Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily

As 80% Of Secretary Of State Executive Team Quit, Chuck Gray Finding Replacements

in News/politics

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By Leo Wolfson, State Politics Reporter
Leo@cowboystatedaily.com

Secretary of State-elect Chuck Gray has announced some of the main players in his new office leadership team.

“I have been working hard to ensure an orderly, smooth transition in the Wyoming Secretary of State’s Office,” Gray said in a statement.

He has some big holes to fill, as four of five members of the Secretary of State’s office executive team are leaving, representing 119 years of combined experience in the office between them.


Jesse Neiman

Jesse Naiman Will Be Deputy SOS

Cheyenne resident Jesse Naiman will serve as the new deputy secretary of state. Naiman is a senior assistant attorney general in the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office. 

He has defended the state of Wyoming in civil cases and appeals in both federal and state courts. 

Naiman represented the Wyoming Highway Patrol in a high-profile sexual discrimination case that came to a settlement agreement in 2021.

He was also elected as a member of the Laramie County Republican Party executive board in 2017.

Naiman will replace departing Deputy Secretary of State Karen Wheeler, who spent 37 years working in the office. Wheeler said it seemed an appropriate time for a career change.

“With the incoming administration, the change in administrations, I just felt that it was a good time for me to close this chapter of my book and start a new one,” Wheeler told Cowboy State Daily.

The deputy is traditionally considered the No. 2 official in the Secretary of State’s office. 

Wheeler said it is not unusual for a secretary of state to bring in his or her own deputy who did not work in the office previously.


Joe Rubino

Joe Rubino Is Chief Policy Officer

Casper attorney Joe Rubino will serve as chief policy officer and general counsel. Rubino is an associate attorney with Williams, Porter, Day & Neville and graduated with honors from the University of Wyoming College of Law in 2021, according to a March Oil City News story.

“Joe’s experience is varied,” Gray said in his statement. “As an attorney in private practice, Joe has represented and advised clients on a range of issues related to natural resources, property rights, employment, and state regulatory matters.”

Rubino will replace former communications and policy director Monique Meese. 

Both Naiman and Rubino campaigned for Harriet Hageman during her 2018 gubernatorial run and 2022 U.S. House campaign. 

Staying On

Kelly Janes, director of the compliance division, is the one member of the current executive team staying on. 

Kyndra Herrera and Micah Pfaffe will continue in their roles within the Administration Division managing both the office’s fiscal and technology teams, jointly taking on the duties of departing Administration Division Director Andrea Byrne. 

The roles held by Business Division Director Lisa Gonzales and Elections Division Director Kai Schon will be filled by assistant directors in each division. 

“I look forward to working closely with both divisions to ensure that each director position is filled with the best possible candidate,” Gray said.

He also said he won’t replace Byrne’s position, and instead will roll that position into the office’s Technology Division, which Gray said will save money and be more efficient.

Turnover

In August, Meese told Cowboy State Daily the biggest reason for her departure was Gray’s election.

“He’s called into question the integrity of this office and now he’s going to run it – and yuck,” she said.

Gray hosted free showings of the movie “2000 Mules” during his campaign this past summer, a film that calls into question the results of the 2020 elections.

Meese said Gray’s questioning of the security and integrity of Wyoming’s elections during his campaign were what drove her out.

“I welcome the opportunity to work with the entire staff more closely in the future,” Gray said in his statement.

Expected Exodus

But during an August forum, he acknowledged there might be people in the office who will not want to work for him. 

“The insiders down there at the capital, a lot of them don’t want things to improve,” Gray said during the Wyoming PBS forum. “I’ve seen the Secretary of State staff work and I do believe I can work with them towards getting this election integrity vision.” 

Wheeler said since the primary election, 12 of the office’s 31 employees have either left or announced they plan to leave before Gray takes office. 

None of the job openings are posted on the Wyoming Administration and Information website.

“Turnover during transitions is routine,” Gray said in his statement.

But Wheeler said this level of turnover is not.

“In my 37 years, I have not seen a large amount of staff leave when an incoming secretary of state takes office,” she said.

Gray will be sworn into office Jan. 2.

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