Governor’s Office Confirms That First Lady Has State-Paid Office Space and, Starting Monday, Staff

Aimee Kotek Wilson also regularly attends staff meetings on behavioral health.

TEAM KOTEK: Tina Kotek, center, was accompanied by her wife Aimee Wilson, right, as Kotek was sworn in as Oregon governor at the state Capitol building in Salem, Ore., on Monday, Jan. 9, 2023. (Dave Killen/The Oregonian/Pool photography)

Gov. Tina Kotek’s office provided more information today about the role of first lady Aimee Kotek Wilson.

In response to questions from WW, Kotek’s spokeswoman, Elisabeth Shepard, confirmed that Kotek Wilson regularly attends staff meetings about behavioral health, which is one of the governor’s top priorities.

“The governor has a standing weekly meeting with staff to discuss behavioral health initiatives,” Shepard says. “First lady Kotek Wilson has attended several meetings in the last year of the administration, in light of her professional experience as a social worker. The governor makes all policy decisions on behalf of the office.”

Kotek Wilson holds a master’s degree in social work and has previously worked in the field.

Unlike some states, Oregon does not assign official duties or any budget to the first spouse. Dan Little, the husband of former Gov. Kate Brown, accompanied Brown to some events but only on rare occasions attended staff meetings.

Kotek Wilson, however, has taken a more active role than did Little. Her desire to be more involved led to tensions with Kotek’s top executive staff, according to three people familiar with the situation, leading to the departure of chief of staff Andrea Cooper, the resignation of special adviser Abby Tibbs, and the decision of longtime aide Lindsey O’Brien to go on leave.

Two other examples of Kotek Wilson’s role in the office: Unlike Little or most Oregon first spouses, Kotek Wilson has her own office space within the governor’s office, Shepard confirmed.

“The office is approximately 8 feet by 8 feet, consistent with the other office spaces in the governor’s office,” Shepard says.

And, as of Monday, Shepard says, Kotek Wilson will have her own staff, as Meliah Masiba, a state employee currently working as legislative director in the Oregon Department of Administrative Services, moves to the governor’s office to support Kotek Wilson.

That move coincides with the departure of the senior Kotek staffers, who had reportedly objected to Kotek Wilson inserting herself into the workings of the office.

“Meliah will be joining the governor’s office as an adviser on a temporary rotation, effective March 25,” Shepard says. “This six-month rotation will be to help explore the establishment of the Office of the First Spouse, a program that has been established in many states. This position would also assist and support the current first spouse in her official capacity in support of the administration.”

Although there is no allegation that Kotek Wilson is seeking to benefit financially from her position as first lady, which former first lady Cylvia Hayes did in Gov. John Kitzhaber’s office, there are some parallels.

The first evidence that Kitzhaber’s staff was uncomfortable with Hayes’ role in Kitzhaber’s office came about three years into Kitzhaber’s third term, when his chief of staff, Curtis Robinhold, and his communications director, Tim Raphael, abruptly left the office prior to Kitzhaber seeking reelection in 2014. Although they did not say so at the time, emails would later show Robinhold pushed hard—and unsuccessfully—for the governor to separate his personal and professional lives.

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.