Skip to Content

Gov. Kotek backs off plans to expand first lady’s role after top staff departures, apologizes for ‘way this conservation started’

(Update: Adding comments from Gov. Kotek and political analyst)

SALEM, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Amid questions and concerns over her intended role for the first lady, which prompted some top staff departures, Gov. Tina Kotek met with reporters Wednesday afternoon and backed off plans for an expanded role or dedicated Office of the First Spouse, also apologizing to Oregonians "for the way this conversation ... has started."

Five of the governor's staffers resigned last month, and Kotek had refused previously to comment on the reasoning behind their departures.

"Your trust is important to me, and I just want you to know that I'm going to continue to work hard to solve problems so that every Oregonian can have what they need, " Kotek said Wednesday.

Political analyst and Pacific University professor Jim Moore said, "Lots of other states have made the first spouse role much like the first spouse role for the President of the United States. you get a little staff. You do get support. There's even a little budget to pay for people, that kind of thing. Oregon has not done that, nor even seriously explored it."

This isn't the first time the role of the governor's significant other has created controversy,

Former Governor John Kitzhaber resigned after his fiance was compensated by the state as a private consultant amid accusations she pushed policy as first lady.

Governor Kotek was house speaker at the time and supported the call to remove Kitzhaber from office.

"Well, I think there are apples and oranges there," said Kotek when asked by NewsChannel 21 about any similarities to Kitzhaber's controversy. "What I can say is, I've been very clear that the first lady, as an unpaid volunteer with no financial interest in state government, is providing her expertise, both lived and professional, to provide information, and will continue to do so. "

Recently, more than 6,000 emails were released by Governor Kotek's office showing increasing concern among staffers about the first lady's role after Aimee Kotek Wilson attended federal meetings with the governor and Oregon State Police started accompanying her.

"I want to be clear about the following: There will not be an office of the first spouse," Kotek said. "There will not be a chief of staff to the first spouse, and other than staff that is assigned to support the first lady in her official duties, no state staff will report to her or be supervised by her."

As of now Kotek Wilson advocates with groups on mental health and addiction and is unpaid. She does have her own office and an aide.

In comparison, Jennifer Siebel Newsom is the first partner for the state of California. Her role consists of chairing committees and helping with non-profits and is also unpaid.

But Governor Kotek wants to extend her wife's role, and is asking the state's Government Ethics Commission for help with guidelines. But a formal first spouse office apparently is off the table.

"Oregonians have been very clear, like, 'That's a little too much for us," Kotek said. "So once we figure this out with more guidance, we will be back and say, 'Okay, we've heard this. We can give you more answers.'"

Here's the governor's news release and statement.

Governor Kotek Issues Statement On Role of First Spouse

Salem, OR — Today, Governor Tina Kotek issued the following statement regarding the role of the First Spouse:

“Fellow Oregonians, I want you to know that my focus is doing the best job possible for you and your families. I take responsibility for not being more thoughtful in my approach to exploring the role of the First Spouse. I am sorry for the way this conversation between my office and you has started.

“I was honored to be elected as Governor, so that I could bring clarity and energy to tackling the state’s biggest challenges. My administration, since Day One, has held that True North, prioritizing the state’s homelessness and housing crisis, the inadequate system of mental health and addiction care across the state, and the need to improve educational outcomes for children with a focus on early literacy and summer learning. We have much to do together to achieve our shared goals, and with these priorities and a renewed focus on strengthening how state government does its work, I believe we have made progress and will continue to make progress.

“My job as Governor is to see the entire playing field. Whether it is deepening my understanding of the needs of our entire state by visiting all 36 counties in my first year, collaborating with lawmakers to pass critical new laws and investments, focusing on the future success of the Portland Central City, or responding to the inquiries of individuals who contact my office – no topic is too small or too big when it comes to serving Oregonians.

“First Lady Aimee Kotek Wilson has been by my side for 20 years. The First Lady and I share a profound commitment to standing up for the most vulnerable among us, fighting for a more just world, and making sure we leave this world better than we found it. She is a social worker, someone with lived experience with mental health and recovery and someone who has throughout her career helped lift up the stories of others to make meaningful change. As a family, the First Lady and I jointly and intentionally decided that she not return to employment or have any outside income as to avoid any perceived or actual conflict of interest. And her work as First Lady is also unpaid and is on a volunteer basis. As a family, we have traversed Oregon on the campaign trail and on the One Oregon Listening Tour, reaffirming our faith that nothing is impossible if Oregonians work together.

“In my short time as Governor, I have considered how Oregon can emulate other states that rely on the time and talent of a First Spouse who has no financial interest or benefit in state government.

“There is no road map in Oregon for defining the role of a First Spouse, who is a 'public official' under Oregon law. I make all policy and personnel decisions for my office. I have sought guidance from the National Governors Association and the Oregon Government Ethics Commission (OGEC). I am committed to defining the role of the First Spouse with respect to what we learn from OGEC, not only on behalf of this administration but future administrations as well.

“After listening to and reflecting on the concerns of Oregonians who have contacted my office, as well as the advice of staff, I want to be clear about these things: There will not be an Office of the First Spouse. There will not be a position of Chief of Staff to the First Spouse. Other than staff that is assigned to support the First Lady in her official duties, no state staff will report to her or be supervised by her.

“My office is also assembling a First Spouse Manual to spell out policies and procedures related to that role, including protocols for addressing any staff concerns or complaints. The First Spouse manual is in progress and is one of the reasons Meliah Masiba was brought on as a temporary advisor to my office. She reports to Chief of Staff Chris Warner. You can read her job description here.

“Between now and when we learn more from OGEC, the First Lady will continue to accompany me and attend events representing the Governor’s Office, such as Tribal visits and ceremonial events, and she will listen to Oregonians about the issues most impacting them, especially in the area of mental health and addiction.

“Your trust is important to me. I will continue to work hard to solve problems so that every Oregonian can have what they need.”

Article Topic Follows: Government-politics

Jump to comments ↓

Author Profile Photo

Isabella Warren

Isabella Warren is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Isabellahere.


KTVZ NewsChannel 21 is committed to providing a forum for civil and constructive conversation.

Please keep your comments respectful and relevant. You can review our Community Guidelines by clicking here

If you would like to share a story idea, please submit it here.

Skip to content