Gov. John Kitzhaber has made an intriguing selection for the next person to head the Oregon Lottery—he's picked former Labor Commissioner Jack Roberts, who held that statewide office from 1995 to 2003. 

Tim Raphael, Kitzhaber's spokeman confirms the governor intends to put Roberts' name forward for the job, although all the paperwork necessary for a formal nomination is still being completed.

Roberts, a lawyer, ran in the GOP gubernatorial primary in 2002 and for state supreme court in 2006, losing both times. He led the Lane Metro Partnership, an economic development agency until the end of last month.

The reason Roberts' selection is interesting is that he is not only a Republican (Kitzhaber is a Democrat) but he has historically criticized Kitzhaber. 

"For all his big ideas, what most people don't realize is, he really hasn't delivered," Roberts told WW in a 2010 interview when Kitzhaber was seeking his third gubernatorial term after eight years away from politics. 

But Roberts, a moderate, has avoided the purely partisan positioning that characterizes a lot of political rhetoric. More recently, he's been willing to acknowledge that Kitzhaber 2.0 is a better governor that the Kitzhaber who served from 1995 to 2003.

In a Jan. 24 Oregonian column, Roberts wrote approvingly of Kitzhaber's third-term performance.

"The reality is that Kitzhaber 's agenda isn't driven by partisan politics. He is focusing on cutting costs, shifting funding priorities and raising revenues precisely because those steps are necessary in order to achieve his vision for the state," Roberts wrote.

Now, given the retirement of current Lottery director Larry Neiswender  from his $171,000-a-year post, Kitzhaber has a key position to fill. After income taxes, Lottery receipts are the state's second largest source of revenues, providing more than $500 million a year to education, economic development and other uses.

Roberts is the second high-profile agency director Kitzhaber has selected recently. Earlier this week, The Oregonian reported that the governor wants Steve Marks, a longtime Kitzhaber aide, to head the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.

Unlike some agency directorships, such as the OLCC, which require board or commission approval, the Lottery job is a direct gubernatorial appointment. It does require approval by the Senate, which next meets in November for an regularly scheduled housekeeping session.  

Roberts says he's honored to have been selected for the job. He notes that neither he nor Kitzhaber supported the legalization of gambling, which voters approved in 1984 but given the Lottery's important role in financing state operations, he's enthusiastic about taking on leadership of the agency.

"The governor did not vote for the Lottery and neither did I," Roberts says. "But it's become a national model over the past 30 years and if I'm confirmed, my job will be to make it run as efficiently as possible."