Meet your CSG Leaders

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown Brings Multibranch Experience to CSG as 2017 National President

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has served in both chambers of the legislature, as secretary of state and as governor, making her exceptionally fit to lead CSG members from all three branches and all levels of state government as the 2017 president. 

And according to Brown, her participation in organizations such as CSG has helped to prepare her for the challenges she faces today within her state and in her leadership roles at the national level. 

“I am a strong believer in mentorship and collaborative leadership, and CSG offers terrific opportunities for developing those skills and learning from others,” she said. “These experiences have been formative and extremely beneficial to me, and I want to make sure other state leaders have the leadership development experiences and networking opportunities that will cultivate strong leaders.” 

Brown became Oregon’s 38th governor in 2015. Since taking office, she has dedicated much of her attention to helping support working class families by passing the nation’s first minimum wage increase law and championing paid sick leave for all workers. Brown also has focused on improving the efficiency, transparency and accountability of state government. From 2009 to 2015, she served as Oregon’s secretary of state, implementing an online voter registration system that made it easier for residents to vote and saved taxpayer dollars. She continued that legacy as governor, enacting a landmark, first-in-the-nation automatic voter registration law, which put ballots in the hands of hundreds of thousands of new Oregon voters in its first year.

As governor, Brown has made education a priority, making the largest investment in K-12 and early childhood education in the state’s history, including fully funding all-day kindergarten statewide for the first time. She also doubled funding for career and technical education and science, technology, engineering, arts and math programs shown to connect students with careers and keep them on track to graduate, and Brown appointed Oregon’s first education innovation officer working to make sure every Oregon student graduates from high school with a plan for his or her future

“Education is like an elevator—it allows each of us to rise,” she said. “Oregon needs a skilled and capable workforce to fuel strong economies in all regions, and Oregonians need good jobs. In order to have a strong business sector, we need strong public education from cradle to career; a system that serves all kinds of learners and supports their successful transition to a career.”

She said she hopes to reduce economic disparities between urban and rural areas of Oregon through efforts to strengthen the state’s education system and foster sustainable—and equitable—economic growth. 

As CSG national president, Brown also brings perspective gained during her 17 years in the Oregon Legislature: five years in the House of Representatives and 12 years in the Oregon State Senate. In 2004, she became the first woman in the state’s history to serve as Senate majority leader. She said that during her time as president, she wants to ensure that other state leaders have the same opportunities for growth and leadership development through CSG that she did.

It was during her time in the Oregon Legislature that Brown first discovered The Council of State Governments. She said she initially got involved with CSG because she wanted to participate in a national organization that would give her a legislative boost and would help her tackle issues facing the Pacific Northwest; she found that boost through CSG West. 

“I enjoyed participating in this regional organization,” she said. “I was very excited to work with folks who understood and ‘got’ our issues. I loved the family-like feel of the organization, the commitment to bipartisanship, and met folks through my CSG West work that I think are some of the best in the country—folks like Bart Davis, still the majority leader in the (Iowa) Senate, and former (Nevada Assembly) Majority Leader Lynn Hettrick.” 

A 2004 graduate of the Henry Toll Fellowship, CSG’s leadership development program for state government officials, Brown said the program’s three-branch, nonpartisan approach to developing leaders from across the country was a meaningful experience. “I loved the camaraderie, the different perspectives, and it was great meeting folks from around the nation,” she said of the program.

CSG 2017 National Chair, Nevada State Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, Committed to Camaraderie

Nevada state Sen. Kelvin Atkinson credits his daughter Haley, who was born in 1996, for inspiring him to run for state Assembly. His goal was to improve educational opportunities not only for her but all of Nevada’s children. 

In 2002, Atkinson was elected to the Nevada State Assembly, and he quickly demonstrated his talents and devotion to the job. Now, he has also devoted his talents to The Council of State Governments.

“The work CSG does not only to educate those in state government but also to build camaraderie among state leaders is invaluable,” Atkinson said. “CSG’s nonpartisan and diverse participation places it in a unique position to help states take on the pressing policy issues, and I am honored to serve in the role of national chair in 2017.”

In the Nevada State Assembly, Atkinson received a grade of B from his peers after his first legislative session, during which he never missed a vote in the 157-day session. His ties to CSG began after Atkinson’s freshman legislative session when he was chosen from a field of 125 candidates as one of 40 new legislators to attend CSG West’s Western Legislative Academy, or WLA, a leadership development program designed to help newer legislators become more effective and to build stronger state institutions. Atkinson was such a standout at the academy that at the conclusion of the five-day training, he was elected as the 2003 class president. 

Atkinson went on to serve as chairman of CSG West in 2013 and was the first African-American to serve in that role. He is also a 2005 graduate of the Henry Toll Fellowship, CSG’s national leadership development program.

During his days in the Nevada Assembly, Atkinson served as chairman of the Transportation Committee. In 2012, Atkinson ran for the Nevada State Senate and was elected with 80 percent of the votes. He was immediately appointed by the majority leader of the Senate to chair the Commerce, Labor and Energy committee. 

Atkinson currently serves in a leadership position in the Senate, as assistant majority leader, and he chairs both the Senate Commerce, Labor and Energy and the Senate Rules committees.

In October 2014, after the 9th Circuit Court of Nevada struck down the prohibition on same sex marriage, Atkinson and his partner, Sherwood “Woody” Howard, made history by becoming the first same-sex couple to get married in the state of Nevada.

Born in Chicago, Illinois—where his mother was a union worker in a mill for more than 20 years and his father was a railroad worker—Atkinson fell in love with the West Coast early in life. At the age of 10, Atkinson visited his fraternal grandparents in Los Angeles and he found that he loved the city so much that he asked his parents’ permission to remain there with them. He finished high school in Culver City, California. 

After graduating high school, Atkinson attended Howard University in Washington, D.C. However, during his junior year at Howard, Atkinson’s father was murdered and Atkinson decided to leave school and return to Los Angeles to be with his family. 

“He was the best father any child could have, he was my best friend,” Atkinson said. 

When his grandparents moved to Las Vegas in 1991, Atkinson followed and enrolled in University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where he continued to study political science.

Atkinson felt a calling to help people and in 1992 began working for local government. Throughout his employment he was tireless in his efforts and was promoted several times as a result. He still works for Clark County as a management analyst and has been with them for more than 25 years.

Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers Hopes to Grow CSG’s Visibility as Csg 2017 Chair-Elect

CSG provides a unique opportunity for elected officials from every state to share ideas and policies, said Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers, CSG 2017 chair-elect.

“If there is a bill that seems to be gaining traction in Kentucky, it most likely has been passed or proposed in some form in another state,” Stivers said.

“CSG provides a platform and a network where I can reach out to a fellow legislator in another state and ask, ‘how was this policy received by the public?’ or ‘what were the pros and cons of passing this bill in your state?’”

Stivers has served in the General Assembly since 1997 and represents the 25th District, which encompasses Clay, Knox, Lee, Owsley, Whitley and Wolfe counties in the southeastern part of the state. He was elected by his colleagues to serve as Senate majority floor leader in 2009, a position he served in until being elected Senate president in 2012 and again in 2014 and 2016. As the Senate president, Stivers represents the entire body of the Kentucky State Senate in any official state business. His term runs through the 2018 session.

Stivers serves as chairman of the Senate Committee on Committees and Rules Committee and the co-chair of the Legislative Research Commission. Additionally, he is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Among other issues, Stivers has focused on career readiness and economic development during his time in the Kentucky Legislature. 

“When you talk about creating jobs, I often ask, what are the barriers that keep businesses from growing in our communities?” said Stivers. “Sometimes we can help by ‘cutting the red tape’ and eliminating unnecessary government regulations; and sometimes we can help identify funding sources to repair a bridge or build a new bypass to improve traffic flow to a given area.” 

In 2015, Stivers was honored by Governing magazine as a Public Official of the Year for his work in the General Assembly. That same year he was named chair of CSG Southern Legislative Conference. He became CSG’s vice chair in 2016 and will serve as chair-elect this year. 

“It is truly an honor to serve as The Council of State Governments’ chair-elect for 2017,” Stivers said. “I am excited to begin working with the CSG leadership team to move the organization forward and continue to develop innovative ways to share policy ideas and good-governing practices across all branches of state government throughout our great nation.”

Stivers was the assistant commonwealth’s attorney from 1989 to 1993. He has served as a member of the Kentucky Appalachian Council, the Kentucky Appalachian Commission, the Early Childhood Development Council, the Governor’s Council on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault, the OxyContin Task Force, the Evidence Committee at the University of Louisville Law School, The Council of State Governments’ Public Safety and Justice Task Force, the Fiscal Affairs and Government Operations Committee of the CSG Southern Legislative Conference and the Southern States Energy Board. 

Stivers graduated from the University of Kentucky with a degree in industrial management and minor in economics and earned his law degree from the University of Louisville.

A practicing attorney in Manchester, Kentucky, Stivers is married to Regina Crawford Stivers and has four children—Joshua, Caroline, Margaret and Robert—and one grandchild, Mia.

Delaware State Rep. Helene Keeley Continues Long Legacy of Public Service as CSG 2017 Vice Chair

The values of community involvement and public service that drove Delaware state Rep. Helene Keeley to first run for public office in 1990 were instilled in her as a child by her family. After running three times in a row, Keeley was elected to the Delaware House of Representatives in 1996 where she continues to serve today, making her the longest-serving member in the House. 

“I ran at 25—the earliest age I could,” she said. “The majority of my friends were freshly out of college and we were out having fun on the weekends—there was still something in me, though, motivating me to do it. Several people approached me and asked me to run and at first I thought I didn’t really want to do it, but then the more I thought about it the more I felt it was something I really wanted to do and I stuck with it and was finally able to achieve that goal.”

Keeley served as House minority whip from 2007–2008. She currently serves as chair of the Revenue & Finance Committee, vice chair of the Gaming & Pari-mutuels Committee, and a member of the Economic Development, Banking, Insurance & Commerce, and Labor committees. Keeley works as the community relations coordinator with the Delaware Department of Labor, and previously worked for Rosenbluth International as a global project manager.

Keeley is also an active volunteer at the community, state and national levels. She serves on the board of directors for Hilltop Lutheran Neighborhood Center, St. Patrick’s Day Society Board and AIDS Delaware. She is a member of the New Deal National Democratic Leadership, and a current board member and state director for the National Foundation for Women Legislators, or NFWL. 

Keeley has long brought that sense of commitment, hard work and leadership as an engaged and active member of CSG. She graduated from the Henry Toll Fellowship, CSG’s leadership development program, in 2001, and in 2015, Keeley took on the role of co-chair of the CSG Eastern Regional Conference. She also served as co-chair of the CSG Fiscal & Economic Development Public Policy Committee in 2015 after being a member of the National Working Group on Economic Development that was the impetus for establishing the committee. 

“CSG has been a tremendous resource for me, not just through the leadership program, but a resource for information and for opportunities to learn,” said Keeley. 

She hopes to use her position as vice chair to encourage a new slate of leaders to emerge in the organization by getting involved in various CSG activities and regional leadership positions. 

“One of the things we’ve talked about with the leadership at CSG is when someone either becomes a regional chair or is in process of becoming national chair, we want to make sure that that person is involved so that when they do get to that position, they actually know what is happening within the organization,” she said. “As the incoming vice-chair, I want to solidify that we will do that, so that people coming after me, when they are sitting in the leadership circle, will have a process in place so they have the knowledge to help make the decisions to steer the organization for years to come.”

Through her tenure with the Delaware General Assembly, Keeley has taken an active role in championing important legislation including improved DUI laws and the Medical Marijuana Act, which Keeley said has had a profound impact on her constituents. “I get emails from people thanking me because other pharmaceuticals were not helping their cancer or chronic pain and I’m floored—a couple months will go by and then all of the sudden I get another email thanking me for sponsoring the bill,” she said. 

Keeley has worked to successfully pass legislation to provide additional training to first responders to sexual assault cases, and she successfully championed a bill that requires ballistics information be added to a national database so that gun-related crimes could be solved in a timely matter. Keeley has worked to establish a statewide needle exchange program and the statewide Foreclosure Mediation program to assist homeowners facing foreclosure, and to decriminalize certain marijuana possession offenses. Among her current efforts is to strengthen regulations of payday loans in the state, which she said unfairly targets people in poverty and low socioeconomic status.

Keeley resides with her husband, Michael Green, and her dog, Hebe, in Wilmington. She is a graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Business.