Mike Chrisman, a fourth-generation Visalia farmer, avid hunter and fly fisherman and state fish and game commissioner, was appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Friday as state secretary of natural resources.
Chrisman is well known in Sacramento by politicians, environmentalists and industry leaders and has a reputation for fair-mindedness, according to people on both sides of often-divisive debates about the state's natural resources.
He promised Friday to bring diverse stakeholders into the decision-making process.
"This is a big state that is under tremendous population pressure," Chrisman said. "Our challenge is going to be to manage these natural resources and still maintain the ability of the public to enjoy them."
Chrisman, 59, is regional manager for Southern California Edison and has held numerous positions in state government, including deputy resources secretary and undersecretary of food and agriculture under former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson and staff director for the GOP's Assembly caucus.
His appointment won praise from some conservation and industry groups that deal with the 31 boards, commissions and departments overseen by the California Resources Agency. The agency regulates issues from timber harvesting to coastal development.
"Mike Chrisman is smart, honest and fair to all interests on California resource issues," said Warner Chabot, vice president of The Ocean Conservancy. Chabot said he had been impressed with Chrisman's work as fish and game commissioner and credited the appointee with carefully investigating and weighing opposing views before making decisions.
George Gomes, administrator of the California Farm Bureau, described Chrisman as a "thought leader in the agricultural community on environmental issues for the longest time."
"He is the type of person who understands you have to protect the environment, but also to protect jobs," Gomes said. "We certainly don't expect him to agree with us all the time, but we do think he will listen to us, and that's all we ask for."
Chrisman, whose family settled in California as homesteaders in the 1850s, lives on a ranch north of Visalia. His wife, Barbara, runs the family's farming and ranching operation, which includes 800 acres of walnuts and row crops and 3,000 acres of grazing land in the foothills of northern Tulare County.
Since 1996, Chrisman has served as Southern California Edison's regional manager for the San Joaquin Valley. He said Friday that he planned to quit or take a leave from the job.
Among his priorities as resources secretary, he said, will be securing federal funding for CalFed, a state-federal partnership to reassess water use in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
The appointment has been the subject of considerable intrigue in Sacramento. The job and that of secretary of environmental protection are the two Cabinet-level conservation positions in California government.
Some conservatives argued that Schwarzenegger needed to appoint a more industry-friendly advocate to counteract his appointment of Terry Tamminen, an environmentalist, to head the California Environmental Protection Agency.
That idea was lambasted by liberal environmentalists, who noted that Schwarzenegger had an ambitious pro-environment platform during his campaign for governor.
Even before the announcement of Tamminen's appointment as Cal/EPA secretary, the names of two conservative Republican politicians were widely mentioned for the resources post: Sacramento-area Rep. Doug Ose and former Secretary of State Bill Jones.
But Ose wrote Schwarzenegger to pull out of the running last week, according to his spokesman, and Jones dismissed published reports that he was taking the job, saying that he was contemplating a run for the U.S. Senate.
Both rumored candidates were publicly criticized by conservationists, who called their voting records unfriendly to environmental causes.
Moderate Republicans and others close to the new governor were privately arguing for a more middle-of-the-road choice. However, the candidate they touted, former Modesto Mayor Carol Whiteside, decided she did not want to return to Sacramento full time, according to people familiar with the selection process.
After interviewing several other candidates, including Ron Gastelum, the general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Schwarzenegger settled on Chrisman. The two hit it off during a face-to-face meeting, Chrisman said.