Courtesy of the office of Gov. Kate Brown
A USDA official, Alexis Taylor, has been nominated to head the Oregon Department of Agriculture, replacing former director Katy Coba.
Taylor is currently the USDA’s Deputy Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agriculture Services and will begin serving as ODA director on Jan. 23, once confirmed by the Oregon Senate.
Lisa Hanson, ODA’s deputy director, was a finalist for the position and has served as the agency’s chief since Coba left in October to lead the state’s Department of Administrative Services.
In her position at USDA, Taylor served as an advocate for international trade policies that benefit U.S. agriculture and led the agency’s Women in Agriculture Initiative, which supports female farmers.
Prior to the USDA, she negotiated provisions that ended up in the 2008 and 2014 farm bills as a legislative adviser to congressional committees.
A graduate of Iowa State University, Taylor was raised on an Iowa farm and served in the U.S. Army Reserves for eight years, including a tour in Iraq.
When Coba announced she was leaving ODA, eight of Oregon’s agriculture industry groups wrote a letter to Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, urging her to install Hanson as the permanent agency chief.
However, the Oregon Farm Bureau has welcomed the news of Taylor’s appointment, citing her “track record of success” at the USDA.
Taylor has solid experience both in a congressional setting and within an executive administration, which will serve her well in the top ODA position, said Dave Dillon, OFB’s executive vice president.
“She’s seen the world through that lens and that should help speed up her readiness,” he said.
The Oregon Legislature is scheduled to begin its 2017 session shortly after Taylor begins her new job, and ODA may be affected by a range of bills, from antibiotics to marijuana, Dillon said.
“She’s going to get up to speed on a lot of legislative issues,” he said.
Taylor will also face budget uncertainty, as Oregon faces a $1.4 billion budget deficit related to pension obligations for retired state employees.
It’s unclear how the legislature will handle the situation with changes to spending and revenues, but ODA senior management will provide needed support, Dillon said.
“They know how to operate in this environment,” he said.
Katy Coba served as ODA’s chief for 13 years, so the industry hasn’t had much experience with turnover at the agency.
One question is whether Taylor will replace top staff when she assumes the director role.
It would be tough to lead the agency without assistance from people who already know the lay of the land, said Lynn Youngbar, board president of Oregon Tilth, an organic certifier, who interviewed candidates for the ODA director.
“You’ve got to have people who know what’s going on. I would assume that, but I don’t know,” she said of Taylor’s attitude toward retaining top staff.
While Youngbar said she wouldn’t suppose to speak for the governor, it’s possible that Taylor was chosen for the position because she has a clean slate with interest groups in Oregon.
“Everybody gets to start from the same place,” she said.