Perhaps the most important personnel decision Gov.-elect John Kitzhaber
will make between now and inauguration day in January is whom to pick as chief of staff. The man who served that key role for most of Kitzhaber's previous two terms as governor, from 1995 to 2003, was Bill Wyatt
—now the director of the Port of Portland, a job too good to leave.
Kitzhaber has said he'll bring in new blood for his third term. And that pledge gave rise to initial speculation about two chief of staff contenders from the Oregon House
. One of those was Rep. Jefferson Smith
(D-Portland), a Kitzhaber ally who earned the plum assignment of welcoming the crowd when President Obama came to town
last month for Kitzhaber. The second person mentioned was Rep. Brian Clem
(D-Salem), who provided early financial support to Kitzhaber after ending early exploration of his own gubernatorial run. Smith co-founded the Oregon Bus Project and Clem served as a staffer for U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). But neither has the experience of being the top assistant to a statewide leader.
Two other potential candidates whose names have been mentioned for the post do have such experience. One of those ise Connie Seeley,
who served as chief of staff for Senate President Peter Courtney
(D-Salem) for seven years before becoming chief of staff at OHSU earlier this year. Seeley makes $185,000 in that OHSU position—significantly more than the govenor's chief makes. She was not immediately available for comment.
The person insiders say is a front-runner for the job is Pat Egan
, currently a vice president at PacifiCorp. Egan is a Salem veteran, having worked for Courtney for several years before serving as legisatlive director and transportation advisor to then-Gov. Kitzhaber from 1999 to 2003. When Kitzhaber left office, Egan went to work at the Port of Portland for two years before returning to Salem to serve as an aide and then chief of staff to Gov. Ted Kulongoski from 2005 to 2006.
Egan served Kulongoski during a turbulent time when the Democratic governor was considering whether to run for a second term and then became embroiled in a difficult race against Republican Ron Saxton.
Shortly after Kulongoski won re-election, Egan stepped down. "I was called in to do a job and completed it and had the opportunity to join PacifiCorp," he says.
Egan says he's happy in his current position and has not been contacted about being Kitzhaber's chief. "I don't think that bridge has been crossed at any level," Egan says.
Kitzhaber's spokeswoman, Jillian Schoene, told WW via email that speculation about who Kitzhaber will hire is premature.
"No decisions have been made in regards to staff within the Kitzhaber administration," Schoene wrote. "No front-runners either."