Speaker Bios

Speaker and OK Policy Staff Bios

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Chan Aaron

OK Policy Intern

Chan Aaron is an OK Policy summer intern, veteran of the United States Navy, graduate of Oklahoma State University, former small-business owner, former teacher, and outdoor enthusiast. Though he is originally from the small town of Weatherford, Oklahoma, he currently calls Tulsa home while he is pursuing a second bachelor’s degree in Environmental Policy from the University of Tulsa. Chan’s research and policy interests primarily focus on income inequality, environmental innovation that encourages economic expansion, and eradication of veteran homelessness and suicide. He spends most of his free time outside – preferably somewhere with trees and mountains – or watching movies with lovely girlfriend, Bailey.

Dr. Curt Adams

Panelist: Education

Curt Adams is an associate professor in the department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at the University of Oklahoma. He is co-director of the Oklahoma Center for Education Policy. He studies the social psychology of schools and school systems.

Chief Bill John Baker

Panelist: Public Leadership: Myths and Realities

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker currently serves as the 17th elected chief of the Cherokee Nation, the largest Indian tribe in the United States. Born and raised in Cherokee County, he is married to Sherry (Robertson) Baker. Principal Chief Baker has devoted much of his life in service to the Cherokee people. He spent 12 years as a member of the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council before being elected to the post of Principal Chief in 2011. He was re-elected to a second term in June 2015.

During his time on the council, and as Principal Chief, Baker has worked tirelessly to improve education, health care and the entire economy of the Cherokee Nation through job creation.

The first piece of legislation he signed as Principal Chief was an act he co-authored during his time on the council. That act increased funding from tribal casinos to health care by an additional 5 percent, a change that will strengthen Cherokees for generations to come.

Under his leadership, tribal businesses employ more Cherokees than ever before, and new home construction resumed for the first time in a decade. Principal Chief Baker is currently overseeing a $100 million capital project that will overhaul the Cherokee Nation health care system, the largest tribally-operated health system in the United States.

With more than 300,000 citizens and 9,000 employees, the Cherokee Nation is one of the largest employers in northeast Oklahoma. A recent economic impact report showed Cherokee Nation has a $1.2 billion impact on the area.

Principal Chief Baker is a graduate of Tahlequah High School and Northeastern State University. He earned his bachelor’s degree in political science and history, with minors in psychology and sociology. He has been a small business owner in Tahlequah for more than 40 years.

Principal Chief Baker still resides in Tahlequah, Okla., with his wife, Sherry. They have been blessed with six children and are the proud grandparents of nine.

Chris Benge

Panelist: Public Leadership: Myths and Realities

Secretary of State Chris Benge was elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives in 1998 and left office in November 2010 due to legislative term limits. He served six years in leadership positions, including three years as Chairman of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee, which was responsible for negotiating and writing the state budget. He spent his last three years in office as Speaker of the House.

After his legislative service, Benge worked in Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett’s administration as Director of Intergovernmental and Enterprise Development. He then served as Senior Vice President of Government Affairs with the Tulsa Regional Chamber.

In 2013, Governor Mary Fallin appointed him to serve as secretary of state. He serves also as one of the governor’s top advisers on her Cabinet.

On February 9, 2015, Governor Fallin appointed Secretary Benge to fill the position of Native American Liaison. In addition to his duties as Secretary of State, he will work directly with the Tribal Nations of the State of Oklahoma. He will work to further the relationship between the State of Oklahoma and tribal leadership and build on the momentum the State and Tribal Nations have developed over the last few years.

In these various roles, Secretary Benge has placed much of his focus on policies that promote economic growth and job creation for citizens of our state.

Anna Blanding

Panelist: Careers in Public Policy

Anna Blanding is founder and principal of The Pilliner Group, LLC, a firm providing investment services to foundations and endowments. Prior to this, Anna was the Senior Investment Officer at Choate Rosemary Hall, working across all asset classes to manage the boarding school’s $300M endowment. Previously, Anna was an investment associate at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a $2.5B endowment, where she focused on the Foundation’s venture capital, private equity and real estate investments. She also helped manage The Foundation’s $125M social impact portfolio, investing in affordable housing, quality early childcare, healthcare clinics, living wage jobs and other workforce development initiatives across the country. Prior to business school, Anna was a fellow at Connecticut Voices for Children with a focus on tax and budget legislation and later juvenile justice and foster care policy. An Oklahoma native, Anna interned at Community Action Project of Tulsa her summer before college.

Anna has a passion for building strong communities. She serves in numerous organizations, including Vice President of the board for the Greater New Haven Community Loan Fund, a CDFI; Fit Haven, a nonprofit focused on nutrition and fitness in low-income neighborhoods; and the Varick AME Business Development Board, whose mission is to revitalize a historically impoverished section of New Haven. Anna has her B.A. and MBA from Yale University and will attend law school in the fall. She resides in Connecticut with her husband, a New Haven high school vice-principal, and their two young children.

David Blatt

Presenter: Budget and Tax Overview; Moderator: Oklahoma’s Fiscal Challenges; Executive Director, OK Policy

David helped found OK Policy and served as Director of Policy before becoming the organization’s Director in 2010. He then became Executive Director in 2014. David’s work involves conducting research, writing papers, and giving public presentations on state budget and tax policy, poverty, asset development, and various other subjects. Recognized as one of the state’s leading experts on fiscal policy and selected as one of the Tulsa World’s five “Oklahomans to Watch” in 2011, he is a member and regional co-chair of the Scholars Strategy Network. David previously served for seven years as Director of Public Policy for Community Action Project of Tulsa County and for three years as a budget analyst for the State Senate. He has a Ph.D. in political science from Cornell University and a B.A. from the University of Alberta. He lives in Tulsa with his wife, Patty Hipsher, a special education teacher at an elementary school in Broken Arrow, and their son, Noah.

Eileen Ryan Bradshaw

Moderator: Hunger in Oklahoma

Eileen Ryan Bradshaw assumed the role of Executive Director at the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma just over three year ago. Previously, she served as the Executive Director of Emergency Infant Services, an agency serving the basic needs of children under six. Working on a daily basis with families who routinely struggled to feed their children really heightened her interest in food insecurity, and the issues involving the morality and fairness in food distribution and policy.

Eileen is a native Tulsan, and a graduate of Bishop Kelley High school. She received a Bachelor’s of Art in Philosophy from Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. She and her husband Steve have 3 children: Lucie, Brendan and Clare.

Ziva Branstetter

Moderator: Campaigns and Elections

Ziva Branstetter is Editor in Chief of The Frontier, an investigative news website based in Tulsa. Branstetter left the Tulsa World in April to form the digital startup, owned by Robert Lorton III. While at the World, she won state and national awards for her work, including being named as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in local reporting this year along with reporting partner Cary Aspinwall. Branstetter and Aspinwall were named finalists for their stories examining flaws in the state’s death penalty process following the botched execution of Clayton Lockett. Ziva has previously worked for the Philadelphia Daily News and The Tulsa Tribune. She serves on the board of Investigative Reporters and Editors Inc. and FOI Oklahoma. She is a graduate of Oklahoma State University and she and her husband have two sons, 18 and 24.

Johnson Bridgwater

Panelist: Who Owns the Water?

Johnson Bridgwater serves as the Director of the Oklahoma Chapter of Sierra Club. Established in Oklahoma in 1972, the Oklahoma Chapter is dedicated to helping Oklahomans “Explore, Enjoy and Protect the Wild Places of the Earth.” Johnson holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Writing and pursued graduate studies at the University of Oklahoma in both

English and Landscape Architecture. He has a diverse work history, including owning a landscape design company, working as a horticulturist for the Oklahoma City Zoo, founding a non-profit environmental organization, and then serving as a Federal Programs Manager in the Rail Programs Division at the Oklahoma Department of Transportation. Mr. Bridgwater states that what ties all of these diverse positions together is that each job offered him a new and unique way to improve the environment.

Kuma Browne

Panelist: What do we do to move people out of poverty?

Kuma Browne currently serves as the Program Manager for Education at the Tulsa Regional Chamber of Commerce. She is a native Tulsan who graduated from Booker T. Washington high school and went on to study English and Theatre at the University of Tulsa. Prior to joining the Chamber, Kuma worked at Volunteers of America as the executive assistant to the CFO, where she developed her desire to continue her work in the realm of social justice and business development. In her role as program manager, she oversees the involvement of the Tulsa business community in the engagement of the local school districts. She has served on several local boards, including the Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice, and Dress for Success, and has served as secretary for the Rotary Club of North Tulsa. She is a proud member of Leadership Tulsa Class 51 in addition to being featured as a “Success Spotlight” in the Tulsa Business & Legal News. Kuma is passionate about education equity, social justice and her community.

Steven Buck

Panelist: Health Care in Oklahoma

Steven Buck serves Oklahoma Department of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services as Deputy Commissioner for Communications and Prevention. In this capacity, Buck directs ODMHSAS’s prevention and provider certification initiatives. He also oversees both internal and external communications and is the agency’s lead on state legislative relations. Prior to joining the department in August 2007, Buck enjoyed a ten-year career with NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. During his tenure, he served in multiple capacities, including Director of State Policy, Director of State Relations, and Executive Director of NAMI Oklahoma. As Director of State Policy, Buck provided oversight and consultation in the area of public policy development to the 50 NAMI state organizations. Buck has advocacy experience in multiple state legislatures and has been involved in numerous political campaigns and policy initiatives.

He and his wife, Lisa, have four daughters and two sons. A native Oklahoman, he is a graduate of Oklahoma State University with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics.

Felicia Collins Correia

Moderator: What do we do to move people out of poverty?

Felicia Collins Correia, a resident of Tulsa, has over a quarter-century of experience as a non-profit CEO, leading DVIS/Call Rape from 1988-2006 and the YWCA Tulsa from 2006-2014. Upon her retirement from the YWCA, she launched FCC Consultation and Training. Felicia served on the Boards of two national organizations (National Network to End Domestic Violence and YWCA USA) and has numerous awards for her leadership and ability to create social change. She has a double master’s in social work and in public health, both from Columbia University.

Tywanda Cox

Panelist: Health Care in Oklahoma

Tywanda holds a Master’s of Science in Rehabilitation Counseling and currently serves as a direct reporter to the Chief Executive Officer of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority in her role as the Chief of Federal and State Policy. Tywanda joined the Oklahoma Health Care Authority staff in May of 1998. During her tenure at OHCA, Mrs. Cox has worked in the Legal Division, Health Policy Division, Policy and Planning and Integrity Division, and currently serving as the division director over Health Policy and Wavier Development & Reporting. Her responsibilities include oversight of a staff of over 37 who obtain state and federal authorities and approvals for the operation of the Oklahoma Medicaid program. She serves as the agency liaison to the Center’s for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) related to the Oklahoma State Plan and Operational Waivers and Governor’s Office related to the Oklahoma Administrative Code as well as to other Oklahoma sister agencies. Additionally, she represents the agency on national forums, committees and workgroups related to Medicaid eligibility, enrollment and retention.

Bah-He-Toya-Mah “Sooner” Davenport

OK Policy Intern

Bah-He-Toya-Mah “Sooner” Davenport has developed a strong interest in policy due to her experience in Native American communities. She is of Apache, Kiowa and Navajo ancestry. Prior to policy work, Sooner acquired a background in the credit union industry. She has since gained experience in tribal taxation issues and tribal finance. Her passion is to develop local indigenous economies with the infrastructure necessary to enter the global market.

In 2014 she was selected to attend the prestigious Native American Political Leadership Program at The George Washington University. She has also interned in Washington DC at the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education.

Sooner is finishing her Masters of Tribal Administration and Governance at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. She also has degree in political science from Oklahoma City University. This fall she will be moving overseas to pursue further postgraduate studies in Government with a specialization in diplomacy and conflict studies.

Wanda DeBruler

Panelist: What do we do to move people out of poverty?

Wanda is the president and owner of DeBruler, Inc., where she helps executive leadership and management of dozens of federal, state and local organizations identify, secure and invest in programs that house, feed, educate, employ and otherwise enhance the lives of working families and their children. Her career includes various leadership positions with the Oklahoma Association of Community Action Agencies, the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, consultant to government, nonprofits, and private enterprises, as well as service on several national boards, task forces, and committees. Visit www.debrulerinc.com.

Laura Dempsey-Polan

Panelist: Health Care in Oklahoma

Dr. Laura Dempsey Polan is a 4th generation Oklahoman. After completing two master’s degrees, she served as a licensed clinician and administrator in Tulsa, California, and Minnesota. She completed her doctoral work in health administration and public policy at Cornell University and a Fellowship with the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (OMRF). Today, Dr. Dempsey-Polan serves as a Vice-President with Morton Comprehensive Health Services, Inc., (MCHS), northeast Oklahoma’s largest community and federally qualified primary care health system. Over the past 25 years, Laura has also served as the Director and founder of Tulsa’s Area Alliance on Disabilities (the Alliance), the Oklahoma Policy Consortium for Persons with Disabilities, and a Senior Planner with the Community Service Council (CSC). She also served as an executive with LIFE Senior Services (LIFE) over public policy, community-based services, and advocacy for vulnerable adults. An active civic volunteer on numerous area non-profit boards, Laura has been recognized as a Tulsa Woman of the Year, a Pinnacle Award Winner, an Oklahoma AARP awardee, and Mental Health Association of Oklahoma and CSC awardee for her volunteer and public policy work for vulnerable Oklahomans, including seniors and persons with disabilities.

Preston L. Doerflinger

Panelist: Oklahoma’s Fiscal Challenges

Doerflinger was appointed Secretary of Finance by Governor Mary Fallin on January 19, 2011. He also serves as director of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES), the state’s central finance and operations agency. Prior to his state appointment, Doerflinger founded and served as chief executive officer of PLD Management, a business consulting and investment firm, in addition to founding several health care and supply companies. In 2009, he was elected City Auditor of Tulsa. He received a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership from Southern Nazarene University. Since joining the Fallin administration, Doerflinger has become known as the governor’s chief problem solver and a leader of her efforts to modernize state government. He is also the governor’s lead budget negotiator with the Legislature. As director of OMES, Doerflinger is the state’s chief non-elected finance, administrative and operations officer. Doerflinger’s cabinet duties were expanded in summer 2013 under the new cabinet position of Secretary of Finance, Administration and Information Technology that reflects the widened responsibilities assigned to OMES through major consolidation initiatives in 2011 and 2012. Between March and November of 2012, Doerflinger served as Interim Director of the Department of Human Services, the largest state agency. At DHS, Doerflinger was instrumental in implementing the beginning stages of the Pinnacle Plan, the largest child welfare reform in recent state history.

Joe Dorman

Panelist: Oklahoma Campaigns and Elections

Joe Dorman was the 2014 Democratic Nominee for Governor of the State of Oklahoma. Dorman served 12 years as the State Representative for House District 65, authoring several laws while serving in the minority party for 10 of those years and working full-time on constituent services. Dorman previously was a staff member in various positions with the Oklahoma House of Representatives, including co-founding the Page Mock Legislature. In a campaign role, Dorman was the Research Director for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, headquartered in Washington, D.C., and the National Political Director for Winding Creek Group, a national campaign phone firm located in St. Louis. Dorman currently serves as the 4th District Democratic Party Chair and remains active as a political blogger and activist. Dorman serves as the Community Development Director for Heart Mobile, a subsidiary of True Wireless, and is active with several youth and non-profit foundations.

Linda Edmondson

Moderator: Public Leadership: Myths and Realities

Linda Edmondson is a social worker, non-profit consultant and community volunteer. She serves on statewide boards including the Oklahoma Policy Institute, Women’s Foundation of Oklahoma, Oklahoma Hospice Foundation, State Capitol Preservation Commission, Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice, Oklahomans for the Arts, and the Center for Poets and Writers at OSU Tulsa. Linda is a member of the Board of Directors of Oklahoma Policy Institute. Previously she has served as co-chair of the Attorney General’s Task Force on End of Life Care and also as co-founder and Executive Director of the Oklahoma Association for Healthcare Ethics. Before moving to Oklahoma City and becoming Director of the Citizens League of Central Oklahoma, her social work career included ten years as director of social work at Muskogee Regional Medical Center. She also worked for Muskogee Public Schools and the Department of Human Services. While living in Muskogee, Edmondson was the first president of Muskogee Cooperative Ministries and helped establish the Community Pantry, the Literacy Council, and Friends of the Library.

Edmondson has been honored as a distinguished alumnus of the OU College of Arts and Sciences, Oklahoma’s “Social Worker of the Year” and one of the Journal Record’s “50 Making a Difference.” She has a master’s degree in social work from the University of Oklahoma. She is married to former Attorney General W. A. Drew Edmondson and has participated in political campaigns for more than 40 years.