Governor Mary Fallin Announces Cabinet, Senior Staff Changes
OKLAHOMA CITY – Governor Mary Fallin today announced a series of changes to her Cabinet and senior staff designed to ensure continued legislative success for the next two years while sustaining important initiatives enacted during her time in office.
“My team and I have accomplished a lot in the past six years, and we have every intention of being as productive as possible in our remaining two years,” said Fallin. “Each of these members of our team will continue to do amazing work for Oklahoma just as they have throughout their impressive careers. I thank each of them for all they have done to date and am thrilled they are all stepping up to fill these important roles serving our great state.”
The changes are:
- Secretary of State and Native American Affairs Chris Benge, a former House speaker, will become the governor’s chief of staff. He will retain his duties as secretary of Native American Affairs.
- First Assistant Attorney General Mike Hunter, a former legislator who served as secretary of state for former Governor Frank Keating, will become secretary of state and special counsel to the governor.
- Chief of Staff Denise Northrup will become chief operations officer at the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, an agency formed in Fallin’s first term by consolidating several shared government services to generate efficiencies.
- Deputy General Counsel Jennifer Chance, a former Oklahoma County assistant district attorney, will become general counsel.
All changes will be effective by Nov. 1.
“With these changes plus so many new legislators next year and new legislative leadership, Oklahomans can expect a fresh, redoubled effort from my administration and other leaders to serve them successfully. I believe our best days are ahead of us and that we will continue pushing an aggressive, pro-growth agenda,” Fallin said.
Chris Benge was appointed as Oklahoma’s 33rd secretary of state by Governor Mary Fallin on Nov. 8, 2013. In his role as secretary of state, Benge serves on the governor’s Cabinet and is responsible for 20 executive entities.
Benge was elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives in 1998 and left office in November 2010 due to legislative term limits. He served six years in House leadership positions, including three years as chairman of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee, which is responsible for negotiating and writing the state budget. Benge’s legislative service was highlighted by his focus on ways to encourage economic development and job growth for the citizens of Oklahoma. He was committed to funding transportation infrastructure, addressing physician training by stabilizing the Oklahoma State University Medical Center and promoting education initiatives. Benge steered the effort in the Legislature to help attract an NBA franchise to the state, which led to the beginning of the Oklahoma City Thunder. He spent his last three years in the Legislature as speaker of the House.
After his legislative service, Benge worked in Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett’s administration as director of intergovernmental and enterprise development. His focus was on public policy and special project development such as river development, transportation, infrastructure needs and energy leadership. He also concentrated on strengthening working partnerships between Tulsa County and the surrounding communities in the region.
Benge then served as the senior vice president of government affairs with the Tulsa Regional Chamber. As a way to increase the focus on growing the state’s economy, he brought focus to the Oklahoma Quality Jobs Program and the Closing Fund, which have brought numerous high-caliber jobs to the state. He also pushed for incentives that assisted local industry growth in aerospace and energy. Benge received recognition for his efforts to help the state create a favorable business climate from the State Chamber of Oklahoma with the organization’s Defender of Free Enterprise Award for 2009. He also brought particular attention to the use of domestic energy in the state by working to establish a set of energy goals for Oklahoma that included increased use of natural gas for transportation. These efforts led to his testifying before a congressional committee on the benefits of using more natural gas for transportation purposes.
In February 2015, Fallin appointed Benge to fill the position of Native American liaison, a position in which he works directly with the tribal nations of the state. He works to further the relationship between the state and tribal leadership and build on the momentum of the state and tribal nations have developed over the last few years.
On July 1, 2015, Fallin appointed Benge to serve on the Oklahoma F-35 Task Force. The purpose of the task force is to ensure a successful mission change for the 138th Fighter Wing to the F-35 Lightning II, based at the Tulsa International Airport. The 138th Fighter Wing is one of the premier combat units in the U.S. Air Force.
Benge is a member of the National Association of Secretary of States (NASS) and vice chairman of its business services committee. He is a lifetime member of Leadership Oklahoma, Class XXVI. Benge is also listed among Presidential Who’s Who, 2010, served as the honorary chair of the 2013 Academy Salute event and is a recipient of The Lifetime Achievement Award from The Oklahoma Academy, just to name a few of the professional and civic organizations of which he is involved and/or is a member.
A lifetime Tulsa area resident, Benge and his wife, Allison, along with their two children, reside in the community of Berryhill. He earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Oklahoma State University.
As the governor’s chief of staff, Benge will oversee all office staff and operations while serving as a top adviser to the governor. In addition, Benge will retain his role as the governor’s top tribal nation liaison by filling the Cabinet position of secretary of Native American affairs.
“Chris Benge is a widely-respected consensus builder who has been in the trenches and knows how to achieve success in the Legislature and across the state. His temperament, experience and love for Oklahoma and public service make him an excellent fit for this role,” Fallin said.
Mike Hunter was named Oklahoma’s first assistant attorney general in June 2015. He is the chief legal advisor to Attorney General Scott Pruitt and oversees a staff of over 200 lawyers, law enforcement agents and support staff.
From 2010 to 2015, Mike was the chief operating officer of the American Bankers Association (ABA), which represents banks of all sizes and charters and is the champion for the nation’s $13 trillion banking industry and its 2 million employees. Hunter managed government relations, regulatory, legal and communications activities for the ABA.
Prior to joining ABA, Hunter was secretary of the Commissioners of the Land Office, a $4 billion public land and investment trust in Oklahoma. From 2002 through 2009, Hunter was executive vice president and chief operating officer of the American Council of Life Insurers, the advocacy, legal and research arm of the life insurance industry.
Hunter served as Oklahoma’s secretary of state under Governor Frank Keating. As secretary of state, Hunter also served as the governor’s chief liaison to the Legislature, the state judiciary and the state’s federal delegation.
Hunter was chief of staff to then-U.S. Rep. J. C. Watts Jr., of Oklahoma, from 1995 to 1999. His position involved the management of the congressman’s office in Washington, D.C., and district offices in Oklahoma. He also served as legal counsel to Watts in his work on the National Security Committee and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
While in private practice as an energy and real estate lawyer, Hunter served as a member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives for six years. In 1988, he was one of eight lawmakers recognized by The Daily Oklahoman as “Oklahoma’s Best Legislators.”
In 1993 and 1994, Hunter served as general counsel of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, the state regulatory authority for public utilities, oil and gas, transportation and pipelines. He has also taught political science as an adjunct professor at the University of Central Oklahoma and at the University of Oklahoma.
Hunter received his law degree from OU and his undergraduate degree from Oklahoma State University. He is married to Cheryl Plaxico Hunter, and they have two sons, Barrett and Brock.
In addition to serving as a top advisor, surrogate and negotiator for the governor, the secretary of state is the executive branch’s top clerical officer. The secretary of state files all official acts of the governor, records all legislation passed by the Legislature, oversees initiative and referendum petition processes, manages the state administrative rules process, serves as the recordkeeper for all state business filings, maintains public meeting notices, and performs other duties.
“Mike Hunter has done the job of secretary of state before with great success because he gets results and has one of the best strategic intellects of anyone I know in government,” Fallin said.
Denise Northrup has served as Governor Mary Fallin’s chief of staff since she took office in 2011. Northrup also worked on Fallin’s staff as lieutenant governor and was Fallin’s district office director when she served in Congress. In addition to her staff roles, Northrup is a veteran campaign manager, having managed Fallin’s five consecutive winning campaigns for lieutenant governor, Congress and governor, plus other successful campaigns.
As chief operations officer for the state Office of Management and Enterprise Services, Northrup will assist the OMES director in managing the daily operations of OMES while identifying statewide opportunities for government efficiencies and agency partnerships.
“Denise Northrup has excelled at so many important tasks by my side these past 22 years, and she will be especially effective using her tenacity and intelligence to improve government efficiency statewide through OMES,” Fallin said.
Jennifer Chance has served as Governor Mary Fallin’s deputy general counsel since 2013. Prior to that, Chance was a successful assistant district attorney in Oklahoma County, where she served as felony team leader, and Pottawatomie and Lincoln counties, where she handled domestic violence, juvenile and appeals work. She also worked in private practice, focusing on tax and commercial litigation, after completing law school. Chance holds a juris doctorate from the University of Oklahoma School of Law and a bachelor of arts from the University of Central Oklahoma.
As the governor’s top legal advisor, the general counsel is responsible for thorough legal review of all legislation sent to the governor in addition to sound legal counsel on the wide variety duties and responsibilities assigned to the governor.
“Jennifer Chance is a highly-skilled attorney who has proven herself more than capable of filling one of the most important roles in state government as the governor’s general counsel,” Fallin said.