Fallin’s feminine firsts: Women are notable among early appointees

By Patrick B. McGuigan

Published: 26-Nov-2010

Oklahoma Governor-elect Mary Fallin has made a fast start toward forming an executive and administrative team to help her fashion policy for the Sooner State. In less than a month since the November 2 election, Fallin has made several significant choices.

Included in the group are well-known conservative leaders, many of them women who, like her, are trailblazers bringing a feminine touch to public service. Atop the list are two cabinet appointments, each one a woman whose career, like Fallin’s, includes a series of firsts.

Phyllis Hudecki will serve as Secretary of Education. She seems assured of a productive working relationship with the incoming Superintendent of Public Instruction, Janet Barresi.  As director of a business-education alliance, she has worked with legislators in both parties and with departing Governor Brad Henry on the Achieving Classroom Excellence (ACE) legislation.

Hudecki paid dues as a strong advocate of the educational policy goals both Fallin and Barresi have set forth, including support for increased parental choice, accountability and academic rigor in public schools. Additionally, she has long tenure in vocational education before coming to Oklahoma to work with the Oklahoma Business Education Coalition.

Earlier in her career, Secretary-designate Hudecki was associate director of a national center at the University of California-Berkeley, and worked in the state departments of education for Iowa, Missouri and Massachusetts. She also worked at the U.S. Department of Education, in addition to teaching experience and a stint as a tech high school administrator.

Also last week, Fallin designated Major General Rita Aragon as Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Gen. Aragon was the first woman in American history to command a state’s Air National Guard. In a 28-year career, Secretary-designate Aragon also served in the Staff Manpower and Personnel office at the Pentagon, spending time as the senior Air Guard officer for personnel management (both civilian and military).

Like Hudecki, Aragon also brings classroom teaching experience to state government service. She taught elementary school and was also a principal, earning accolades for both.

Early last month, Fallin named Denise Northrup as chief of staff. In addition to stints as district director in Fallin’s congressional office, Northrup managed her 1998 and 2002 campaigns for lieutenant governor, and the 2006 and 2008 campaigns for the Fifth District congressional seat she now holds.

On November 17, Fallin chose Katie Altshuler as her policy director. Altshuler held a similar position with departing state House Speaker Chris Benge. Previously, she was staff director at the U.S. Senate Republican Policy Committee, and also worked for former U.S. Sen. Don Nickles.

Fallin’s general counsel will be Judy Copeland, presently an Assistant U.S. Attorney and, before that, an Assistant Oklahoma County District Attorney. Copeland served six years as counsel to former Governor Frank Keating, and in the administrations of both Susan Loving and current Attorney General Drew Edmondson.

The governor-elect’s early selections include men who, like the female choices, are characterized as conservative and competent. These include Jim Reese, Todd Lamb and Alex Weitz.

Reese was named Cabinet secretary of Agriculture on November 15. A former legislator, he has a long career in agri-business.

Lamb, the first Republican Majority Leader in Oklahoma history, on November 2 became the first male Republican ever elected lieutenant governor. He will serve as Small Business Advocatee in the Fallin administration.

Key advisors to Mary Fallin now include Bob Sullivan, David Rainbolt and Gary Sherrer.

Sullivan is leading a task force to examine the state’s tax code, and to critique rules regulating business and impacting economic growth. She designated Rainbolt, current chairman of the State Chamber, and Sherrer, now serving on the Board of Rural Enterprises, Inc., to help develop her economic policy agenda.

Running Fallin’s transition team are former Senate President Pro Temp Glenn Coffee and Devon Energy executive Larry Nichols. Fallin said the two are helping her make key hires. Coffee just ended his tenure as the first Republican in state history to run the state Senate. Nichols is a past chairman of the American Petroleum Institute, and of the State Chamber.

Alex Weintz, Fallin’s 2010 campaign and transition team communications director, will move seemlessly with Fallin into the governor’s office in January, continuing as her principal point of contact with the Capitol press corps and other state journalists.