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Nebraska executive branch who’s who: state departments and governor’s cabinet

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Nebraska executive branch who’s who: state departments and governor’s cabinet

Sep 15, 2023 | 6:45 am ET
By Zach Wendling
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Nebraska executive branch who’s who: state departments and governor’s cabinet
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Gov. Jim Pillen shakes hands with Brig. Gen. Craig Strong after announcing Strong as his pick for the state's adjutant general on Friday, May 26, 2023, in Lincoln, Neb. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — Nebraska’s executive branch can be tricky for the public to manage with nearly 20 state departments, dozens of state agencies and over 230 boards or commissions.

To help Nebraskans dissect the executive branch, The Nebraska Examiner is providing a breakdown of the who’s who in Gov. Jim Pillen’s cabinet helping direct the largest departments and help run the day-to-day operations outside the Legislature and the judicial system.

Guadalupe Esquivel, associate director of communications for the Nebraska Civic Engagement Table, said civic participation is necessary for a truly representative democracy. Democracy, she explained, impacts aspects of everyone’s lives, and there are a plethora of ways to get involved.

When it comes to the executive branch and its different entities, Esquivel said, many include high levels of concentrated power and are areas in need of lobbying and advocacy for change.

“Knowing the ways that we are able to properly engage with them, being able to know what schedules they might have, when decisions are being made, who those key decision-makers are, that goes a long way to craft policy for Nebraskans,” she said.

Constitutional officers

Ranging from health and transportation to security and safety, the executive branch of state government — defined in Article IV of the Nebraska State Constitution — includes multiple constitutional officers in addition to Pillen. All the constitutional offices are elected positions. 

The current team consists of Attorney General Mike Hilgers, Auditor of Public Accounts Mike Foley, Treasurer John Murante and Secretary of State Bob Evnen. Lt. Gov. Joe Kelly serves as president of the Legislature and has the duties of governor in his absence or incapacity.

Murante will leave this month to head the Nebraska Public Employee Retirement Board; State Sen. Tom Briese of Albion will take his place in November.

These officials also serve on various boards, agencies or commissions outside their official duties, such as certifying Nebraska elections as part of the Board of State Canvassers after each statewide election or granting reprieves, pardons or commutations on the Board of Pardons. 

The Board of State Canvassers includes all but the lieutenant governor, while the Pardons Board consists of the attorney general, secretary of state and governor, who meet at their discretion.

However, not all departments are created the same, such as the Nebraska Department of Education, which falls under the authority of the State Board of Education, not the governor. The eight-member board appoints the state commissioner of education. 

The board selected Education Commissioner Brian Maher on March 31; he started in the role July 1.

Governor’s cabinet

Pillen’s cabinet grew this year with the newly created State Broadband Office, led by Patrick Haggerty, which is designed to help expand and improve broadband access.

Pillen’s cabinet also includes the following division heads:

  • Lee Will, director of the Budget Division in the Department of Administrative Services.
  • Ed Toner, chief information officer in the Office of the Chief Information Officer.
  • Bryan Tuma, director of the Crime Commission.
  • Dr. Timothy Tesmer, chief medical officer in the Department of Health and Human Services.
  • Tony Green, director of Developmental Disabilities in DHHS and interim director of Behavioral Health and Children and Family Services in DHHS.
  • Kevin Bagley, director of Medicaid & Long-Term Care in DHHS.
  • Charity Menefee, director of Public Health in DHHS.

The Governor’s Office staff includes David Lopez, chief of staff; Laura Strimple, director of communications; Maureen Larsen, general counsel; and Kenny Zoeller, director of the Policy Research Office.

Nearly 20 state departments

The following provides the name of each state department and its respective leader. Nearly every department is broken into multiple divisions and oversees boards and commissions. View the graphic online here.

This article is part of U.S. Democracy Day, a nationwide collaborative on Sept. 15, the International Day of Democracy, in which news organizations cover how democracy works and the threats it faces. To learn more, visit usdemocracyday.org.