FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 9, 2011, OR THEREAFTER
BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
“SOME QUESTIONS FOR BROWN ON APPOINTMENT IMBALANCE”
Gov. Jerry Brown announced four appointments in an Aug. 11 press release, including a new director and chief deputy director for the state’s Department of Managed Health Care. All four are residents of Northern California.
One day earlier, another announcement listed six appointments to the state parole board. Five are Northern Californians.
This pattern has been visible from the first month of Brown’s return to the state’s top political job: He has appointed more than four times as many Northern California residents as Southern Californians, and very, very few from the Central Valley. There was also an imbalance under the last three governors, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gray Davis and Pete Wilson, but it’s more marked under Brown.
One reason there’s always some imbalance is that a strong cadre of experienced bureaucrats already lives in and around Sacramento, often tapped for the second tier of appointees, deputy directors of departments and the like. The other reason is that it can be tough to get people from Southern and Central California to move to Sacramento for full-time work when their lives and families are well-established.
“There have been some great candidates who chose not to abandon paradise for life in Sacramento,” said Brown spokesman Evan Westrup.
That still doesn’t explain why significant jobs not based in Sacramento are not being filled more or less in proportion to the population, about 70 percent residing in Southern and Central California.
Overall, Brown had made 380 appointments as of mid-August. Fully 298, or 78 percent, hailed from Northern California, compared with 69 from Southern California and just 9 from Central California, roughly defined as the Central Valley south of Sacramento and the Central coast from south of Monterey to Santa Barbara.
For jobs not attached full-time to Sacramento or the San Francisco area, the count was 67 from Northern California, 43 from Southern California and 6 from either the Central Coast or out of state.
Among top policy-making positions like his cabinet, the state Supreme Court and the Public Utilities Commission, the vast preponderance are Northern California residents.
All this suggests one or all of three things may be at work. There may not be as many qualified people in Southern California as in the northern regions of the state, something Brown’s office denies. It’s also possible that living in Northern California for most of the last 35 years caused Brown, a former Los Angeles community college trustee, to become more familiar with Northern California individuals than others. Governors always name most of their top policy advisers from among those they already know. And it’s possible the real estate collapse has made it more difficult for many people to move to Sacramento when appointments are offered, since homes are no longer easy to sell without taking big losses.
Brown declined to answer questions about all this. But Westrup said his boss “looks for the best candidates (for each job) from every part of the state, period.”
Robert Stern, president of the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies, lays much of the imbalance on location and real estate.
“It’s easier to commute to Sacramento from other places in Northern California,” he said. “And people who have the credentials a governor looks for are often already in Sacramento.”
Figures the governor provided listed Sacramento area residents as Northern Californians. Among recent appointees, four of the six parole board members named Aug. 10 were from that area, all with prior experience in state government.
So when Brown looks for experience, he often finds it very close to the state Capitol.
But that doesn’t explain why his three Public Utilities Commission appointees all hail from the San Francisco area, home to the PUC’s headquarters. The problem there is that although one holdover Schwarzenegger appointee on this powerful five-member panel has a Southern California background, there’s little reason to believe the other four members know much about the economic, energy and environmental concerns of the south state.
Were there no qualified residents of either Southern California or the Central Valley when Brown looked for PUC members, who get six-figure salaries and five-year terms to regulate electricity and gas prices? The salary and job security of PUC commissioners have often enticed Southern Californians to accept such appointments.
With unemployment in the Central Valley far higher than elsewhere in the state, should Brown’s new job-creation czar really be a former San Francisco bank executive from leafy Pebble Beach?
Brown has not answered these questions, but the implication of his actions is that he’s found more Northern Californians than anyone else qualified for a wide variety of high state jobs.
It would be naïve to think there are no regional rivalries or animosities and to believe there will be no regional bias when the corps of appointees is unbalanced by region.
One thing Brown is not is naïve, so it’s reasonable to expect some other type of explanation from him.
Email Thomas Elias at firstname.lastname@example.org. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net