Davis Names Aides to Plum Posts
Weeks from being forced to vacate his office, recalled Gov. Gray Davis is urging that the state Senate approve his appointments of a dozen close aides to plum paid jobs, and scores of others to prestigious but unpaid slots on an array of boards and commissions.
Acting in the days since the Oct. 7 recall, Davis has nominated the 12 aides to jobs offering salaries of $86,196 to $117,396 a year. The paid posts are on the Gambling Control Commission, the Agricultural Labor Relations Board, the Board of Prison Terms and others.
An additional 77 nominees, all proposed since the recall, would serve in unpaid but sought-after posts on the California Transportation Commission, and on boards dealing with water quality, fisheries, education and other issues.
Additionally, Davis is considering rewarding his chief of staff, Lynn Schenk, and his appointments secretary, Michael Yamaki, with positions on the California Medical Assistance Commission, people familiar with the discussions said.
Commissioners on the part-time board, which helps oversee the vast Medi-Cal system, are paid $99,000 a year, the same as members of the Legislature. Gubernatorial appointees do not require confirmation. Schenk and Yamaki could not be reached for comment.
Davis is following a time-honored tradition of lame-duck governors filling open slots with aides and supporters -- and incoming Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, true to form, is calling on Davis to halt.
“It is unfortunate that Gov. Davis is making eleventh-hour appointments that could have been made over the last five years of his administration,” Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Karen Hanretty said. “It appears he is continuing his legacy of paybacks and closed-door deals.”
Schwarzenegger, however, sounded a more conciliatory note before a Thursday meeting with Davis. Asked about the last-minute appointments, Schwarzenegger replied: “Yes, we will be speaking about this issue, but like the governor said, there is one governor at a time, so he has the right to make his appointments and to do the things that he’s done, and we will be talking about that, yes.”
Davis defended the moves.
“The governor believes these nominees are fully qualified and he stands behind them,” said Davis’ press secretary, Steve Maviglio, who has been nominated to serve on the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board, at $114,191 a year.
Whether Maviglio or others would win Senate confirmation or even seek it remains to be seen. Some Davis aides who initially were nominated have found other work, and have withdrawn their names from consideration.
Unless the Senate confirms the 89 nominees, Schwarzenegger can derail the appointments as soon as he takes office, just as Davis did five years ago. In one of his first acts upon taking office in 1999, Davis blocked 134 last-minute appointments made by his predecessor, Republican Gov. Pete Wilson.
Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco) has not decided whether to call the Senate back into session to confirm some or all of the 89 nominees.
Burton hopes to work out a compromise with Schwarzenegger and GOP legislators in which Democrats would take the lead in confirming nominees to posts that deal most directly with labor and environmental issues.
Some of the 25 Democrats in the 40-seat upper house doubt the wisdom of returning to Sacramento to cast votes to confirm the last-minute nominees of a governor who has been recalled.
“The way I interpret the recall is that it is a recall on all of us,” said Sen. Martha Escutia (D-Whittier). “I feel a bit uneasy doing wholesale confirmations.”
Escutia nonetheless said she is prepared to approve at least some of Davis’ nominees to boards dealing with water quality and fisheries, along with two members of the Agricultural Labor Relations Board, which mediates labor disputes between farmers and employees.
Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) said she conveyed to Davis the concerns of some Democratic senators about the long list of appointments and the belief that the Senate should be “very, very judicious” in determining which vacancies to fill. She said the Senate should approve “at most perhaps 15 names” and cited the same boards as Escutia.
A list of the names submitted to the Senate by Davis shows that the Democratic governor is hoping to install Davis spokesman and policy analyst Michael Bustamante and cabinet secretary Daniel Zingale to the Agricultural Labor Relations Board.
Davis has nominated his deputy chief of staff, Vincent Harris, and his expert on foreign affairs, Michael Flores, to vacant seats on the Gambling Control Commission.
The four nominees would be paid $114,191 each a year. None could be reached for comment.
The Times reported earlier this month that the Davis administration, in a favor to Indian tribes that own casinos, planned to appoint two members to the Gambling Control Commission, after current members had balked at ousting legal counsel Pete Melnicoe. Melnicoe and the commission have clashed with tribes on an array of issues related to the commission’s authority to regulate tribe-owned casinos.
Eric Bauman was nominated to a $99,693 job on the Board of Prison Terms, which decides whether to parole convicts whose sentences make them eligible for release. Bauman runs Davis’ Los Angeles office and helped in the anti-recall campaign. He has long been active in gay politics.
The highest paid post would go to longtime Davis advisor Tal Finney. Davis hopes to place him as director of the Office of Administrative Law, a job that pays $117,396 a year. Finney, a lawyer, has been among Davis’ most trusted trouble-shooters.
Early in his tenure, Davis made a practice of naming Finney to boards and commissions for brief periods so he could cast deciding votes on key issues. The Office of Administrative Law is a little known but important office responsible for writing regulations implementing statutes and decisions by departments and agencies.
Among the appointees to unpaid posts are several significant donors and people who played major roles in Davis’ campaign fund-raising. Some of the more notable:
* Lobbyist Darius Anderson, to the State Athletic Commission, which regulates boxing. Anderson, an ardent fight fan, was chief fund-raiser for Davis during his 1998 campaign. Anderson’s clients donated more than $2.2 million to Davis during his first term
* J. Ari Swiller, to the California Transportation Commission. Swiller was treasurer of Davis’ campaign accounts and until recently worked for one of Davis’ largest donors, billionaire Ron Burkle.
* Willie Pelote, to the board that oversees the state fair. Pelote is California political director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which spent $821,000 in a failed effort to defeat the recall.
* Mary Anne Marin Andreas, to the Native American Heritage Commission. Andreas is a past chairwoman of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, which gave $221,000 to Davis’ anti-recall campaign. The Morongos also spent $2.5 million to boost the campaign of Schwarzenegger’s main Republican rival in the recall, Sen. Tom McClintock of Thousand Oaks.
Democrats including Escutia and Sen. Debra Bowen (D-Marina del Rey) are willing to convene to approve water quality control board appointees in Southern California, believing that they would take a pro-environment approach to issues that come before them.
“What is required is the exercise of judgment,” Bowen said. “There would be a problem with coming in and voting for a couple hundred appointments. But confirming a handful, that is a different matter.”
Republicans are considering a proposal by Burton to fill fewer than 20 of the vacancies with Davis appointees. “If there’s some give-and-take with those recommendations, it might go a long way toward easing this transition,” said Sen. Bruce McPherson (R-Santa Cruz). “It could set the tone for how much of a cooperative effort is realized in the turnover of the government.”