Biden continues filling out Interior Dept. with Democrat campaign operatives, environmental extremists – Must Read Alaska

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The Department of the Interior announced additional members in leadership who will work to address the Biden climate and nature crises agenda and “advance President Biden’s vision to build a clean energy future that creates good-paying jobs and powers our nation.”

The newest additions  “reflect the Biden-Harris commitment to diversity. In total, Interior’s political team includes 50% who identify as BIPOC (black, Indigenous and people of color) and 80% as women.”

None of the appointees identify as Alaskans, so far. In Alaska, the Bureau of Land Management of the DOI controls 75 million surface acres of federal public land—an area larger than the state of New Mexico.

The new appointees are listed alphabetically:

Molly Callaghan, Advance Representative

Molly Callaghan grew up in Florida and moved to New Mexico in 2015 to attend college. Molly graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2018 earning a double major in Political Science and International Studies with a concentration in environment and sustainability. She spent much of her college experience working to elect local and statewide candidates in New Mexico. Upon graduating she worked first as a staff assistant and intern coordinator, and then as a field representative for Rep. Deb Haaland.

Chelsey Cartwright, Deputy White House Liaison

Chelsey Cartwright served as Northeast Regional Political Director on the Biden-Harris campaign. Prior, Chelsey was Southern Political Director for Warren Democrats. During the 2020 Presidential Primary, she led as Southern Regional Political Director at Warren for President. Previously, she was Deputy Political Director on Warren’s Senate re-election bid and Director of Constituent Services for former Boston City Councilor At-Large, and current Congresswoman Ayanna S. Pressley. Cartwright began her career working for former Governor Deval L. Patrick. Chelsey earned her bachelor’s degree in Broadcast Journalism from Emerson College. She is a proud native of Houston’s Third Ward neighborhood.

Maria Castro, Special Assistant, National Park Service 

Maria Castro was most recently a Field Organizer with both of the Democratic Party of Georgia and the North Carolina Democratic Party’s Coordinated Campaigns. Maria also served as a Legislative Intern for Rep. Reives’ office at the North Carolina General Assembly. Daughter of Nicaraguan immigrants, she was born and raised in Asheboro, North Carolina before moving to Western North Carolina for her undergraduate studies. Maria received degrees in Political Science and International Studies from Mars Hill University.

Alexx Diera, Special Assistant, Bureau of Land Management

Alexx Diera served as the Women’s Vote Director and a Regional Organizing Director on the Biden-Harris Coordinated Campaign in North Carolina. Alexx was also a Regional Organizing Director on Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign and brings over three years of experience organizing for several statewide and congressional campaigns in Virginia, Illinois, and Georgia. She graduated from the University of Georgia with a Master in Crop and Soil Sciences and holds a B.S. in Environmental Studies from the University of North Carolina Asheville. 

Judith (Judy) Fong, Special Assistant, Office of Assistant Secretary – Fish and Wildlife and Parks

Judith Fong was most recently a Partnership Associate for the 59th Presidential Inaugural Committee. During the 2020 election cycle, Judith served as a Deputy Organizing Director in Arizona and Regional Organizing Director for Kamala Harris’ primary campaign. She has also worked with the White House Council on Environmental Quality, served as a field organizer for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, and worked at Dewey Square Group in Washington, D.C. A native Californian, she has a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies from the University of Southern California.

Mili Gosar, Deputy Chief of Staff – Operations 

Mili Gosar has over a decade of experience in public service, working for the government and on campaigns in leadership roles around the country. Mili was most recently the Regional Voter Protection Director for the Midwest on the Biden-Harris campaign. She started her career in her home state of Texas, where she worked in the Texas Senate and for state and local government. She is a graduate of American University and the University of Houston Law Center.

Emmie Horadam, Special Assistant, Office of Assistant Secretary – Policy, Budget and Management

Emmie Horadam was most recently the Deputy Organizing Director for the North Carolina Democratic Party, and served as the Latino Caucus Chair. Prior to that role, Emmie served as the Organizing Director for Organizing Together NC, Organizing Director in Maine for Mike Bloomberg for President, and New Hampshire Organizing Director for Sen. Cory Booker’s 2020 Presidential race. She is a native Floridian, and a proud graduate of Queens University of Charlotte. 

Danna Jackson, Counselor to the Director, Bureau of Land Management 

Danna Jackson has spent her entire legal career in the area of Natural Resources and Indian Law. Most recently, Danna has been chief legal counsel to the State of Montana’s Department of Natural Resources and Conservation – the agency that manages Montana’s trust lands, waters, state forests, and conservation initiatives. She has spent the majority of her career in the public sector including as a federal prosecutor and a Hill staffer. Danna grew up on a cattle ranch on the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Indian Reservation in beautiful Western Montana.

Natalie Landreth, Deputy Solicitor for Land

Natalie Landreth joins the Department of Interior after 17 years at the Native American Rights Fund, where she represented Tribes and Native Americans in treaty rights, public lands, aboriginal rights, APA and NEPA cases. Natalie received her undergraduate degree from Harvard College (magna cum laude) and her J.D. from Harvard Law School. She is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma, and a descendant of survivors of the Trail of Tears.

James Langhenry, Special Assistant, Bureau of Reclamation 

James Langhenry’s career has been guided by his passion for climate change mitigation and adaptation. James has multiple cycles of campaign experience, most recently as a research analyst focused on environmental policy for the Democratic National Committee. Previously, he was a research analyst in the private sector specializing in environmental crime and corruption in the developing world. His expertise includes political and climate research, and he holds a degree in International Relations from Marquette University.

Amanda Lefton, Director, Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management 

Amanda Lefton most recently served as the First Assistant Secretary for Energy and Environment for Governor Andrew Cuomo where she led the State’s climate and environmental initiatives and managed a portfolio of twelve agencies and authorities. In this role Amanda championed and advanced implementation of landmark nation leading climate and renewable energy strategies. Previously, she was the Deputy Policy Director for The Nature Conservancy in New York, worked in the labor movement for the Rochester Regional Joint Board of Workers United, and for the New York State Assembly. Amanda holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University at Albany. 

Abdiel Razo, Special Assistant to the Chief of Staff

Abdiel Razo most recently served as the Staff Assistant for Rep. Deb Haaland’s congressional office. Abdiel previously served as the Communications Associate for the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center, advocating for immigrant justice in New Mexico. He received a B.A. from the University of New Mexico, double majoring in History and Political Science and a M.A. in International Relations and Law from the University of Illinois Springfield.

Alex Sanchez, Special Assistant, Office of Assistant Secretary – Land and Minerals Management 

Alex Sanchez’s first job in politics was as an organizer for New Mexico PIRG’s clean air campaign the summer before she attended Cornell University. Alex served in senior campaign research roles for Governor Bill Richardson and Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico. She then worked as Research Director and Senior Advisor to New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand for a decade. Most recently, she worked as a researcher on the Bloomberg and Biden for President campaigns. Alex was born and raised in Albuquerque, and is a proud daughter of the Land of Enchantment, where her family has lived for centuries.

Cristina M. Villa, Director of Scheduling and Advance

Cristina Villa joins the Department of the Interior from the U.S. House of Representatives. Cristina served eight years as Senior Executive Assistant to Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, Chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources. In her dual role between the Congressman’s office and the Natural Resources Committee, Cristina organized and collaborated with two distinct teams, coordinating local and national stakeholder meetings and special events. Prior to working in Congress, Cristina completed an AmeriCorps service term with over 1,000 service hours. A bilingual professional originally from Nogales, AZ, she received a Bachelor of Science from Arizona State University.

Caroline Welles, Special Assistant for Fish and Wildlife Services

Caroline Welles previously worked as the National Surrogates Director at the Democratic National Committee, working to create and implement the National Surrogate Strategy for the 2020 General Election. Previously Caroline served as the DNC’s Early Primary and Caucus States Manager, working with the early primary and caucus states to create an effective primary process and facilitate the primary presidential debates. Her commitment to conservation was harnessed through her family’s non-profit work in Eastern Africa – focused on protecting endangered species. She holds a Masters with Honors in Sociology from the University of Edinburgh in Edinburgh, Scotland.

The newly named appointees join those previously named to key policy roles, including:

Robert Anderson, Principal Deputy Solicitor

Bob Anderson is a law professor with extensive experience in American Indian law, public land, and water law. He is an enrolled member of the Bois Forte Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. He taught at the University of Washington School of Law and directed its Native American Law Center for the past twenty years. For over a decade he has been an annual visiting professor at Harvard Law School. He served as the Associate Solicitor for Indian Affairs and Counselor to the Secretary under Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt. He began his career as a staff attorney for the Native American Rights Fund.

Travis Annatoyn, Deputy Solicitor for Energy and Mineral Resources

Travis Annatoyn joins the Department of the Interior from Democracy Forward Foundation, where he represented national and regional conservation organizations in novel challenges to the Trump administration’s environmental agenda. He began his litigation career as a trial attorney at the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, and holds a B.A. from the University of Michigan and a J.D. from Columbia University.

Ann Marie Bledsoe Downes, Deputy Solicitor for Indian Affairs

Ann Marie Bledsoe Downes most recently served as the Executive Vice President of Community Impact and Engagement at Ho-Chunk, Inc. She previously served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Economic Development for Indian Affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior and as Interim Director of the Bureau of Indian Education. She was also Executive Director of the Indian Legal Program (ILP) at ASU. She received a B.A. from Wayne State College and a J.D. from Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. She is an enrolled member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska.

Tyler Cherry, Press Secretary

Tyler Cherry most recently served as Director of Rapid Response for the Biden-Harris Arizona coordinated campaign. Before joining the campaign, Tyler was Director of Public Affairs at the political consulting firm SKDK, where he crafted and executed strategic communications plans for dozens of political, advocacy, corporate, and legal clients. He also previously worked at Media Matters for America as a campaigns associate and researcher. Tyler is a Los Angeles native and graduated from UCLA with a political science degree. He lives in Washington, D.C. with his partner and two exuberant cats.

Laura Daniel Davis, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Land and Mineral Management

Laura Daniel Davis has more than two decades of experience in the public and non-profit sectors. She served as Chief of Staff to Interior Secretaries Sally Jewell and Ken Salazar in the Obama administration. She was most recently the Chief of Policy and Advocacy for the National Wildlife Federation.

Shannon Estenoz, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Fish and Wildlife and Parks

Shannon Estenoz most recently was the Chief Operating Officer of The Everglades Foundation. Previously, Shannon served as Interior’s Director of Everglades Restoration Initiatives and Executive Director of the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force. Shannon’s twenty four-year career in conservation includes roles with the World Wildlife Fund and the National Parks Conservation Association, and appointments by three Florida Governors including to the Governing Board of the South Florida Water Management District. Shannon is a fifth generation native of Key West, Florida, and holds degrees in International Affairs and Civil Engineering from Florida State University.

Morgan Gray, Deputy Director of Congressional Affairs – Senate

Morgan Gray has nearly two decades of experience in the Senate and House of Representatives working on climate, energy and environmental policy. Prior to joining the Department, he served as Legislative Director for Senator Edward J. Markey, where he oversaw the Senator’s policy agenda. Morgan previously served as Senator Markey’s Senior Policy Advisor, directing his climate and energy policy, and before that as a senior staffer on the House Natural Resources Committee and on the staff of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. Morgan graduated from Pomona College and is originally from Lincoln, Massachusetts.

Ruchi Jain, Deputy Solicitor for General Law

Before joining Interior, Ruchi Jain was the Pro Bono Counsel for the Washington, D.C. office of Kirkland & Ellis LLP. Previously, Ruchi served as Special Assistant to President Obama, where she worked with other senior White House officials on federal agency management, Executive Branch nominations, and personnel matters. She held several other roles in the Obama-Biden White House and the Department of Justice. She began her career in private law practice. Ruchi has a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center and a B.A. from Rice University.

Kate Kelly, Deputy Chief of Staff – Policy

Kate Kelly most recently was the Public Lands Director at the Center for American Progress. During the Obama administration, Kate served as senior advisor to then-Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and also served as communications director on behalf of Secretary Jewell and former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. Prior to joining the Interior Department, Kate worked in the U.S. Senate. Kate received her bachelor’s degree from Washington University in St. Louis and hails from Colorado.

Marissa Knodel, Advisor, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

Marissa Knodel is a passionate advocate for climate and environmental justice through a just and equitable transition to a clean energy-based society, and resilient adaptation to a changing climate. As Legislative Counsel with Earthjustice, her area of expertise included federal onshore, offshore, and Arctic oil and gas leasing and regulations. Prior to joining Earthjustice, Marissa managed a campaign at Friends of the Earth to stop new fossil fuel development on federal lands and waters. Marissa holds a dual J.D. and Master of Environmental Management degree from Vermont Law School and the Yale School of the Environment.

Shantha Ready Alonso, Director for Intergovernmental and External Affairs

Shantha Ready-Alonso served as Executive Director of Creation Justice Ministries, Community Mobilization Manager for NETWORK Catholic Social Justice Lobby, and Director of the National Council of Churches Poverty Initiative. Shantha is listed among the 2018 “Grist 50 Fixers” and is the recipient of the 2020 National Council of Churches USA J. Irwin Miller Excellence in Ecumenical Leadership award. Shantha holds a Master of Social Work from Washington University in St. Louis and a Master of Pastoral Studies from Eden Theological Seminary. She did her undergraduate studies at the University of Notre Dame.

Paniz Rezaeerod, Deputy Director of Congressional Affairs – House

Paniz Rezaeerod previously served on the staff of Rep. Joe Cunningham (SC-01), where she was responsible for legislation to ban offshore drilling, protect irreplaceable natural resources, and secure full and permanent funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund through the Great American Outdoors Act. Prior to Rep. Cunningham’s office, Paniz worked for the House Financial Services Committee and for CoBank. A first-generation American born in Iran and raised in South Carolina, Paniz is a graduate of Sewanee: The University of the South.

Melissa Schwartz, Communications Director

Melissa Schwartz is a strategic communicator and adjunct professor with two decades of experience in government, the private sector, and at nonprofit organizations. She most recently served as Senior Advisor to Dr. Jill Biden. As Chief Operating Officer at The Bromwich Group for nine years, projects included coordinating communications strategy to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, raise awareness of the rape kit backlog and gender-based violence, defend national monuments and the ocean, and facilitate a just transition for coal communities. Melissa is a former senior spokesperson for the U.S. Departments of Justice and Interior, and Senator Barbara Mikulski.

Janea Scott, Counselor to the Secretary

Janea A. Scott was most recently a Commissioner and Vice Chair of the California Energy Commission. Janea also served as the Vice Chair of the Western Interconnection Regional Advisory Body and is a member of the Western Interstate Energy Board and the Department of Energy’s Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technical Advisory Committee. Janea previously worked at Interior as the Deputy Counselor for Renewable Energy and at Environmental Defense Fund as a senior attorney. She earned her J.D. from the University of Colorado Boulder Law School and her master’s of science and bachelor’s of science in earth systems from Stanford University.

Rachael Taylor, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Policy, Management, and Budget

Rachael Taylor most recently served on the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations for nearly 16 years. In her role as Democratic clerk of the Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, she negotiated a $38 billion annual appropriations bill and oversaw the budgets of Federal environmental, Tribal and cultural agencies. Rachael has also served in several other legislative and executive branch roles during her career, including in the Office of Vice President Al Gore. A West Virginia native, she received a B.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Master in Public Administration from American University.

Maggie Thompson, White House Liaison

Maggie Thompson was most recently the North Carolina State Advisor and Chief of Staff for the Biden campaign and currently serves on the campaign’s Education Unity Task Force. Maggie was also the State Director for Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign. She is the former Executive Director of Generation Progress, the youth engagement arm of the Center for American Progress. Maggie also worked in the Obama administration at the White House Council on Environmental Quality and in the office of the Director at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. She graduated with a degree in economics and classical archaeology from Macalester College.

Maria (Camille) Touton, Deputy Commissioner, Bureau of Reclamation

Camille Calimlim Touton returns to Interior after serving as Professional Staff for the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. She was the staff lead on the resiliency provisions enacted as part of the Water Resources Development Act of 2020. Camille’s congressional experience also includes serving as Professional Staff for Interior’s authorization committees: the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the House Natural Resources Committee. Camille also served as Interior’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Water and Science under the Obama administration. Camille holds a BS in Engineering (Civil), BA in Communication Studies, and a Master of Public Policy.

Tanya Trujillo, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Water and Science

Tanya Trujillo is a water lawyer with more than 20 years of experience working on complex natural resources management issues and interstate and transboundary water agreements. She most recently worked as a project director with the Colorado River Sustainability Campaign. Before then, she served as the Executive Director of the Colorado River Board of California. She has served as Senior Counsel to the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and as Counselor to the Assistant Secretary for Water and Science at Interior. A native New Mexican, Tanya attended Stanford University and the University of Iowa College of Law.

Jennifer Van der Heide, Chief of Staff

Jennifer Van der Heide has over 25 years of federal, state and local experience in legislative, legal and electoral sectors. She most recently served as Chief of Staff for Congresswoman Deb Haaland, and had been Chief of Staff and Political Director for Rep. Mike Honda. Jennifer previously served as the Washington Director and on-reservation Tribal Attorney for the Hoopa Valley Tribe; Tribal Attorney for California Indian Legal Services; and in private litigation practice in CA. She has a B.A. in International Relations from Tufts University, and a J.D. from UC Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, with a focus on public interest law.

Andrew (Drew) Wallace, Director of Congressional Affairs

A native of Houston, Texas, Drew Wallace has worked in senior policy roles in both houses of Congress. Over the last twelve years, he has served in the office of former Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), finishing as Chief of Staff. Drew has a record of significant contributions to bipartisan legislative successes across a range of issues, in particular energy, the environment, and conservation. He received a B.A. in Political Science from Kenyon College in Ohio and a J.D. from George Mason University School of Law in Virginia. Drew lives in Arlington, Va. with his wife and two sons.

Martha Williams, Principal Deputy Director, Fish and Wildlife Service

Martha has spent her career fostering a love of the outdoors. Growing up on a farm, she gained an appreciation for place and all that comprises it. This passion led her to the wild places of the West where she focused on public lands and wildlife – first as attorney for the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks, then as Deputy Solicitor Parks and Wildlife at the Department of the Interior, as a professor at the Blewett School of Law at the University of Montana, and most recently returning to the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks as its Director.

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