Calif. Gov. Brown appointments favor Democrats

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Gov. Jerry Brown is a quirky Democrat known to break from convention, but in one way his young administration looks all too predictable: He is seeding state government with fellow Democrats, political supporters and appointees linked to powerful labor groups that helped install him in office, an Associated Press review found.

Public employee unions representing nurses, teachers, firefighters and other workers spent millions of dollars in the 2010 campaign to put Brown in charge in California, fearing Republican Meg Whitman would make good on her promise to shrink the state payroll and collar the soaring cost of government pensions.

So far, Brown has placed a string of appointees with ties to those unions in prominent jobs that intersect with labor: The state agency that negotiates worker contracts is now headed by a former champion of the prison guards union, and the chief lawyer for the agency that settles disputes between workers and state managers has ties to the powerful California Nurses Association.

Brown's office says there is no connection between the union support he received in 2010 and his job picks, but it has opened him to criticism that he is stacking the deck in favor of labor interests as the state struggles with an ongoing financial crisis.

"If you look at who funded his gubernatorial campaign, they are getting one hell of a return on their investment. It's paying off in spades through these appointments," said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, a low-tax advocacy group that supported Whitman in 2010.

The choices provide a window into how Brown has exercised power since taking office, and his appointments could affect issues ranging from funding unemployment benefits to promoting green energy in a state infamous for smog.

According to administration statements, Brown has named 190 people to high-level positions since he took office in January. Of those, 18 — about 9 percent — are Republicans, 11 of whom are new appointees. The rest were reappointed to jobs they already held.

Brown is known to be unorthodox — he earned the moniker "governor moonbeam" during his first stint as governor from 1975 to 1983 — and he urged legislators to "rise above ideology and partisan interest" after taking the oath of office in January. But his appointments have followed a familiar pattern in Sacramento, in which incoming governors advance their agendas by salting the state ranks with like-minded staffers or repay supporters and donors with plum jobs.

By some accounts nearly 3,000 appointments come with the California governorship that range across state agencies and a web of boards and commissions that have influence in everything from agriculture to energy.

Former Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's inner circle was thick with Republicans but, overall, his appointments were fairly balanced. A Los Angeles Times review in 2006 found that about 54 percent of more than 2,000 appointments he made by that time were Republicans, the rest were Democrats and independents with a sprinkle from minor political parties.

When Democratic Gov. Gray Davis took office in 1999, he blocked nominations for 134 officials selected by outgoing Gov. Pete Wilson, a Republican moderate. Shortly after Wilson took office in 1991, his appointments tipped toward Democrats but he later brawled with Democrats in the Legislature over appointees.

The overwhelming majority of appointments announced by Brown's office— about eight in 10 — have been Democrats, the review found. At least six appointees were plucked from his days in the state Justice Department, where Brown served as attorney general before returning to the governor's office. One, senior adviser Julie Henderson, earlier worked at Gap Inc., where Brown's wife was once executive vice president. His wife, Anne Gust Brown, also serves in the administration as an unpaid adviser.

Records show appointees with ties to unions are laced throughout the administration. They include:

— Ronald Yank, a retired labor lawyer and Democratic donor who has represented bargaining units for state prison guards and firefighters, is making $143,000 as director of the Department of Personnel Administration, which negotiates contracts with state employee unions. His appointment also made him a board member at the California Public Employees' Retirement System, which oversees state worker pensions and its $226 billion in assets.

— Howard Schwartz, special legal counsel from 1984 to 1999 for the Service Employees International Union Local 1000, the state's largest public employee union, joined Yank as chief deputy director at the Department of Personnel Administration, where he makes $132,396.

— Marty Morgenstern, whose union ties include consulting for labor organizations and serving as a former area director at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, is making $175,000 as head of the Labor and Workforce Development Agency, which oversees an array of labor and business panels. He was director of the state Department of Personnel Administration from 1999 to 2003 in the administration of former Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat. Pension benefits were sweetened for many state workers during that period.

— A. Eugene Huguenin, staff counsel at the California Teachers Association from 1979 to 2000 and husband of longtime Democratic activist and donor Aleita Huguenin, was appointed to a $128,109 position on the Public Employment Relations Board. The quasi-judicial agency oversees labor laws for tens of thousands of state workers.

— M. Suzanne Murphy, legal counsel for the California Nurses Association from 2006 to 2007, was named general counsel of the Public Employment Relations Board.

Brown's office said in a statement that he makes appointments based on qualification, not campaign donations or party affiliation.

"Gov. Brown looks for the best candidate for each job," spokesman Gil Duran said in a statement. "Political affiliation would not affect the chances of an excellent candidate. He does not consider party as important as having what it takes to do the job."

Prominent Republican appointees include Peter James Gravett, who was named secretary of Veterans Affairs, and Kelly Harrington, as associate director of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Duran said the Brown administration allowed nearly two dozen people appointed by Schwarzenegger to retain their posts, but that figure could not be confirmed in public statements issued by his office.

In a subsequent statement, Duran said Brown had appointed 41 Republicans, most of whom were not announced publicly. Brown's office later updated those figures, saying he named 46 Republicans among 380 appointments, most of which have not been announced. Nearly 70 percent of the appointees, or 258 people, are Democrats, according to Brown's office. The statement did not provide the names of the appointees, their positions or their salaries.

The California Chamber of Commerce has been pushing reforms that would take regulatory burdens off business, but President Allan Zaremberg said it's too soon to make judgments.

"I don't think we know how the appointees are going to go on many issues," Zaremberg said.

Others with labor ties include Kelly Green, a regulatory policy specialist at the California Nurses Association since 2009, who was named to a $105,000 deputy director's post at the Department of Health Care Services, and Patricia Ann Rucker, named to the state Board of Education. Rucker worked as a lobbyist for the California Teachers Association and, earlier, was a consultant to the union on instruction and professional development from 1997 to 2008.

Brown rewarded his campaign manager, Steven Glazer, with a nomination to the California State University Board of Trustees, while Richard Maullin, co-chairman for Brown's 1980 presidential campaign and associate campaign manager for his 1974 run for governor, was named to the Independent System Operator Board of Governors.

Banker Mark Ferron, a frequent Democratic donor who, with his wife, gave more than $50,000 to Brown's campaign last year, was named to the California Public Utilities Commission. Duran, Brown's spokesman, said Ferron's donation had no connection to his appointment.

Ferron, a volunteer for Brown's 2010 campaign, said in a statement he was appointed because he will bring a fresh perspective to the PUC, along with his background in financial services.

"Many people contributed to Gov. Brown's campaign," Ferron said. "My wife and I have a long history of supporting ... political causes we believe in."

Some of Brown's appointments have previously caused friction. An editorial titled "Politics as usual" in the Merced Sun-Star ridiculed Brown after he pushed aside a late-hour appointee installed by Schwarzenegger for the Community Colleges Board of Governors in favor of Natalie Berg, the wife of a political supporter and campaign donor.

The move "can only increase public cynicism about government" and shows "politics trumps policy," the newspaper wrote. He's also replacing several members of the board that oversees the Del Mar Fairgrounds, which Schwarzenegger was eager to sell.

The influence of appointees can range far beyond the buildings in which they work, shaping legislation and providing advice to the governor, to whom they ultimately answer.

The state is facing a host of issues tied to labor, including examining benefits for disabled workers and meeting the staggering cost of payments to unemployed workers in a state with double-digit unemployment — nearly $23 billion last year, according to state records.

Public employee unions wield broad influence with Democrats who control the Legislature. With Brown's picks, unions will have ties to administration appointees who negotiate labor contracts, as well as legislators who later ratify them.

Brown has told his union allies to be open to concessions. He failed to reach an agreement with Republican lawmakers this spring over pension, regulatory and spending-cap reforms they sought, and there has been little action since. Brown released a 12-point plan to reform public pensions, but its fate in the Democrat-controlled Legislature remains uncertain.

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