Gov. Lee Announces Leadership Transitions and Appointments in the Governor’s Office

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Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced key leadership transitions and appointments in the Governor’s office last week.

Michael Hendrix will succeed Tony Niknejad as policy director, effective September 1, and Elizabeth Lane Johnson will serve as press secretary, effective August 14, succeeding Jade Byers, who will serve as senior communications officer. After more than four years in the administration, Niknejad is stepping down to return to the private sector. Additionally, Alec Richardson has been appointed to serve as a senior advisor to the Governor.

“For more than four years, Tony has played a critical role in the administration’s work to strengthen Tennessee’s economy, ensure responsible fiscal stewardship of taxpayer dollars and expand educational opportunity for students across the state,” said Lee. “I wish him much success in his next chapter and have full confidence that Michael’s significant public policy and leadership experience will continue our work to make life better for all Tennesseans.”

As policy director since January 2019 and one of the longest-serving members of Lee’s team, Tony Niknejad has been instrumental in achieving the Governor’s policy agenda and crafted major legislative initiatives, including the Literacy Success Act of 2021 and Tennessee Works Tax Act of 2023. Niknejad was the lead coordinator for the Financial Stimulus Accountability Group (FSAG), a bipartisan group of executive and legislative branch officials convened by Lee to support Tennessee’s economy and ensure the responsible stewardship of federal relief funds. He has also advised the Governor on national policy relations and led coordination with 27 governors’ offices during Lee’s tenure as Chairman of the Republican Governors Public Policy Committee. Niknejad joined the Governor’s team early in his successful primary run.

Michael Hendrix currently serves as special advisor to the Governor. Previously, he was a senior fellow and the director of state and local policy at the Manhattan Institute, as well as the senior director for research and emerging issues at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. Hendrix attended the College of William & Mary and is a graduate of the University of St. Andrews.

Chrissy Freeland recently assumed the role of senior policy analyst and has served in the Governor’s office since November 2020. Freeland previously worked for the Tennessee General Assembly and earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Elizabeth Lane Johnson will join Lee’s communications office as press secretary, and Jade Byers, a longtime member of the Governor’s team, will assume the role of senior communications officer.

“Elizabeth’s significant media and communications experience will play a key role in our administration’s work to serve Tennesseans, and we welcome her to the team,” said Lee. “Jade is a dedicated public servant, and I am confident that she will continue to ensure that our key priorities and accomplishments are communicated effectively.”

Elizabeth Lane Johnson currently serves as press secretary for Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti. Johnson has deep media and communications experience from her previous roles in broadcast journalism, including morning television anchor and reporter at the ABC affiliate in Nashville, and service with Texas Governor Greg Abbott. Johnson graduated from The University of Alabama with a degree in Communication and Information Sciences and a minor in Political Science.

Jade Byers, currently Lee’s press secretary, will assume key strategic communications responsibilities as senior communications officer. Byers has served Lee since his successful primary run in 2018, including her previous roles as deputy press secretary and the director of boards and commissions. Byers earned her bachelor’s degree at Belmont University.

Alec Richardson has been appointed to serve as a senior advisor to the Governor and a member of Lee’s cabinet, in addition to his current role as the director of external affairs. Richardson earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Tennessee at Martin and has served Lee since his successful primary run in 2018.

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