Gov. Mark Dayton has chosen Emily Johnson Piper to be his next human services commissioner, replacing Lucinda Jesson, who he named to the state Court of Appeals last week.

Johnson Piper, who takes over next week, had been Dayton's general counsel and deputy chief of staff.

The commissioner of the Department of Human Services is widely regarded as one of the most challenging jobs in state government. The commissioner oversees a two-year budget of $33.8 billion as well more than 6,000 workers who do everything from overseeing child protection to caring for people with disabilities. The job entails complex financial, policy, political and legal challenges, and dozens of constituencies, from regulated industries to the families of people with disabilities to state legislators.

During Jesson's tenure, for instance, she was tasked with expanding community-based treatment for people with mental illnesses, cracking down on fraudulent billing in the state-funded health insurance program and shifting the way Minnesota contracts with health insurers, forcing them to bid competitively for hundreds of millions of dollars in state business.

Right from the start, Johnson Piper will be faced with legal challenges to the beleaguered Minnesota Sex Offender Program after a federal judge deemed the program unconstitutional. Other challenges include security threats to staff at the Minnesota Security Hospital at St. Peter and overhauling how Minnesota delivers services to people with disabilities.

Late last week, state Rep. Matt Dean, a Republican who chairs a powerful House committee overseeing DHS, sent a letter to Jesson raising concerns about lapses in the agency's record keeping that he said prevented some low-income Minnesotans from getting services.

Johnson Piper's resume includes experience in legal and management issues in state government, but no human services experience. Her annual salary will be $154,992.

Before joining the governor's office, she was general counsel and then chief of staff at the state commerce department. Before that, she was an attorney at McGrann Shea Carnival Straughn & Lamb, a prominent law and lobby firm.

She is a 2005 graduate of the University of St. Thomas School of Law.

In an article she wrote for the school's website, Johnson Piper, who has four children, credited Dayton with advancing women who balance career and family: "I am fortunate to have a client who appreciates that I am a better general counsel because of and not despite the fact that I am, at all times, simultaneously serving my family and the people of Minnesota."