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Kotek names key staff in governor’s office

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Oregon Capital Bureau

Gov. Tina Kotek has announced several appointees to her staff, among them a deputy chief of staff who will oversee agencies, a communications director, and a former state representative who will advise her on natural resources and climate change.

Among the prominent hires to her staff, most of them policy advisers:

  • Chris Warner as deputy chief of staff for a newly created Office of Public Administration, which will give him wide latitude to oversee state agencies. Warner comes from the Portland Bureau of Transportation, where he became assistant director in 2016 and its director since June 2019. He had been chief of staff for Portland City Commissioner Steve Novick, who was in office from 2013 to 2017.

Warner has worked in government at all levels. From 2003 to 2010, he was legislative director and a top assistant to Gov. Ted Kulongoski. He helped shepherd passage of the 2009 Jobs and Transportation Act, which at $1 billion was the largest such spending plan until 2017.

He also worked for U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith, and U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio.

He is married to Barbara Smith Warner, herself a former Wyden aide, who was in the District 45 seat in the Oregon House from November 2013 until Jan. 9 of this year. Barbara Smith Warner was House majority leader from July 2019 until January 2022.

  • An Do as director of communications and public affairs, starting Jan. 19, which will enable her to speak for the governor. She has spent almost two years as executive director of Planned Parenthood Associates of Oregon, for which she was also its political director. She led the campaign against a 2018 ballot measure that would have barred public funds for abortions, except in specified instances. Oregon has used state money for abortions since a federal restriction took effect in 1976. (Voters rejected Measure 106.)

She also was a social worker in alternative high schools in Portland and Brooklyn, N.Y.

  • Karin Power, who just completed three terms as a Democratic state representative from District 41 (Milwaukie), as a natural resources and climate adviser. She had taken leave from her job as interim director of Business for a Better Portland, where she was hired in July. Before she was elected to the Oregon House in 2016, Power was a Milwaukie city councilor and associate general counsel for the Freshwater Trust.

She was appointed to the governing board of Clackamas Community College last fall.

Other appointees

Most of the other appointees have some experience in state government. They are listed below.

  • Vince Porter, adviser for economic development and workforce. He had been director of Regence Health Policy Center for eight months, director of government affairs at Cambia Health Solutions since 2017, and a vice president at Strategies 360 from 2016 to 2017. A former vice president for production at Showtime Networks, he also led the Governor’s Office of Film and Television from 2008 to 2014, and was an economic development adviser to Gov. Kate Brown from 2014 to 2016.
  • Kelly Scannell Brooks, transportation and infrastructure adviser. She has been assistant city manager in Milwaukie since 2017, and was an official in the Portland regional office of the Oregon Department of Transportation from 2011 to 2017. She also did separate stints (2003-04, 2007-10) for U.S. Rep. David Wu in Washington, D.C., and in Oregon.
  • Geoff Huntington, senior natural resources adviser. Most recently he was Elliott State Forest project manager for the Department of State Lands. The 2022 Legislature kept the south coast forest in public ownership for research purposes, but severed a prior requirement for it to produce income from timber sales for the Common School Fund. He has taught in the College of Forestry at Oregon State University, and was executive director of the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board and deputy director of the Oregon Department of Water Resources.
  • Doug Grafe, wildfire and emergency response adviser. Grafe led state programs created by the 2021 Legislature to lessen the effects of severe wildfires and help communities plan to avert them. Gov. Brown named him to that job after 17 years at the Oregon Department of Forestry, where he was chief of fire protection.
  • Rachel Currans-Henry, health and human services adviser. She has worked as strategic initiatives administrator in aging and disability services at the Department of Human Services, and in the COVID-19 response and recovery unit of the Oregon Health Authority. She also held top health positions in Wisconsin, including Medicaid administration.
  • Maya Crawford Peacock, executive appointments director. She led the Lawyers Campaign for Justice, a nonprofit that aims to broaden access to legal representation. She also has been a supervising attorney for Legal Aid Services of Oregon and public interest law coordinator at Lewis & Clark College law school.
  • Constantin Severe, public safety adviser, the same job he had with Gov. Brown. Severe had been a lawyer with Metropolitan Public Defender in Portland and director of Portland’s Independent Police Review.
  • Amelia Porterfield, regional solutions director. For the past three years, she has been director of government affairs for The Nature Conservancy. She was a top aide to Kotek when Kotek led House Democrats from mid-2011 until 2013 – when the House was tied 30-30 — and then her first chief of staff (for three years) after Democrats gained a majority and Kotek became House speaker.

Previously announced

She previously announced as her chief of staff Andrea Cooper, who had been deputy chief for the final two years of Gov. Kate Brown’s tenure.

A second deputy chief of staff for Kotek announced previously is Lindsey O’Brien, who will be in charge of public engagement. She had been her communications director (2015-17) and chief of staff (2019-22) while Kotek was speaker of the Oregon House. She stayed for a few months with the current House speaker, Dan Rayfield, until she joined Kotek’s campaign as a senior adviser. She was chief of staff for the House Majority Office from 2017 to 2019. O’Brien also had worked for the 2014 campaign of U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley.

Also announced previously: Melissa Goff as education adviser. She comes from the Oregon School Boards Association, where she was deputy executive director for a few months. She had been schools superintendent for two years in Albany, until the board fired her without explanation in 2021. She also led schools in Philomath, and was an assistant superintendent at Portland Public Schools for a year.

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