As the governor’s pick to lead the state’s political watchdog panel, veteran Democratic activist Alice Germond takes over an agency that has been mired in turmoil for months following a dispute between commissioners over the sharing of power.
But the new chairwoman of the state Fair Political Practices Commission said she has talked to the other commissioners and believes the panel can put the past behind them to focus on enforcing campaign finance laws ahead of the midterm elections in November.
“I think that there is a general feeling that that was then and this is now and we’ve got work to do,” Germond said in an interview with The Times. “We’re not going to spend a lot of time pointing fingers at what may or may not have happened in the past, because that is all history and it appears that all of that has not changed the good work that the FPPC does.”
The commission was created by voters to include four part-time commissioners and one full-time chairperson who acts as an executive for the agency. A power struggle in recent months pitted some part-time commissioners against the chairwoman at the time, Jodi Remke, who they felt left them out of key decisions on budgets, personnel, legal issues and policy changes.
Over Remke’s objection, the other four commissioners approved a new structure, creating committees that exclude the chairperson to make recommendations on important issues. At the same time, the agency has been considering a proposal to make the chairperson a part-time commissioner without the executive powers provided when the FPPC was set up.
Remke and rival Commissioner Maria Audero recently resigned to take other jobs.
Germond, who attended her first commission meeting Thursday, said that it would be premature to take away the chairperson’s full-time status before the new committee system is given a chance to demonstrate whether it is better.
“Let’s see how this works before we make any more changes,” Germond said. “As a very new chair, I have not yet gotten a sense that this is something you can do part time. My gut says there is an awful lot of work to do, and the more people doing as much as they can, including a full-time chair, may be a good thing.”
Germond, whose annual salary as chairwoman is $152,473, noted that any change probably would not affect her, because whoever is elected governor in the November election will have the option of choosing a new chairperson for the panel.
Germond, a 75-year-old West Hollywood resident, said one of her top goals is to combat what she sees as the distrust the public has in politics and government by enforcing state laws to make sure there is a level playing field.
“I think that distrust has grown over the last number of years perhaps because of the lack of civil discourse, perhaps because of the 24-hour news cycle, where it seems to be endemic to fill the air,” she said.
She plans to hold some FPPC meetings outside of Sacramento to help voters understand what the agency does “so that they have faith when they go to the election booth that their vote is not bought and that the playing field is level and that the basic part of democracy is working for them,” she said. “I’m not convinced right now that a lot of citizens both in California and around our country believe that, and that’s the beginning of the end of a democracy.”
By enforcing campaign finance laws against violators, Germond thinks the panel can provide a needed assurance to voters.
“I think there is a misperception that they are all a bunch of crooks,” she said of politicians. “My experience is most people are in this for the right reasons, because they really care, and I want our electorate to know the FPPC is enforcing that so they have faith in it.”
Germond said she did not want to venture into partisan territory when she was asked about the effect that President Trump has had on the political process.
“I think stirring people’s anger and disenchantment with the process is not a good thing for the process. I would like to see people involved,” Germond said. “On the other hand, perhaps his stirring of that has created a balance where there is maybe more involvement on both sides on the aisle.”
Germond comes to the panel after spending decades in the political trenches. She was deputy campaign manager for Brown’s gubernatorial campaign in 1978. She also was the national vice-chair for Brown’s failed presidential campaign in 1980, and has played leading roles in the campaigns of Democratic presidential candidates Bill Clinton, Gary Hart and Michael Dukakis.
She was the Democratic National Committee’s national secretary from 2002 to 2013.
Germond said she will abide by the rules that prevent commissioners from actively supporting candidates.
But the former party activist said she believed the state Democratic Party should have stayed neutral in the Democrat-on-Democrat contest pitting state Sen. Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) against incumbent Dianne Feinstein in the November contest for Feinstein’s U.S. Senate seat.
Last Saturday, state party leaders endorsed De León for the seat.
“Let the voters speak,” Germond said. “When you have two Democrats, to me it can become problematic for the party to choose one over another, particularly when the voters have already voted in a primary in perhaps a different way than the 300 activists in a meeting may be feeling.”