New Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson last week announced several top members of her executive staff.
Benson, the state’s top elections chief and a former dean of Wayne State University’s law school, announced in a statement that those appointments include her assistant secretary of state, top legal aides and a veteran communications executive.
“These exceptionally talented individuals bring a wealth of leadership experience to my administration and personal commitments to success,” Benson said in a statement. “The staff at the department has been very welcoming and are ready to work together with additional team members to achieve our ambitious goals on behalf of the citizens of Michigan.”
Benson last month announced Hilarie Chambers as chief of staff.
The full list of appointees includes:
Heaster Wheeler, assistant secretary of state: Wheeler is a past assistant county executive for Wayne County and served as executive director of the NAACP’s Detroit branch for more than a decade. He has been chief innovation officer with Black Family Development and is the founder and CEO of his own company, providing leadership, community engagement and government affairs consultation.
Mike Brady, chief legal director: Brady has provided legal counsel, strategic planning and policy development for a number of organizations that assist in improving communities. Most recently, he was general counsel and previously director of policy and community engagement for the Detroit Land Bank Authority. Prior to that, he served as vice president of policy for the Center for Community Progress in Flint and legal and policy director and special legal projects program manager for Michigan Community Resources in Detroit.
Jonathan Brater, legal policy director: Brater previously served as counsel for the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, where his work focused on modernizing elections in partnership with secretaries of state around the country. A nationally recognized expert on voter registration law and policy, Brater has drafted legislation and published leading analyses on automatic voter registration, registration list maintenance and other state policies affecting voting access.
Winnie Liao, chief operations officer: Liao is an information technology leader with expertise in strategic planning, collaboration, program and project management, and process and cost optimization. Most recently, she served as global head of cloud integration & delivery and global head of infrastructure strategy for AIG in San Francisco. Liao also has held technology leadership positions with Deloitte Consulting, KPMG in Chicago and other companies.
Sally Marsh, research and special projects director: Marsh graduated magna cum laude with a degree in government from Harvard College. She served as director of domestic programs for the Harvard Model Congress and on the executive board for the Harvard University Institute of Politics. Marsh was an intern investigator with the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia, held a research and policy internship with Parliament of the U.K. and studied abroad in Greece.
Shawn Starkey, communications director: Starkey most recently was vice president of communications and marketing for the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE), a national nonprofit using the unifying power of sports to improve race relations. He previously served as director of marketing and communications for Wayne State University Law School and executive director of public relations, marketing and legislative affairs for St. Clair County Community College.
Benson has previously told the Advance that she sees Michigan’s all female-led leadership posts as a “win-win on all fronts.”
Over the last week, Benson has sought to settle a looming lawsuit brought by Michigan Democrats and the League of Women Voters of Michigan against the state — with Benson recently added as a defendant — alleging Republican gerrymandering. Benson’s move to settle the suit last week led to attorneys for Michigan GOP lawmakers on Tuesday seeking to halt that tactic.
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