Kotek names key staff in governor’s office

Gov. Tina Kotek has announced several appointments for her staff, including a deputy chief of staff who will oversee agencies, a communications director, and a former state official who will advise her on natural resources and climate change.

Among the prominent hires of their staff, most of them political advisers:

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

Warner has worked at all levels of government. From 2003 to 2010 he was Legislative Director and Top Assistant to Governor Ted Kulongoski. He helped pass the Jobs and Transportation Act of 2009, which at $1 billion was the largest such spending plan until 2017.

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He has also worked for US Senator Ron Wyden, Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith and US Rep. Peter DeFazio.

He is married to Barbara Smith Warner, herself a former Wyden assistant, who sat in District 45’s Oregon House from November 2013 to January 9 of this year. Barbara Smith Warner served as Majority Leader of the House of Representatives from July 2019 to January 2022.

• A stint as director of communications and public affairs beginning January 19, which will allow her to speak for the governor. She was executive director of Planned Parenthood Associates of Oregon for nearly two years, for which she was also policy director. She led the campaign against a 2018 election measure that would have blocked public funding for abortions except in certain cases. Oregon has been using state funds for abortions since a federal restriction went into effect in 1976. (Voters rejected Measure 106.)

She was also a social worker at alternative high schools in Portland and Brooklyn, NY

• Karin Power, who has just completed three terms as a Democratic State Representative from District 41 (Milwaukie) as Advisor on Natural Resources and Climate. She had left her job as interim director of business for a better Portland, where she was hired in July. Before being elected to the Oregon House in 2016, Power was a Milwaukie City Councilman and Associate General Counsel of the Freshwater Trust.

Last fall she was appointed to the board of directors of Clackamas Community College.

Other officers

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

• Vince Porter, Economic Development and Labor Advisor. He was director of the Regence Health Policy Center for eight months, director of government affairs at Cambia Health Solutions since 2017, and vice president at Strategies 360 from 2016 to 2017. A former vice president of production at Showtime Networks, he also led the governor’s office for film and television from 2008 to 2014 and was Economic Development Advisor to Governor Kate Brown from 2014 to 2016.

• Kelly Scannell Brooks, transportation and infrastructure consultant. She has been an assistant city manager in Milwaukie since 2017 and was an officer in the Portland Regional Office of the Oregon Department of Transportation from 2011-2017. She also worked separately (2003-04, 2007-10) for US Rep. David Wu in Washington, DC and in Oregon.

• Geoff Huntington, Senior Natural Resources Advisor. Most recently, he was Elliott State Forest project manager for the Department of State Lands. The 2022 Legislature kept the South Shore forest in public ownership for research, but severed a prior requirement that it generate revenue from timber sales for the Common School Fund. He has taught at Oregon State University’s College of Forestry and served as Executive Director of the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board and Associate Director of the Oregon Department of Water Resources.

• Doug Grafe, Wildfire and Emergency Response Advisor. Grafe led state programs created by the 2021 Legislature to reduce the impact of severe wildfires and help communities plan to avoid them. Governor Brown appointed him to this post after 17 years in the Oregon Department of Forestry, where he was chief of fire protection.

• Rachel Currans-Henry, Health and Social Care Advisor. She has worked as a Strategic Initiatives Administrator in Aging and Disability Services in the Department of Human Services and in the Oregon Health Authority’s COVID-19 Response and Recovery Division. She has also held senior healthcare positions in Wisconsin, including managing Medicaid.

• Maya Crawford Peacock, Director of Senior Appointments. She led the Lawyers Campaign for Justice, a non-profit organization that aims to expand access to legal representation. She was also senior attorney for Legal Aid Services of Oregon and public interest coordinator at Lewis & Clark College Law School.

• Constantin Severe, Public Safety Advisor, same job as Governor Brown. Severe was an attorney with the Metropolitan Public Defender in Portland and director of Portland’s Independent Police Review.

• Amelia Porterfield, Director of Regional Solutions. For the past three years she has served as Director of Government Affairs at The Nature Conservancy. She was a top companion to Kotek when Kotek led the House Democrats from mid-2011 to 2013 – when the House was tied 30-30 – and then her first chief of staff (for three years) after the Democrats won a majority and Kotek House became speaker.

previously announced

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

A second Kotek Deputy Chief of Staff previously announced is Lindsey O’Brien, who will be responsible for public engagement. She was their director of communications (2015-17) and chief of staff (2019-22) while Kotek was speaker of the Oregon House. She stayed with current House Speaker Dan Rayfield for a few months before joining Kotek’s campaign as senior adviser. She was Chief of Staff of the House Majority Office from 2017 to 2019. O’Brien had also worked on US Senator Jeff Merkley’s 2014 campaign.

Also already announced: Melissa Goff as educational consultant. She comes from the Oregon School Boards Association, where she was vice president for a few months. She was Albany’s principal for two years until the board fired her without reason in 2021. She also ran schools in Philomath and was an assistant principal at Portland Public Schools for a year.

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