The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services has hired the former state director of Americans for Prosperity as its new administrator of communications and legislative services.
Matt Litt replaced longtime administrator Kathie Osterman, who has been in the position 20 years and before that worked with the department in its various forms since 1983.
Litt's former employer is a conservative political advocacy group funded by David H. Koch and Charles Koch, and said to be the Koch brothers' primary political advocacy group.
Osterman retired at the end of December, along with another communications specialist Russ Reno. Litt took over the position this month.
The position includes overseeing internal and external written, broadcast and website communication, working with senators, and with directors on testimony to present at bill hearings. The division communicates to 4,700 employees and many others in the state who use the department's services.
She has been known among those who had professional interactions with her, including members of the media, as a spokeswoman who approached her job in a professional and nonpolitical manner, with accuracy, timeliness and understanding the different audiences.
CEO Courtney Phillips hired Litt, Osterman said, and she was not involved in the process of finding her replacement nor any interviews. Taylor Gage, spokesman for Gov. Pete Ricketts, said the governor does not get involved in hiring at that level.
The job was posted by the state personnel division for about a month in an effort to attract diverse and qualified candidates, Osterman said. State Personnel forwarded the applications to the department and referred candidates. Multiple interviews were done, including final interviews by Phillips with three finalists.
Litt received a master's degree in higher education administration from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2012, and a bachelor of arts degree in sociology in 2009.
He had been Americans for Prosperity's Nebraska director since September 2013 and deputy director for about a year before that. As such he created culture, and led strategic planning, communications, policy initiatives and grassroots operations, according to his resume.
Americans for Prosperity is described as an organization that is "building a long-term effort to undercut the left's long-standing dominance in grassroots organizing." It fights for lower taxes, less government regulation and economic prosperity for all. It encourages people to tell their lawmakers to end "the trainwreck that is Obamacare."
Ricketts was a founder of the Nebraska chapter of Americans for Prosperity, but Gage has said he has not contributed financially to the group. The organization does not make its donors public.
Litt said he applied for the position because he thought he could make a positive impact at the agency and "add to the great work that Gov. Ricketts and CEO Phillips have been leading."
He did not see his former job as a political one, he said, "at least as the word 'political' is typically used.
"As a part of the nonpartisan organization, I worked to advance policies and issues that encouraged fiscal responsibility, removed barriers to opportunity for Nebraskans, and protected free speech. I hope to continue that kind of work in advancing the policies of the agency and to communicate all the agency is doing to help people live better lives."
Nebraska Democratic Party Chair Jane Kleeb said Litt's hiring for the Department of Health and Human Services didn't surprise her but concerned her.
Americans for Prosperity and the Platte Institute, which describes itself as an organization that believes big-government policies create barriers to growth and opportunity, seem to be revolving doors of their staffs through Republican campaigns, the governor's office and the Republican Party, Kleeb said.
Litt's hiring to oversee HHS communications and legislative services is yet another heavy hand from Ricketts, Kleeb said. The state is already living under one-party rule, which is bad for democracy, she said, and it's a double whammy to have Ricketts controlling everything.
"You don't get fairness, or new ideas brought to the table," she said.