By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – After more than eight years as executive director of the ACLU of Oklahoma, Ryan Kiesel has announced that he will step down from his role in June of this year.
Kiesel will remain with the organization this spring as the Board leads a national search process to find a new Executive Director and throughout the initial transition.
Since becoming executive director in 2011, Kiesel’s time at the ACLU of Oklahoma is marked by an impressive list of successes and advances on a wide range of political and legal issues including religious liberty, free speech, LGBTQ equality, and voting rights.
Early in Kiesel’s tenure, the ACLU of Oklahoma made criminal justice reform a priority, and later through the national Campaign for Smart Justice. The cause will be a major highlight of his legacy with the organization.
Under Kiesel’s leadership, Oklahoma ended mandatory life without parole sentences for certain repeat drug convictions.
Ryan was also a leader in the campaign to pass Oklahoma State Question 780, making personal possession of all drugs a misdemeanor and reforming sentencing for property crimes. Kiesel was also at the forefront of making those changes retroactive, which last year led to the release of 527 Oklahoma prisoners, the largest single-day commutation of prisoners in the nation’s history.
“It’s been an enormous privilege to lead the ACLU of Oklahoma for the last eight years,” Kiesel said. “This is a pivotal moment in our state and nation’s history, and the fight for justice and equality has never been more important.
“It has been an honor to have stood next to the current and past members of this incredible team as we have celebrated landmark victories and learned from our defeats,” Kiesel added. “There is no greater burden, nor one more worthwhile, than to stand in the breach, to ensure that the struggles of tomorrow are waged on the foundation we lay today.”
ACLU of Oklahoma Board President Sarah Adams-Cornell says Kiesel’s leadership in growing the affiliate and his reputation as a leading voice of the Constitution and as a skilled political strategist has been crucial to increasing the effectiveness of the affiliate at a critical moment in our history.
“Ryan spent the better part of the last decade leading the affiliate, board, and members of the ACLU of Oklahoma through a tremendous period of growth,” Adams-Cornell said. “Under his leadership, the ACLU of Oklahoma has solidified its reputation as a force to be reckoned with. Our board and affiliate have learned so much from and with him, and I know we’re in a better place going forward because of his strategic leadership.”
After departing the ACLU of Oklahoma, Kiesel plans to continue his legal and political advocacy work in private practice.
“While I am stepping down, I am not bowing out,” Kiesel sadi. “I intend to remain fully in the arena, committed to defending our progress and to demanding a better future for all, not just the few.”
Prior to coming to the ACLU of Oklahoma, Kiesel served three terms in the Oklahoma Legislature representing House District 28; he previously worked in private practice with a law firm in Oklahoma City, as well as serving as an adjunct professor at the University of Oklahoma College of Law.
Kiesel currently serves on the Boards of the Ralph Ellison Foundation and Freedom of Information Oklahoma. Kiesel will also continue as co-host of This Week in Oklahoma Politics, heard weekly on KOSU/NPR.
Kiesel received a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Oklahoma and a J.D. from the University of Oklahoma College of Law. He is married to Allison Kiesel, a pharmacist, and they have two children, Oliver and Claire.
When available, the Executive Director position profile and instructions on how to apply will be posted at acluok.org.