Kotek’s Wife Gets Aide, Office Space as Governor Considers Creating ‘Office of the First Spouse’

Gov. Tina Kotek is hiring a temporary aide to assist her wife, Aimee Kotek Wilson, as the governor considers expanding Kotek Wilson’s role and creating a new “Office of the First Spouse.”

Kotek spokeswoman Elisabeth Shepard confirmed that Meliah Masiba, the legislative director for the Department of Administrative Services, joined the governor’s office on a six-month rotation that began Monday. Masiba will explore creating the new office and “assist and support the current first spouse in her official capacity in support of the administration,” according to the governor’s office.

Kotek’s plan, first reported by Willamette Week, comes as three top staffers left the governor’s office, departures some sources speculated were due to conflicts with Kotek Wilson. The governor’s office has declined to say why Chief of Staff Andrea Cooper, Deputy Chief of Staff Lindsey O’Brien and special adviser Abby Tibbs are leaving the office and have not yet turned over public records requested by the Capital Chronicle that could provide clarity. Shepard said Monday the three employees have not turned in resignation letters.

Cooper will leave Friday. Tibbs, a longtime lobbyist for Oregon Health & Science University, will return to the university on Sunday. O’Brien will go on leave April 5, and the governor’s office declined to say Friday whether O’Brien will return from that leave.

The governor’s office will pay Masiba her DAS salary of $11,984 per month, or nearly $72,000 for her six months in the governor’s office. She’ll report to acting Chief of Staff Chris Warner.

One of her first tasks will be joining Kotek Wilson at the National Governors’ Association’s annual first spouses retreat, which will be held in Salt Lake City Tuesday and Wednesday.

Mary Rowinski, the state employee who manages Mahonia Hall, will also attend, as will officers from Oregon State Police’s Dignitary Protection Unit. The association will pay for Kotek Wilson’s travel and lodging and reimburse most costs for state staff, according to the governor’s office.

Kotek ordered state police beginning in March to consistently provide security for Kotek Wilson when she attends events as a representative of the governor’s office. Thus far, Kotek Wilson has averaged less than one event per month, according to the governor’s office.

The governor’s office plans to cover the costs of increased security with its existing budget, which totaled nearly $31 million in the current two-year budget cycle.

Kotek Wilson has an office in the governor’s office that’s approximately 8 feet by 8 feet, the same size as other offices, Shepard said. She has attended several of Kotek’s standing weekly meetings with staff about behavioral health initiatives. Kotek Wilson has a masters in social work from Portland State University and has worked on social justice and social welfare issues.

Governors’ spouses typically take a back seat in Oregon, but they have held more prominent roles in other states. In California, for instance, First Partner Jennifer Seibel Newsom leads campaigns focused on children’s mental and physical health and women’s equality. And in Washington, a state employee serves as First Lady Trudi Inslee’s assistant. According to the National Governors Association, many states have staff supporting the governor’s spouse.

Former Gov. Kate Brown’s husband, Dan Little, joined her at some public events and state travel but overall kept a low profile. Brown took over after former Gov. John Kitzhaber resigned because of an influence-peddling scandal involving his fiancée, Cylvia Hayes. Before Kitzhaber’s resignation, top staff in his office were concerned about conflicts of interest involving Hayes and tried to minimize her role in the governor’s office, according to reporting from Willamette Week at the time.

Kotek Wilson has been more visible, including accompanying Kotek to most stops on her 36-county tour of the state in 2023 and sitting in on discussions about housing, behavioral health and education during the tour. During a December interview with the Capital Chronicle, Kotek said it was helpful to have Kotek Wilson with her both to show Oregonians that they were a family and because of Kotek Wilson’s social work experience.

“We knew we’d be talking about mental health and addiction issues,” Kotek said. “Because of the First Lady’s background, just having her hear from local practitioners what was going on, that’s been a very helpful feedback loop as we continue to set our priorities in that area.”

The governor’s office added more information about Kotek Wilson, including a form to invite her to events, to the “about” page on the office’s website at some point since the page was last archived by the Wayback Machine in December.

by Julia Shumway, Oregon Capital Chronicle

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