations. She has spent her career handling strategic messaging for public-private partnerships, communicating about complex policy issues, generating publicity for large-scale special events, managing crisis situations, and executing a variety of unique public relations campaigns.
While working in the government sector, she managed media relations and strategic messaging for city and state officials, including the cities of Phoenix and Glendale, the Arizona Supreme Court, and the Arizona Department of Education.
She has developed and implemented strategic messaging campaigns for high profile topics, including legal opinions, public policy decisions, electoral outcomes, advocacy efforts, and crisis communication issues. These campaigns were on a variety of issues, including:
- Opening of University of Phoenix Stadium
- Super Bowl XLII
- Bankruptcy filing by the Phoenix Coyotes
- Court action on the disbarment of high-profile attorneys
- Education policy development
- School funding crisis
- Publicly financed economic development projects
Liewer excels at communicating about highly complex issues and translating them into a story that is easily understood and resonates with the general public. She understands how to position organizations to garner local, regional, and national attention. While in Glendale, Liewer was part of a team that executed an 18-month strategic media plan that landed Glendale in the national press, which included the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Fox News and Business Network, The David Letterman Show, ESPN and many others.
Prior to her work in the government sector, Liewer worked for the American Red Cross and was responsible for communicating to the public during times of disaster. She responded for three weeks to New York City as a public affairs officer for the organization in the days following 9/11 and spent several years handling media on smaller disasters throughout Arizona and the U.S.
Liewer enjoys helping people communicate about highly complex issues and translating them into a story that is easily understood and resonates with the public. She is a skilled presenter and trainer and enjoys working with individuals to sharpen their communication skills.
Liewer is an Arizona native and was raised in the West Valley. She graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in Communication Studies. She raised her daughter in her hometown of Glendale and now enjoys traveling, yoga, and being a “fun” aunt to all of her friends’ young children.
Drew Sexton works on various public affairs and political campaigns at the state, county and municipal levels as well as coordinates media relations for HighGround and its clients. Mr. Sexton most recently worked as the Public Affairs and Communications Specialist for Governor Jan Brewer where he organized and executed over a hundred successful events and public appearances for Governor Brewer, including multiple State of the State addresses and historic bill signing ceremonies. Mr. Sexton also assisted the Governor’s communications team on various social media platforms.
Before his role in the Governor’s Office, Mr. Sexton served as Deputy Campaign Manager for Salmon for Congress in 2012. Mr. Sexton organized events, volunteer outreach efforts and media engagement. The campaign was victorious with a resounding 67% of the November general election vote.
Mr. Sexton has also completed internships at various free-market think tanks in Arizona and his home state of Washington. Mr. Sexton graduated from Arizona State University with a major in political science, a minor in economics and a passion for Sun Devil Athletics. He is a proud resident of Phoenix.
Shelbe Hunsaker is a recent graduate from Missouri Valley College, where she received her degree in Public Relations and a minor in Mass Communications, Broadcasting. She has been involved in collegiate sports such as Volleyball, Track and Field and has a love for athletics. Ms. Hunsaker has been involved with her college radio station and was the Senior Editor of her college newspaper.
Ms. Hunsaker has worked as a public relations assistant for Gelsinger Art Licensing, working with clients at trade show events. She has also headed fundraising campaigns for two small not-for-profits during her time as a student. She worked with the Women’s Lighthouse Shelter and the Humane Society located in Marshall, Missouri to raise awareness of issues. Ms. Hunsaker’s passion for politics has led her to HighGround, where she is starting her professional career.
Robyne Richards has 14 years of legislative experience. At the state legislature, she worked directly with members of both chambers in the areas of commerce, natural resources and military. Ms. Richards is responsible for managing the office and supporting team members in government affairs. She is actively involved in local fundraising efforts and serves on a board at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. Ms. Richards volunteers for NewLifeCenter domestic violence shelter in Goodyear and advocates for women and children seeking to escape domestic violence.
See Level Writing and Design is a full-service visual and verbal communications company providing concept, writing, design and production for print, broadcast and online media. Founded in 1999 by Paul John, an advertising pro since 1973. See Level is a writing and design consultant for Highground Inc.