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Stitt's top staffer embraces 'utility player' role

Tulsa Deputy Mayor Michael Junk has been hired by Gov.-elect Kevin Stitt as his chief of staff. [Photo by James Gibbard, Tulsa World]

Tulsa Deputy Mayor Michael Junk has been hired by Gov.-elect Kevin Stitt as his chief of staff. [Photo by James Gibbard, Tulsa World]

In selecting Michael Junk as his chief of staff, Gov.-elect Kevin Stitt added a Nick Collison-type player to his team, or at least that's how political consultant Pat McFerron describes it.

Collison, the former power forward for the Oklahoma City Thunder, developed a reputation as a versatile big man who was more grit than flash, playing a variety of roles away from the spotlight. He became a fan favorite, especially for his willingness to absorb the collision of a charging offensive player, trading temporary pain for the foul and possession of the ball.

“Michael is like Collison in that he is a do-whatever-it-takes type of guy,” said McFerron, who worked with Junk on the 2016 campaign of Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum.

“He will do whatever is asked of him, step up when needed, defer to someone else at times, probably get in someone's face in the locker room, but always doing it the right way.”

Junk, 34, refers to himself as a "utility player," the adaptable teammate who empowers others.

Junk described his role as "recognizing where our team's strengths and weaknesses are and filling the gaps where necessary, but not necessarily out front."

Stitt has already assembled a team that allows for Junk to play the behind-the-scenes role he desires.

For secretary of state, Stitt nominated Michael Rogers, a former state representative who will be the administration's face in the Legislature, lobbying members to support the governor's positions.

For deputy secretary of state, Stitt chose Donelle Harder, a seasoned political communications professional who will be the primary media spokesperson, a job Junk admits he has no interest in.

"I have zero political ambition. I love the staff role,” Junk said.

'Talent to get things accomplished'

Junk previously worked for U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe and former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, both Republicans.

For the past two years, Junk has worked for Bynum, first as his campaign manager in the win over incumbent Dewey Bartlett Jr., then as deputy mayor.

Stitt, who has never held public office, will lean on that diverse political experience.

“So much of public service is navigating the different levels of government and knowing how they interact with each other,” said David Holt, a former Republican state senator and current mayor of Oklahoma City.

Holt said he's most excited to have a top official in Stitt's administration who understands the challenges of the state's two largest cities.

“Sometimes it feels like the state government operates in an alternate universe that is totally different from being here in Oklahoma City and it would be very nice if this governor could break down those barriers,” Holt said. “Because of his role as deputy mayor in Tulsa, Michael understands the political dynamics of Oklahoma City and Tulsa.”

Junk, who graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2007 with a degree in political science and public administration, also has experience in federal policy and its impact at the state level, especially as Inhofe's former field representative for northeast Oklahoma.

"With Sen. Inhofe being from Tulsa, that northeastern field representative position is a little more involved than the others," said Ryan Jackson, chief of staff for the Environmental Protection Agency, who was chief of staff for Inhofe when Junk was hired.

Jackson said Junk was heavily involved in policy, including water issues, working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and navigating federal permits.

"He was not simply your point of contact as someone to call. He was your point of contact for maneuvering through problems," Jackson said. “Michael has a specific talent to bring things to a conclusion, to get things accomplished.”

Unique opportunity

Junk said working for Stitt will be unique because the governor-elect isn't a polished politician.

"For the most part, their policy positions are set in stone," Junk said about his previous bosses. "But we are really able to help mold (Stitt) and start to craft policy that is not good for him politically, necessarily, but is really good for the state moving forward.

"There is a tremendous amount of freedom in that when you are not held or restrained to political opinions just because it's politically expedient."

Junk said he moved back to Oklahoma several years ago in part to raise a family, which includes his wife, Kathryn, and two young children.

"If my kids are going to stay here in the future, then major adjustments are going to have to be made," said Junk, referring specifically to the state's education system.

But Junk said he was also attracted to Stitt's team because it reminded him of the impact Bynum's mayoral victory had on the city of Tulsa.

"I compare (Oklahoma right now) to where the city of Tulsa was just a few years ago when it felt pretty flat and there wasn't a lot of excitement," Junk said. "This is an opportunity to really rebrand the state and inject a tremendous amount of energy ... and I think we are putting together a strong team that I'm excited to play a part of, whatever that requires."

Ben Felder

Ben Felder is an investigative reporter for The Oklahoman. A native of Kansas City, Ben has lived in Oklahoma City since 2010 and covered politics, education and local government for the Oklahoma Gazette before joining The Oklahoman in 2016.... Read more ›