Another half dozen new governors are taking office this week as the changeover in the nation’s executive mansions plays out.  A majority of the statehouses are not only getting a new executive, but those new governors are naming the people they want to lead food safety in their states.

Beginning today, Food Safety News will share those important state-level appointments as they become available.   Our focus is on appointments made by the nation’s new governors.  They began taking office last Dec. 6; all will be wielding executive powers by Jan. 18.

Appointments to a state’s most important jobs are sometimes, but not always, made before a governor is sworn in.   Making the appointments are 26 new governors.  Eighteen of the new governors are Republicans, and eight are Democrats.

Colorado’s Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, appointed Dr. Chris Urbina as Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Urbina will also as serve as Colorado’s chief medical officer.   Previously, the Pueblo native was director of Denver Public Health while Hickenlooper was mayor of Denver.

“Dr. Urbina is uniquely qualified to oversee all aspects of the Department of Public Health and Environment,” the incoming governor said.  “He is a physician and public health expert who knows Colorado and knows how to build consensus on complicated issues.  Chris has extensive experience finding community-based solutions that involve the environment, systems and policy changes.  He will serve our state well.”

He replaces attorney Martha E. Rudolph at CDPHE.

Hawaii’s Gov. Neil Abercrombie, a Democrat, appointed Dr. Neal Palafox as Director of the state Department of Health.

The appointment requires confirmation by the Hawaii Senate.

Prior to his appointment at HDOH, Palafox was a professor and chair of the Family Medicine and Community Health department at the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine.

Formerly he was director of the Family Practice Residency program.  

Palafox, 58, earned his medical degree at the University of Hawaii while completing a family practice residency at the University of California in Los Angeles.  He also has a Master of Public Health from Johns Hopkins.

The new governor said Palafox would provide strong leadership to overcome the department’s “current organizational challenges.”

Iowa’s Republican Gov. Terry Branstad appointed Dr. Mariannette Miller-Meeks as Director of the state Department of Public Health.

Miller-Meeks completed her undergraduate degree in nursing at Texas Christian University and earned her M.D. from the University of Texas Health Science Center.

She is a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Reserves and an ophthalmologist.  She was the first woman president of the Iowa Medical Association, and first woman on the faculty of the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Iowa. 

Miller-Meeks also volunteers at a free medical clinic in Cedar Rapids that helps families in need.

Branstad said, “Dr. Miller-Meeks’ dedication to public health is evident from her service and leadership in various medical organizations, and I look forward to working with her as we work to make Iowa the healthiest state in the nation.”

Miller-Meeks replaced Tom Newton.

Republican Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas appointed Dr. Robert Moser as Secretary of the state Department of Health and Environment. 

Moser is a family physician who before his appointment was director of rural health and outreach at the Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita.

His appointment as Secretary requires confirmation by the Kansas Senate.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment administers public health programs and manages the state’s efforts to control disease outbreaks and epidemics, including those involving foodborne illnesses.   

Moser will take over a department with a budget of $240 million and staff of more than 1,000.

Moser will succeed acting Secretary John Michell.

Minnesota’s Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, appointed Dr. Edward Ehlinger as Commissioner of the state’s Department of Health.

Previously, Ehlinger was 1995 director and chief health officer at Boynton Health Services at the University of Minnesota.  He was director of personal health services for the Minneapolis Department of Health from 1980 to 1995.  

“Dr. Ehlinger’s long experience in public health and in leading a key Minnesota health facility position him well to lead the Minnesota Department of Health and to restore our state’s former preeminence in national health care initiatives,” Dayton said.

Dr. Sanne Magnan is Minnesota’s immediate past Commissioner.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has nominated Darrel J. Aubertine to serve as Commissioner of the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, an agency that frequently teams with federal food safety agencies to investigate food processors.

The nomination requires confirmation by the NY state Senate.

Aubertine is a former state senator from the 48th District.  He is a past chairman of both the Senate Agriculture Committee and Rural Resources Commission. He also served in the NY Assembly and Jefferson County’s Legislature.

He is the owner and operator of the Triple-A-Farm in Cape Vincent and belongs to numerous farm organizations.

Cuomo said Aubertine has “fought for years on behalf of farmers in the state Legislature and delivered real results.”  The governor said NY agriculture will thrive with Aubertine “at the helm.”

Aubertine will succeed Patrick Hooker.

As more food safety related appointments are made by the new governors, Food Safety News will bring them to you.