Lt. Gov. Newsom seeks to keep workers claimed by state Senate president

California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks at an event in San Francisco in September. His office filed papers Thursday to keep his staff from being slashed.

California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks at an event in San Francisco in September. His office filed papers Thursday to keep his staff from being slashed.

(Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP)

Opening a political rift, Senate leader Kevin de León has attempted to slash the staff of Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom by one-third just weeks after Newsom introduced a 2016 ballot initiative that includes one of De León’s pet policy proposals.

De León aides had notified Newsom’s office that they are reassigning two Senate employees who had been on loan to the lieutenant governor’s office. That would leave Newsom with four staffers.

But on Thursday, the lieutenant governor’s office filed papers with state personnel officials to convert the two workers to full-time employees of the lieutenant governor. Rhys Williams, Newsom’s chief of staff, said the two workers will resign their Senate positions Friday to pave the way for the change.


De León’s action appeared to be a “shot across the bow” warning to Newsom, said Jaime Regalado, professor emeritus of political science at Cal State Los Angeles.

“De León is playing tough,” Regalado said. “He wants people to know that he can and will be tough if it’s necessary, so don’t cross him. There’s a price to be paid for that.”

Williams said the attempted transfers appeared to be related to the lieutenant governor announcing a gun control initiative last month.

“It was callous to play with the careers of legislative staff over an issue in which they had no involvement, gun control,” Williams said.

The initiative proposed by Newsom last month includes a requirement for background checks of ammunition buyers. Last year, De León introduced a bill with the same requirement but it failed to win approval in the Assembly.

Dan Reeves, the senator’s chief of staff, denied Wednesday that the proposal to take two employees from Newsom’s staff had anything to do with Newsom’s gun initiative.


“While we haven’t had a chance to review the proposal or its potential impact on next November’s ballot, we’re thrilled to have another ally in the fight to keep dangerous ammunition out of the wrong hands,” Reeves said.

He said in a statement that the recall of the staffers was all about allowing the Senate to function better.

“As part of the Senate’s ongoing efforts to improve efficiency and maximize its limited resources, two highly regarded Senate staffers loaned to the lieutenant governor’s office have been brought back,” Reeves said. “Doing so will expand our capacity to meet the needs of our constituents.”

Williams said the positions had been lent to the lieutenant governor’s office since at least 2011.

“They did not proffer a reason” for the reassignment, Williams added. “When I asked whether it was political, it wasn’t disputed.”

The Senate’s plan was to assign one of the employees to work for the Senate Democratic Caucus and the other for the Senate Office of Research, Reeves said.


However, Williams said the papers filed Thursday will allow the employees to stay in the lieutenant governor’s office, where their jobs are office manager and chief consultant for economic development. He said the staffers wanted to remain where they are.

Newsom is running for governor in 2018 and could benefit from his leadership on the proposed gun control ballot initiative. De León also may have aspirations for higher office, having formed a committee to campaign for lieutenant governor in 2018.

Regalado said whoever leads on the gun control issue may see it benefit their statewide candidacy.

“I guess what De León is doing is making Newsom pay at least a small price....[and] letting him know he’s not pleased,” Regalado said.

De Leon is also a close political ally of billionaire Tom Steyer, who may challenge Newsom in the contest for governor.

Twitter: @mcgreevy99



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