HELENA — Gov.-elect Greg Gianforte has begun to assemble his cabinet, naming a slate of officials with Montana roots and administrators from Republican circles in other parts of the country to fill director-level positions at state agencies.

Gianforte, the first Republican to serve as Montana governor in 16 years, was sworn in Jan. 4. On the campaign trail, he promised to bring new leadership to state agencies in order to keep state spending in check and build what he has described as “a culture of customer service.”

As of Jan. 21, the governor had named directors for all 12 cabinet-level agencies, as well as a director of the Office of Indian Affairs: 

Dept. of Agriculture

Mike Foster

Gianforte on Dec. 23 named current USDA Farm Services Agency state Executive Director Mike Foster as his Department of Agriculture director.

Foster, who was appointed to the USDA post in 2018, is a Townsend native who served in the Montana Legislature in the 1990s and also worked for the administration of Gov. Judy Martz and as a hospital lobbyist. He has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Carroll College and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Montana.

“Montana farmers and ranchers work hard to feed the world, and I’m excited to be a strong voice for these Montanans at the Department of Agriculture,” Foster said in a statement.

“Montana farmers and ranchers drive our state’s number one industry, and deserve a leader who will work tirelessly to help them capture more of the value they create,” Gianforte said in a statement. “With a robust understanding of the challenges and opportunities faced by our producers and a strong commitment to meeting their needs, Mike Foster will serve Montana ag well.”

Foster’s appointment was also applauded in the administration’s press release by Montana Grain Growers Association Executive VP Lola Raska, Montana Farm Bureau Federation Director of National Affairs Nicole Rolf, and Montana Stockgrowers Association President Jim Steinbeisser.

Dept. of Administration

Misty Giles

Gianforte on Dec. 29 named Misty Anne Giles as director of the state Department of Administration, which provides back-office services for other state agencies.

Giles has held several roles at the USDA, including as chief of staff for USDA’s rural development office. She previously worked for former Georgia governors Sonny Perdue and Nathan Deal. She has a J.D. degree from the University of San Diego and master’s and bachelor’s degrees from Georgia Southern University.

“I am grateful for this opportunity from Governor Gianforte to lead renewed efforts in Montana for better and more efficient services. Working alongside our hardworking state employees to learn from their experiences, I am excited to jump feet first into the role and enhance the way we serve Montanans,” Giles said in a statement. 

“Misty Ann is a change agent, and the kind of leader we need at the Department of Administration to streamline agency operations and better serve the people of Montana,” Gianforte said in a statement.

Giles’ appointment was applauded in the administration’s press release by former DNRC director Karen Fagg, former USDA rural development director Charles Robison, and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.

Dept. of Revenue

Brendan Beatty

Also on Dec. 29, Gianforte named longtime state Department of Revenue lawyer Brendan Beatty as the agency’s next director.

On staff at the department since 1996, Beatty has worked on legal issues regarding natural resource taxes, property taxes, income taxes and the breakup of the Montana Power Company. A Shelby native, he has a bachelor’s degree from UC Santa Barbara and a law degree from the University of Montana.

“I look forward to serving the people of this state as the Director of the Department of Revenue and leading this agency to perform at the high standards demanded by the Governor-elect and deserved by the people of Montana,” Beatty said in a statement.

“A proven and experienced tax attorney, Brendan is highly-qualified to lead the Department of Revenue and help Montanans keep more of their hard-earned dollars each year,” Gianforte said in a statement.

Beatty’s appointment was applauded in the administration’s press release by incoming budget director Kurt Alme, longtime Montana tax attorney Terry Cosgrove and Montana Taxpayers Association Executive Director Bob Story.

Dept. of Labor & Industry

Laurie Esau

On Dec. 30 Gianforte named Laurie Esau as commissioner of the Department of Labor & Industry, which among other responsibilities manages the state unemployment insurance program.

Esau previously served as chief of staff for former Minnesota congressman Erik Paulsen and as a deputy commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Commerce. She has a bachelor’s degree in political science from the College of St. Thomas in Minnesota.

“I will work tirelessly to lead the department, work with employers, and implement policies to grow Montana’s economy and expand jobs in the state,” Esau said in a statement.

“As our small businesses and workers rebuild after a difficult year, Laurie will be a fierce and effective advocate for them at the Department of Labor & Industry,” Gianforte said in a statement.

Esau’s appointment was applauded in the administration’s press release by Paulsen and Montana U.S. Sen. Steve Daines.

Dept. of Natural Resources & Conservation

Amanda Kaster

Gianforte on Dec. 30 named Amanda Kaster as director of the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.

Kaster is a former aide to Montana U.S. Rep. and former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and has worked for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in roles dealing with timber management, oil and gas production and grazing programs. She graduated from Wilkes University in Pennsylvania.

“I can’t wait to get to work ensuring the Treasure State achieves its full potential by responsibly managing and developing its land and water resources and continuing efforts to make the Department responsive for all Montanans,” Kaster said in a statement.

“I campaigned on the promise of responsibly developing our natural resources while simultaneously protecting our environment, and with Amanda’s leadership, we will get this done,” Gianforte said in a statement.

Kaster’s appointment was applauded in the administration’s press release by Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Chief Conservation Officer Blake Henning, Montana Petroleum Association Executive Director Alan Olson and Montana Stockgrowers Association President Jim Steinbeisser.

Dept. of Environmental Quality 

Chris Dorrington

Also on Dec. 30, Gianforte named current DEQ Air, Energy, and Mining Division Administrator Chris Dorrington as the agency’s next director.

Dorrington has worked at DEQ since 2016 and previously spent a decade working for the Montana Department of Transportation. He is a Helena native who has an engineering degree from Gonzaga University and a master’s degree in public policy from George Mason University.

“I am honored to be chosen to lead the Department of Environmental Quality — a great agency assigned vital responsibilities in our state constitution and laws,” Dorrington said in a statement.

“Chris understands how we can enhance agency operations to better serve the people of Montana,” Gianforte said in a statement. “Chris is committed to helping Montana live up to its full potential while protecting our environment.”

Dorrington’s appointment was applauded in the administration’s press release by Colstrip-area state Sen. Duane Ankney, former Department of Transportation Rail, Air Quality, and Studies Section Supervisor Diane Myers and Sandfire Resources America VP of Communications Nancy Schlepp. 

Dept. of Military Affairs

Major General John “Pete” Hronek

Gianforte on Dec. 31 appointed Major General Pete Hronek to serve as Montana’s Adjutant General and director of the Montana Department of Military Affairs.

Hronek, a pilot, is currently an officer in the Air National Guard at the Air Education Training Command in Texas. He has served three combat tours out of air bases in Saudi Arabia and Iraq and previously served as Montana’s assistant adjutant general and chief of staff for the Montana National Guard.

“I believe my breadth of experience and enthusiasm will help Governor-elect Gianforte’s vision become a reality. I am humbled by his confidence in me and I am ready to be the next Adjutant General,” Hronek said in a statement.

“An esteemed and proven leader in combat and with the National Guard Bureau, Major General Hronek will serve our service members, veterans, and state well,” Gianforte said in a statement.

Hronek’s appointment was applauded in the administration’s press release by retired Air Force Chief Master Sergeant Cari Kent, Air National Guard Director Lt. Gen. Michael Loh, and Nels Swandel, a retired Army colonel and former state legislator.

Dept. of Transportation

Malcom “Mack” Long

Gianforte on Dec. 31 appointed Billings construction company executive Mack Long as director of the Montana Department of Transportation.

Long previously managed JTL group, a Billings-based construction company, and owned an oil field services business. A Billings native, he has a construction engineering degree from Montana State University and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Montana.

“Mack is a problem solver, and the kind of leader we need running the Department of Transportation,” Gianforte said in a statement. “With a background in engineering and management, I’m confident that Mack will ensure our roads, railways, and airways are managed properly.”

“I look forward to collaborating with Governor Gianforte, Lt. Governor Juras, and the great team at the Montana Department of Transportation to keep this state’s large and varied transportation systems moving smoothly and safely,” Long said in a statement.

Long’s appointment was applauded in the administration’s press release by Montana Petroleum Association Executive Director Dave Galt, former MDT Aeronautics Division Administrator Debbie Nohrton and Montana Contractors Association President Bob Warren.

Dept. of Corrections

Brian Gootkin

Gianforte on Jan. 4 named Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin as director of the Montana Department of Corrections.

Gootkin has worked at the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office for 27 years and served as sheriff since 2012. He formerly served in the U.S. Air Force at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls.

Gootkin was the Gallatin County Sheriff in 2017 when the Sheriff’s Office investigated Gianforte’s Election Day eve assault of a national politics reporter, an incident after which Gianforte’s U.S. House campaign issued a misleading description of the event that was later contradicted by Gianforte’s guilty plea to a misdemeanor assault charge.

“Brian is as committed as I am to reducing recidivism and improving reentry for individuals in our corrections system,” Gianforte said in a statement.

Also in a statement, Gootkin said he is looking forward to bringing “new transparency and accountability” to the department’s core mission of protecting and promoting public safety.

Gootkin’s nomination was applauded in the administration’s press release by Montana Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association President and Broadwater County Sheriff Wynn Meehan, former Gallatin County Commissioner Don Seifert and Broadwater County Attorney Cory Swanson.

Office of Indian Affairs

Misty Kuhl

Gianforte announced Misty Kuhl, an A’aniiih member of the Fort Belknap Indian Community, as his Director of Indian Affairs on Jan. 6.

In that role, Kuhl will lead an office that acts as a liaison between the state and tribal nations within the state’s borders, in addition to working on other issues affecting Indian Country, including economic development, environmental protection and education. The Montana Legislature established the office in 1951

“Misty shares my commitment to create new partnerships and build stronger bridges with our eight tribal nations,” Gianforte said in a news release. “I campaigned on the promise of bringing new and greater opportunities to Indian country, and I look forward to working with Misty and our tribal leaders to deliver.”

Kuhl, a Montana native and graduate of Montana State University-Billings, currently works as the director of Native American Outreach at Rocky Mountain College in Billings. She also has previous experience working with Indigenous communities, including as a probation officer and leader of a nonprofit organization. Kuhl will take over from Jason Smith, who held the job under former Gov. Steve Bullock for eight years. 

“I love our vibrant, resilient, strong Tribal communities, I love Montana, and I’m committed to doing the best work I can in this important role,” Kuhl said in the press release. “I firmly believe our Governor cares deeply about Native issues, and I’m looking forward to the privilege of executing his vision.” 

Tribal leaders and people who have worked with Kuhl welcomed the hire and said she would excel in the role. 

“We congratulate Governor Gianforte and look forward to continue working to uphold tribal sovereignty,” said Andy Werk, Jr., president of the Fort Belknap Indian Community. “Ms. Kuhl understands the critical responsibility of maintaining strong government-to-government relationships between the Tribes and the State.”  

Dept. of Commerce

Gianforte on Jan. 11 named Scott Osterman as the next director of the Montana Department of Commerce, the primary entity in charge of state economic development efforts.

Osterman has most recently served as senior director of business unit operations at Applied Materials in Kalispell. According to the administration’s release, he has worked both for Fortune 500 companies and startups in the semiconductor, automobile and software industries.

“With his extensive experience in business development and management, Scott will be an outstanding leader for the department,” Gianforte said in a statement.

“I look forward to responsibly and sustainably developing the tremendous potential of Montana,” Osterman said in a statement. “We are at a unique inflection point to grow the Montana economy in new ways, as well as to build on our traditional industries.”

Osterman’s nomination was applauded in the administration’s press release by Montana Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Todd O’Hair and former Kalispell Chamber of Commerce President Joe Unterreiner.

Dept. of Public Health and Human Services

Adam Meier

Gianforte on Jan. 19 named Adam Meier as the next director of the Montana Department of Health and Human Services, the state’s largest agency.

Meier is a policy consultant with Connecting the Dots Policy Solutions, LLC, based in Louisville, Kentucky. Before a change in gubernatorial administrations, Meier headed that state’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services for roughly a year and a half.

Before leading Kentucky’s CHFS, Meier served as deputy chief of staff for policy for Republican Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, who lost his bid for re-election in 2019. While working in the executive office, Meier helped craft Kentucky’s Medicaid plan, known as Kentucky HEALTH, or “Helping to Engage and Achieve Long Term Health.” The plan, which increased community engagement and work requirements for enrollees, was later blocked by a federal judge

“With his strong background as an effective leader and change agent, Adam will bring greater transparency, accountability, and efficiency to DPHHS as it serves Montanans,” Gianforte said in a statement.

“Together, along with other key stakeholders, we will work to build a more cohesive and effective health and human services ecosystem and improve outcomes for Montana’s most vulnerable citizens,” Meier said in a statement.

Meier’s nomination was applauded in the administration’s press release by Budget Director Kurt Alme, National Academy for State Health Policy fellow Marilyn Bartlett and Kentucky state Rep. Kimberly Moser.

Dept. of Fish, Wildlife & Parks 

Hank Worsech

On Jan. 20 Gianforte announced his nomination of Henry “Hank” Worsech to lead the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks. 

Worsech will be responsible for stewarding the state’s wildlife and managing its 55 parks. He’ll be charged with tackling a number of conservation issues the department has wrestled with in recent years, including aquatic invasive species, grizzly bear and bison management, and chronic wasting disease.

Worsech has been with the department for 17 years, most recently serving as a license bureau chief. He’s also previously served as the agency’s legislative liaison and was the executive director of the Montana Board of Outfitters  in the early 2000s. 

In a statement about the hiring, Gianforte lauded Worsech’s work fostering landowner and sportsmen relations.

“Protecting our public lands and conserving wildlife is a shared priority of landowners, hunters, anglers, and all Montanans who cherish our outdoor heritage. It’s part of what defines our Montana way of life,” Gianforte said. “With nearly two decades of experience with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Hank understands the importance of this tradition and is committed to strengthening it.”

Worsech said it’s “a true honor to be selected for the Director of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks,” and that he’s “excited to work with such a proven leader as Governor Gianforte and his team to provide improved citizen services, expand access opportunities, and build strong landowner-sportsmen relationships.”

Business owners, conservation groups and industry associations spoke well of Worsech in the announcement. 

Rob Arnaud with Montana Hunting Company said Worsech is “quick on his feet” and “has the ability to reason with anyone.” 

Matt Lumley, vice president of the National Trappers Association, said Worsech would “bring a dirt under the fingernails, man of the people sound wildlife management philosophy, as well as a culture of customer service that has been missing at the department.”

Noah Marion, state director of the Montana Wilderness Association, said, “We’re confident that he will bring diverse interests to the table and work to build lasting solutions that will safeguard our parks, trails and access to wildlife and wild places for all Montanans.”

Worsech’s hiring also elicited support from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Montana Stockgrowers Association and the Montana Association of Land Trusts.

***

The governor’s nominees for cabinet-level positions must be confirmed by the state Senate.

Biographical details in this piece are based on press materials distributed by Gianforte’s press office, supplemented in some cases by MTFP reporting. This story will be updated as additional appointments are announced.

Chris Aadland, Mara Silvers and Amanda Eggert contributed reporting.

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Eric Dietrich is a journalist and data designer and the founder of the Long Streets economic reporting project. His reporting focuses broadly on Montana’s governance and economic opportunity, with particular focus on the state budget and tax policy. He also contributes data reporting across the MTFP newsroom. Before joining the MTFP staff in 2019, he worked for the Great Falls Tribune, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, and Solutions Journalism Network and also earned an engineering degree from Montana State University. Contact Eric at edietrich@montanafreepress.org, 406-465-3386 ext. 2, and follow him on Twitter.